In reality, this game was over after only 10 minutes when Hinckley captain Alex Salt was handed a straight red card for a high tackle by the referee after a lengthy debate with his touch judge. The decision seemed harsh and probably means that Hinckley’s talisman will sit out most, if not all, of the remainder of what for him has been a frustrating season. A 14 man Hinckley never gave the game up, and indeed against a lesser side may still have snatched the game but Otley defended well throughout and tactically used their one-man advantage to great effect. They deserved their win which maintains their hopes of a top two finish. Hinckley dropped to ninth and now face a fight to finish in the top half of the table and maintain bragging rights over local rivals Leicester Lions.
DOR George Chuter summed up the game well. ‘I can’t knock the lads for effort. In reality, we made enough chances to win but you can’t play 70 minutes against a top team like Otley and expect to come away with a victory. I’m disappointed but proud of the way the lads stuck to the task.’
Hornets started well and could have been two tries up in the first five minutes. First, with Hornets having taken an Otley scrum against the head 30m from the visitors line, the ball was fed along the line only to be dropped as the line beckoned. Two minutes later Gaz Turner, who otherwise had an outstanding game, lost the ball in the tackle as Otley scrambled to keep their line intact.
Then came the Salt red card. It did not look malicious, just an instinctive reaction as the Otley player dipped into the tackle but, in the interests of player safety, referees have been instructed this season to punish any contact with the head area severely. Salt was an unfortunate casualty. Fly half Ben Smith kicked the resultant penalty to put Otley 0-3 up, a lead they never relinquished.
Paradoxically, Hornets were on top for the next 10 minutes and were only kept out by some resolute Otley defence. But it couldn’t last and as the first quarter drew to a close, the seven man Hinckley pack were penalised just inside their own half allowing Otley to kick to 15m. A second penalty at the line-out allowed Otley to come within 5m. The lineout ball was scrappy but a series of pick and drives saw Harry Skelton touch down close to the posts. The conversion though was charged down by Aaron Philip to keep Hornets in touch.
Hornets arguably had the better of what remained of the half. Phillip went close after Ben Pointon, who had one of his best games in a Hornets shirt, and then Callum Dacey carried the ball from one 22m to the other but was bundled into touch just short.
Hornets did score though with the last play of the half. Again the ball was carried from one end to the other, this time through multiple phases with some lovely controlled rugby. Dacey went close again but it was the forwards who eventually drove over the line with Turner coming up with the ball. Vowles added the extras to send the teams in at the interval 7-8 with all to play for.
Four minutes into the second period, however, Otley struck what in the context of the game was probably the killer blow. The Hinckley scrum, having had the edge in the early encounters, had struggled badly in the absence of Salt, and were again penalised 15m from their line. Quick thinking by Otley’s full back Ben Magee saw him take a quick tap and with the Hornets defence not properly set he was able to stretch out of the tackle to touch down by the posts. Smith added the extras.
Magee was outstanding throughout for Otley but a cheap shot toward the end of the first period, which would probably have seen him joining Salt on the sidelines had not the referee and touch judge missed it, soured his performance particularly in the eyes of the home support.
Dacey went close for Hornets a few minutes later after a superb break from Pointon under pressure in his own 22m had set up a run for the line but when the ball was recycled and fed right with a score looking on, the ball was spilled and the chance lost.
Otley though were beginning to make the extra man count and Hornets were finding it increasingly difficult to break out of their own half.
Pressure finally told on 68 minutes when a poor kick out of defence by Hinckley gave Magee the chance to run the ball back and second row Brett Mitchell finished off what was a well executed try.
With Hinckley tiring, Otley grabbed a bonus point try with 5 to go when Magee again showed his class, breaking through the Hinckley line to feed the ball along the line for winger Josh Hall to touch down in the corner.
With time almost up, there was no way back for Hinckley but there was still time for a final try. From the kick-off, Hornets recovered the ball, worked it down the pitch, and eventually Dacey broke through the cover to touch down from 20m out in his 100th appearance for the club. Wilson dropped the conversion to take the score to 14-25 but Otley simply ran down the clock to deny Hornets the chance of a losing bonus point.
Next week, Hornets take a break but are back on the road the following week at Preston Grasshoppers who have won their last five games to take themselves above Hinckley in the table. It would be good to see Hornets end that run.
Updated 19:15 - 10 Mar 2019 by Nick Robinson