Hinckley fell just short against table topping Hull Ionians in a pulsating encounter that went right to the wire. Having fallen 14 points behind in the first ten minutes of the match, Hornets clawed their way back into contention and spent the last few minutes of the game camped on the Ionians line without managing to quite make the breakthrough that would have given them victory and 5 invaluable points.
That they had to settle for a single losing bonus point was down to yet another disastrous start which saw them concede 2 tries in the first ten minutes of the game. The first came when Hornets failed to claim the ball from the kick-off, Ionians worked the ball down the field and centre Lewis Mininkin dotted down and then converted his own try.
The second came on 10 minutes when a poor kick out of defence was snaffled by Ionians just inside the Hinckley half, worked up the pitch, aided it has to be said by some poor Hinckley tackling, and Minikin again touched down and added the extras to take the home side 14 points clear with Hornets looking like rabbits caught in the headlights.
True, Hinckley were playing into a stiff breeze, and Ionians were obviously looking to demonstrate that their comfortable defeat earlier in the season at Leicester was an aberration, but it is still difficult to understand why such starts are becoming something of a trademark for Hornets. For the rest of the game, Hinckley were competitive and for much of the second half dominant, outscoring Ionians 27 points to 17, but it goes without saying that you cannot give teams such a start and expect to win.
That said, Hornets did almost pull it off. Their first score came on 17 minutes when Joe Wilson collected a kick out of defence 30m from his own line, Hornets worked the ball towards the Ionians line in a manner reminiscent of the two Ionians tries, and Ben Pointon eventually sniped from the back of a ruck to score by the posts from close range. Joe Wilson added the extras.
Both sides then had further chances to score but a combination of solid defence and mistakes in attack kept the score at 14-7 until Ionians extended the lead with half time approaching. Hornets were penalised for crossing on halfway and Ionians kicked for the corner. The drive from the lineout was held but the ball was slipped to centre Billy Hardy to crash over. Minikin converted.
Ionians almost went further ahead a couple of minutes later when a high kick out of defence by the home side looked to be covered by Wilson but the full-back allowed the ball to bounce with predictable results. The ball skewed back towards the oncoming Ionians back who hacked on towards the line. A try looked inevitable but Hinckley were saved by a knock-on 5m out with the try line open.
Three minutes later and they were back. Hornets were penalised 5m from their line after Ionians had been given the opportunity to run back from a kick out of defence. Ionians went for the corner, got the drive on but another knock on allowed Hinckley to clear and go into the break at 21-7.
Wilson converted a penalty for a high tackle within a couple of minutes of the restart but it was Ionians who claimed the next try and a bonus point when a Hinckley dropped ball on halfway allowed wingman Toni Kuku to drive into the Hinckley 22m wide out on the left. The ball was recycled and fed back along the line to wing partner Sam Wilson who touched down in the opposite corner.
At 26-10 with 30 minutes to go, the game looked something of a lost cause but there was still a sense that Hornets were not entirely out of it…. and so it proved.
Callum Dacey grabbed a try, converted by Wilson, on 52 minutes, stretching for the line as he was brought down just short, and when Mitch Lamb forced his way over 7 minutes later after a break from Ben Pointon, at 26-24, it was game on with 20 minutes to go.
Hornets then grabbed the lead with a score from Wilson when Ionians, under pressure in their own 22m gave away a penalty for off-side, and with Hornets in the ascendant, the great escape now seemed probable rather that possible.
But from the kick-off, Alex Branson was penalised for a no-arms tackle, Ionians kicked to 22m and, from the lineout, drove superbly to the line for Adam Brown to touch down to retake the lead.
It was a disappointing score to concede and proved the killer blow. Hornets did lay siege to the Ionians line for the remaining 8 minutes but couldn’t force their way over for the winning score. The relief amongst the home crowd as the final whistle blew was palpable.
George Chuter commented after the game, ‘It was a disappointing start but I was really pleased at the way we dragged ourselves back into the match and in the end we were unlucky not to come away with the win. We played really well in the last half hour against a top side.’
Next week, Hornets return to Leicester Road for the first time this year to take on mid-table Stourbridge.
Updated 12:23 - 13 Jan 2019 by Nick Robinson