Otley 0-0 Preston Grasshoppers
In paraphrasing Dickens, one of the travelling supporters commented, ‘It was the best nil-nil, it was the worst nil-nil’
But anyone thinking this was a dour slog in the mud would be grossly mistaken.
In the most unpleasant conditions faced this season with rain, sleet and a bitterly cold, albeit light wind blowing across the pitch, the spectators were entertained to a real, old-school rugby match.
Late team changes resulted in the absence of Luke Procter with a calf injury he collected in training and Sam Wallbank who had had to withdraw through illness.
Otley kicked off and Hoppers were defending in their own half for much of the first quarter of the game as their hosts mounted wave after wave of attacks. The home side were well organised and in the wet conditions managed to hang on to the ball as they passed their way down the field.
But the Preston defence was equal to their efforts and with breaks by Tyler Spence and Sam Stott, play was returned to the half way line where most of the game was fought out.
The 1869 club had brought a coachload of support and they must have been cheered by their team’s performance.
They were treated to a much more confident Hoppers team performance where, after only twenty minutes, the mud had masked the jerseys to the point that it was almost impossible for neither the spectators nor the teams to tell who was who. The pitch was treacherous underfoot, and the ball was like the proverbial bar of soap.
Yet the game commanded their attention as the play moved back and forth with exciting passages of play only interrupted by the referee’s whistle, his insistence on frequently stopping play to talk to the players and the intervention of his Assistant whose only contributions led to two yellow cards in the second half for Hoppers’ Toby Harrison and Ollie Trippier, both of which appeared to be as a result of the playing conditions rather than any intention of foul play.
However, even though Hoppers were down to thirteen players, play continued as before and they maintained an effective defence whilst also turning the possession round and pressurizing the Otley red zone.
Much of this was due to the kicking of Tom Davidson, making his first appearance this season since having had surgery to his shoulder in the summer. Returning to his natural habitat at fly half, he picked out the open spaces, made touch when required and, combining with another excellent performance by James Gough at scrum half who repeated stole the ball from the opposition, managed the game efficiently.
The game was always going to be a forwards’ battle in these conditions and there were many significant individual contributions from all of them. Carrying by Ally Murray, Adam Howard, Matt Lamprey and John Blanchard made good ground time and again whilst Noah Miller and Oga Mabaya maintained solid scrummaging for the visitors and in the lineout Chris Taylor and Toby Harrison were a thorn in Otley side.
The backs played their part too and in spite of the difficult conditions underfoot, they managed to move the ball quickly making good breaks deep into the Otley half with James Fitzpatrick and Will Davidson driving their way into their hosts’ defence time after time and Nick Gregson mopping up the long kicks and sending the teams back down the field.
The bench also made their contribution and with Oga Mabaya and Ollie Trippier already on, Ben Dorrington and Alex Hurst kept the Hoppers’ pressure going.
The sides were very evenly matched and neither team dominated for any significant period until the last ten minutes when Hoppers went through over thirty phases inside their opponents’ 22, battling against a tiring but resilient Otley defence which managed to keep regrouping and hold them out to the final whistle which eventually blew at eighty-six minutes.
Hoppers suffered their only casualty of the afternoon when Spence was carried from the field with an ankle injury which, despite him sporting a leg brace and crutches in the clubhouse afterwards does not look too serious.
It was a much happier Head Coach that gave his summary of the match:
‘I am massively proud of the whole team today. Nil- nil results are very rare and this was a really impressive performance by them all.
It was an even bigger achievement considering Luke and Sam both had to withdraw late in the week and the two yellow cards reduced us to thirteen late on in the game.
The effort they all put in today deserved points. They all showed up and played for the jersey and they will keep fighting for it. I have said so many times that the whole squad have always shown heart and commitment and it was obvious here today.
Next week we have the Fylde match. They lost today against Sheffield Tigers but as always it will be a difficult one to call.’
This match will, of course, be that last one before Christmas and is a real chance to start the festive period off. Kick off is at the usual time – Christmas hats and jumpers at the ready!
Report by John Le Page, picture by Mike Craig