Otliensians continue their unblemished record, with a seven try win at York
Hoping to continue their winning streak, and keep second place Thornensians at bay, last Saturday game favourites Otliensians were welcomed by a convivial crowd at York RI.
Having only enjoyed one win so far this season, York have struggled to keep up both morale with dwindling player numbers. ‘Ensians can certainly empathise, having experienced this only two shorts seasons ago. Sadly clubs at this level can’t rely on attracting players with financial rewards, they simply have to play through the doldrums, and hope things improve.
In the first few minutes of the game, inside centre Jake Bentley made a sortie out of his own ’22. Knowing he wasn’t going to make it all the way, Bentley launched a lofted overhead pass out to winger Declan Jackson, who gathered and continued the charge. Drawing three York defenders, before passing back inside to Bentley in support. A well deserved try from the centre, but sadly the conversion was out of reach.
York came back with surprising vigour, mainly thanks to their hefty prop, who proved difficult to fell on a number of occasions. Halfway inside Ensians half, the home side were awarded a penalty, giving us the first glimpse of their excellent outside centre’s kicking skills. Drafted in, only that morning from the University to help bolster RI’s numbers, he was easily recognisable in his “Lee Halfpenny’ style scrum cap, and York University socks. With a successful penalty kick, ‘Ensian’s lead was narrowed to just 2 points.
From this point on fans on both sides, would have been forgiven for thinking the referees whistle was made of toffee; as once he’d had a ‘taste’ he couldn’t help himself. Another penalty successfully kicked, put York in the lead for the first time in the game. Thankfully this advantage was short lived, but it was very clear we needed to be very careful in our own half.
One point down, and only 10 minutes into the game, Otliensians knew they had to quickly turn the tables. Moments after the restart we witnessed sheer brilliance from ‘Ensians number 8, Will Rigg. After winning a scrum against the head, ‘Riggy’ scooped the ball from the back feet, and set off on a solo charge upfield, seeing the defence drifting towards him, he skilfully chipped the ball into space for winger Will Howarth to chase. As usual, Howarth won the race, and with only a marginal reduction in speed, picked up the ball, to cruise over the line to score. Again the conversion too testing for Bentley, but 5 welcome points, to regain the lead.
York strategy now was to clear the ball, every time they found themselves in possession in their own 22, as they knew they couldn’t make it out on foot. One such clearance 25 minutes into the game successfully found touch, but was collected by scrum half Rob Lofthouse, who cleverly opted for a quick line out. Passing to young full back Spencer Wood, who carved his way upfield in his meandering style, before passing to tactician Ollie Eaves. Eaves chipped the ball over the defence for Howarth to chase and gather. Another successful try for Howarth, but the conversion was again frustratingly elusive for Bentley. Now with a nine point lead, Otliensians started to ‘motor’.
A long restart brought play back into Ensians half, and the home side found themselves with a scrum only 10m from the try line. York’s lock charged forwards, only to find himself in the clutches of the ‘Otley mangle’, also known as prop Luke Exley. Exley powerfully ripped the ball, to regain possession, before passing out to Jake Bentley, and onto winger Declan Jackson. Jackson, skirted up the wing, eluding several players, before he was cut down yards from the line with a try saving tackle from the York full back. With a reoccurring hamstring injury, this series of play sadly proved to be the last of the day for Jackson.
With a line out on the 5m line, Ensians where keen to seal the half with another score. York won the ball, but struggled to clear under the dogged pressure from Harry Gillson. At this point the referees decided his ‘toffee’ needed a taste, and blew for a penalty in the home sides favour. Captain Sam Featherstone's protestations about the ‘possible’ infringement fell on def ears, and the half closed at 6 points to 15, in the visitors favour.
Early into the second half we saw the ‘birth’ of hooker Craig Nicholson, who had a fantastic game. Without his mandatory full English breakfast, Nicholson was remarkably nimble, and when he found himself in possession 20m out, there was no stopping him, even with two York players on his back. This time the kicking duties were handed over to centre Connor Bateman, but once again the extra points proved evasive.
Seconds into the restart Nicholson found himself in possession again, and set off on a 30m gallop before passing out to prop Luke Exley in support. Fans thought Exley would surely pass out to the supporting backs, but instead sold a ‘cheeky’ dummy, and bustled his way over to score. Increasing the lead to 19 points. With 4 missed conversions, there was a sigh of relief when Bateman successfully broke the trend, and increased the lead to 21 points.
On the 70 minute mark, the visitors found themselves with an attacking scrum deep inside York’s half. Nr 9, Rob Lofthouse saw an opportunity and dashed down the blindside with Bentley in support. Running out of space and with York defence closing in, Bentley passed out to Howarth, who blasted his way through to score his third try of the day, far in the left corner.
York’s pack did really well to stay in the game for as long as they did against a far superior front row, but in the last ten minutes of the game scrums had to be uncontested, as York's inexperienced front row buckled under pressure. In the dying minutes of the game, ‘Ensians put the final nail in Yorks ‘coffin’ with a multiple phase try instigated by Nicholson driving upfield. From the resulting maul, Riggy took up the charge, then second row Jay Walsh continued the drive. Another breakdown successfully recycled out to Harry Gillson. Inevitably the ball found it’s way to Will Howarth, who covered the last few yards in a flash to score his fourth of the day. This time Bentley wanted to have another go, and added the extra 2 points. The game closed at 39:6 to Otliensians, giving them a convincing 5 point away win.
The focus now will be next Saturdays Yorkshire Vase game against rivals Airborough. KO 2:15om at Chaffers Field.