After a resurgent performance two weeks ago at Leicester Road against pre-season promotion favourites Sedgley Park, Hinckley were back on the road again this week at Otley. Hornets were looking to build on that performance against a side known for their big pack but thought to be a little lightweight in the backs.
In the event, Hinckley came off a poor second best conceding four tries to two in a game where they showed little of the class on display against Sedgeley and looked more like a side struggling to avoid relegation than one with promotion ambitions.
Hinckley are rapidly developing as a side who cannot travel. They have won all of their last three home games, recording 90 points while conceding only 36. The story is very different on the road where they have lost all of their last 3 games conceding 91 points against 22 scored. On Saturday, against a side who were determined to establish their own credentials against the early season high-flyers, Hornets looked a side lacking in confidence and commitment and were soundly beaten by a better team.
It is no coincidence that their slide down the table, although still far from terminal, has come while inspirational captain Alex Salt has been sidelined through injury. With vice-captain Tom Wheatcroft also sidelined for this game, Hornets seemed rudderless. Salt is not expected to return before Christmas and Hinckley desperately need someone take up his mantle if Salt is not to return to a side facing mid-table mediocrity.
There were some positives from the game and Hinckley did have chances to win. Gaz Turner was again prominent in the loose, well supported by Jamie Skerritt, and Joe Glover brought some structure to Hinckley’s game when he came on as a replacement in the second half. It was also good to see the return of Ben Marshall to bolster the pack after injury, and Callum Dacey proved a handful without ever quite breaking the Otley strangehold. But too many mistakes both in attack and defence saw the sum of the parts fall well short of that which the Hornets’ support have come to expect.
The match could not have started worse for Hinckley. They were behind before most of the crowd had taken their positions on the terraces as Otley recovered the ball from the kick-off, worked their way towards the Hornets’ line and hooker Joe Graham touched down by the posts. The conversion was a formality and Hinckley were 7-0 down after just 2 minutes.
Hornets did respond almost immediately when a penalty allowed Joe Wilson to set up an attacking line-out on the Otley 22m, but having done all the hard work a dropped ball on the line saw the chance go begging. It pretty well summed up the rest of the game!
Hinckley went further behind on 21 minutes when, having defended the line well to secure a 22m drop-out, they lost the ball from the restart and Otley centre Stephen Nolson seized on the loose ball to go over.
Five minutes later though, hopes of a Hinckley comeback were raised. An attacking line-out 10m from the Otley line was held but the ball was worked to Aaron Philips on the left. He was brought down just short but quick ball found Ryan Hough who went through a hole in the Otley defence to score. Wilson kicked the afters and Hinckley were back in the game.
An Otley penalty converted by fly-half Ben Smith extended the lead to 17-7 just before half-time but there was still hope that Hornets could drag the game back.
It was not to be. Hornets went further behind within a minute of the kick-off when, having recovered the ball, a poor defensive kick allowed Otley to drive back towards the line and Graham went over for his second. The conversion was missed but at 24-7 the game looked to be slipping away.
The cause was not helped a few minutes later when Turner was carded for holding on as Otley threatened.
In his absence, Pointon was caught in the shadow of his posts after attempting a suicidal run out of defence. Hinckley did well to retain the ball but another poor kick out of defence allowed Otley to run the ball back and Otley full-back Ben Magee forced his way over in the corner.
With nothing to lose, Hornets began to throw caution to the winds in a desperate attempt to drag themselves back into the game.
On 60 minutes, Wilson declined a kick in front of the posts to set up an attacking lineout, but having crossed the line, Hornets were called back for a forward pass.
10 minutes later Hinckley did score when a kick through from Glover forced Otley to carry over their line and from the resultant scrum, Turner picked up at the back of the scrum to force his way over.
Wilson dropped the conversion to save time but it was too little too late. Hinckley went close again as full-time approached when a series of penalties allowed Hornets to work their way up the field but a dropped ball on the Otley line brought proceedings to an end with Otley well deserved winners.
Next week, Hinckley entertain struggling Preston Grasshoppers at Leicester Road - a chance, perhaps, to rebuild some confidence.