It was a familiar story at the Woodlands for those following Hinckley on the road this season - a try conceded in the opening minutes, some quality moments to lift the heart accompanied by the kind of basic errors that frustrate even schoolboy coaches, and a team who have lost all self-belief away from home.
This weeks hosts were Fylde who, after a poor start to the season have clawed their way into promotion contention and now head the table courtesy of this victory and a defeat for Hull Ionians at Chester. Hinckley held on to 6th position but are now 16 points adrift of the top, heading the mid-table pack.
Fylde may now lead the table but frankly in terms of the quality of their play they were no better than Hinckley but they made slightly fewer mistakes and, crucially, having lost only one game in their last 13, believed they could and should win.
As a spectacle, the match was a non-event and would have been unlikely to convert any League supporters in the sizable crowd to the Union code. It was scrappy and disjointed and wasn’t helped by a referee who seemed to be on a mission to mystify the crowd with confusing and often absent signalling. Fylde did though deserve their victory. Had Hornets played to their potential, however, it would have been a different story.
‘There were some positives to take from the game,’ commented DOR George Chuter afterwards. ‘Our defence was again outstanding for most of the game, and after a shaky start our scrum held up quite well. But I counted 12 turnovers against us in the opposition 22 and that meant we never managed to get hold of the game.’
Chuter was right to praise the Hornets scrum. There were major concerns amongst the visiting support about how well they would hold up after their pasting in the final quarter against South Leicester. With regular tight-head Dave Peck sidelined with a calf injury and loose-head Steve Harvey not fully fit, there were fears that the Hinckley 8 would spend much of the afternoon back-pedalling at a rate of knots.
The first 5 minutes seemed to justify those fears. Hornets conceded a penalty when they were pushed off their own ball 5m from their own line after a forward pass had saved Hinckley the ignominy of conceding a try having hardly touched the ball. Fylde opted to scrum that penalty and failed to take advantage but from a third scrum, awarded to Hinckley when they managed to hold the ball up, Hornets were shunted backwards over their own line and this time the referee had little option but to award a penalty try.
Paradoxically though, that early trauma seemed to settle the Hinckley pack and for the rest of the match, while never dominating, the scrum, well marshalled by Oli Povoas until he had to leave the field with suspected concussion, managed to achieve near parity with their opposite numbers.
Indeed, for much of the rest of the half, Hornets arguably looked the better side. On 15 minutes, Matt Lasis was worked over the line for his first try in a Hinckley shirt after a patient multi-phase move had carried the ball up the field, and 10 minutes later, when Joe Wilson put over a penalty awarded for a no-arms tackle from 30m Hinckley had a deserved, if slender 8-7 lead.
It could have been more as Hornets enjoyed what was probably their best spell of the match but, in what proved to be the last play of the half, with Hinckley pressing for a score in the Fylde 22, the referee appeared to award a penalty to Hinckley some 15m from the Fylde line. Play continued, Hornets knocked the ball forward and the crowd waited for play to be taken back for the original offence. But the whistle never came. A sweeping end to end move started by an exquisite long pass from fly-half Greg Smith eventually saw centre Connor Wilkinson canter in from 40m to touch down under the posts.
It was a cruel blow and proved to be the turning point in the context of the match.
Fylde came out after the break much the stronger of the two sides and Hornets found themselves under some pressure. That pressure eventually told when the Hinckley line was breeched by prop Bevan Rodd after a Fylde 5m had set up the pack to rumble over from close range. Smith added the extras to make it 21-8 to the home side.
That was the end of the scoring but both sides created clear opportunities to score in that final quarter. Neither side though were quite able to conjure the clinical edge required to trouble the scoreboard further. Jack Dickinson went closest for Hinckley, when only a despairing tap tackle inside the 22m prevented him going under the posts, and Callum Dacey also went close but it was not to be.
Fylde’s Henry Hadfield (for a dangerous tackle) and Hinckley’s James Moreton (for injudicious use of the boot at the ruck) were both invited to take an enforced break but neither incident was reflective of two sides who were looking to, if not always succeeding in, playing high quality rugby.
Hornets now have two home games to look forward both against opposition still very much in the promotion race. Huddersfield are the visitors this coming Saturday, followed by the re-arranged game against Chester the week afterward. Hornets may not now be part of the promotion race but they still have a major part to play in deciding who wins that race.
Updated 21:14 - 10 Feb 2019 by Nick Robinson