Old Otliensians travelled to Stocksbridge with a handful of new signings for their opening game of the 2016-2017 season. The team also welcomed back Ieuan Cranswick who had previously retired from the game owing to a serious injury.
The incessant rain and a sloping pitch were not conducive to flowing open rugby. Backed by a healthy contingent of supporters from Otley and with Rich Crossley making his seasonal debut running the touch-line the visitors proceeded to play down the slope in the first half.
In the opening exchanges Otliensians held parity in the scrums but looked a little rusty at the line-out. With 20 minutes on the clock quick ball from a ruck on the halfway line released debutant full-back Alex Murphy. Having broken the gain line Murphy moved in to the Stocksbridge 22 and then managed to slip the ball inside for the supporting Ieuan Cranswick to crash over. The conversion was missed, nevertheless the visitors led 5-0.
Five minutes later from a scrum in their own half the Otliensians backs made light of the conditions and swiftly moved the ball to Connor Bateman on the left wing. Bateman raced 60 metres leaving two defenders in his wake and then passed the ball inside as the home full-back covered across. Although the pass did not go to hand No. 8 Matthew Taylor gathered the ball from the floor and strolled over for a second try for a 10-0 lead.
From the resulting kick-off the home pack started to exert some pressure on the Otliensians line. A series of 5-metre scrums and resulting penalties saw desperate defence from the visitors to keep the home side at bay. A masterful tactical change from coach John Walker introduced debutant front row forward Joel Wakeford in to the fray. His presence solidified the scrum and the visitors managed to defend their line with a 10-0 half-time lead in tact.
With only 5 minutes on the clock in the second half Connor Bateman was forced to leave the field with an injury. Luke Cowdell moved in to the backs and front row forward Ross Nichols returned to the game in the second row. Five minutes later Cowdell gathered a clearance kick in his own half and made 20 metres before setting up a ruck. From the ruck the ball was moved quickly down the back line for Oliver Eaves to score an excellent team try in the corner. Cowdell kicked a superb conversion from the touch-line to extend the lead to 17-0.
Stocksbridge continued to throw everything they had at Otliensians only to be repelled time and time again. Having managed to clear their lines and with the game 6 minutes in to injury time Otliensians were awarded a scrum in the opposition half. The ball was moved quickly to stand-off Kristian Keinhorst whose deft little chip over the defence rolled in to the Stocksbridge dead ball area for centre Eaves to beat the defence and claim a fourth try and a bonus point. Cowdell added the extras for a 24-0 victory.
The final whistle followed and was met with jubilation by players and visiting spectators alike, as Otliensians claimed their first ever victory on Stocksbridge soil and in doing so managed to keep a clean sheet.
With Stocksbridge ringing fixture secretary john churchman to arrange a double header for both teams to travel down to Sheffield, the pressure was on for team manager tempo to get his texting hand going again, after it had laid dormant for the summer. Numbers were looking good to start with, with anyone who had crossed the Ensians threshold & some who hadnt, pestered. John Harrison, billy Bradford & jerry simpson had valid excuses, all supplying doctors notes but as the week rolled on, men were dropping faster than at the somme, with the 2016 Guinness book of excuses coming out. English born, Scottish speaking hard man prop boothy, not been able to play because his mummy in law was calling in for a cup of tea ! With a few more dropping out on Saturday morning, 13 players travelled to a very wet Sheffield, who to be fair, played with 14 men to even it up slightly.
With no props, john offer was a lonely man in the front row, so uncontested scrums were the order of the day. Bret van tenniswood & the new Slim shady – big eddy! took up the 2nd row, with eddy only allowed to play after having a double knee transplant on Thursday afternoon.
The backrow was - man of the match – mike Cunningham, who tackled anything that moved all day, ben [ i was right & the ref was wrong ] smith, & lee [ i don’t side side step or swerve ] odonnell. With will coopers cricket cancelled, tempo talked his dad into bringing him down to fill the 9 shirt & as usual, he didn’t disappoint !. stuart Cockburn put his boots on again to pull the strings at ten with dom oddy & daz cooley manning the centres. New captain conner paley played full back, while james burgess & the polish flash – lukeash had the enviable job of taking up the wing on a miserable wet afternoon.
They must like there pies in Stocksbridge as there were some big lads in their 2nd team, but tempo knew he had the fire power in his team to win, if they played to their strengths. The game started with Ensians having the lion’s share of the ball, with some good drives from mike, lee & slim shady. John, bret & ben were always there in support to take the ball on. With Will cooper always sniffing round the rucks, stuart Cockburn held the ball just long enough to draw the defence, then put dom oddy through the gap, who in turn put daz cooley on a clear run to the line, & with will cooper converting, it was 7 – 0 on 10 minutes.
Stocksbridge came back, using the big lads to smash it up, but mike Cunningham was tackling everything, with ben smith & john offer there to turn the ball over & the backs were off again. A good break was taken on by conner paley & james burgess who were supported by john offer who passed back inside for conner to score, & again, will converted to make it 14 – 0 on 30 minutes.
The last 10 minutes were stockbridge trying to smash there way over the line with Ensians defending like there lifes depended on it to cause knock ons & turnovers in the wet conditions.
With Stocksbridge playing down the hill in the 2nd half, it gave the big lads a new lease of life & Ensians spent a lot of time defending, but some good tactical kicking from cooper put Ensians in Stocksbridge's 22 & with brett putting pressure on Bridges line out, as he had done all day, mistakes were made & captain conner was there to kick on & score wide out to make it 19 – 0 on 60 minutes.
Bridge came straight back & scored after many forward drives to make it 19 – 5 on 70 minutes, but a games not a game without lee o'donnel having one of his runs against a tired Bridge defence to leave a few bodies on the floor & a touch down under the posts to make it 26 – 5 on 75 minutes.
Stocksbridge never gave up & barged their way over again on the final whistle to make it 26 – 10.
This was a match where the Ensians defence, which was a problem area last year, definitely won them the game & hopefully going forward will get even stronger, as there are some hard games yet to come for the boys.