Chester 1st XV vs Otley 22-19
Saturday January 6th 2017
This was almost, but not quite, a game of two halves. It began with Chester racing away to a 22-0 lead, but once Otley began to claw their way back, with a converted try on the point of halftime, there was a gradual momentum shift. By the end the home side was clinging on bravely for a narrow but deserved win.
An early penalty allowed Chester to set up a lineout 10 metres from the visitors’ line. Kyle Joseph won the ball and it was mauled infield. A ruck provided quick ball for Sean Green coming infield from the right wing. He broke and was only stopped by a last ditch Otley tackle. The ball was then moved back right where Kyle Joseph crossed for a try converted by James Robins. Almost immediately a scrum penalty allowed Otley to try the same trick at the other end, but a Chester penalty won under their own posts allowed them to relieve the pressure.
There followed a period of more sustained Chester pressure. In particular the home pack was able to put together a series of well constructed mauls from lineouts covering 15 or 20 metres. A break by Craig Ross saw him shrug off several tacklers before being stopped well into the Otley 22. The home side could not quite take the opportunity, but Otley could not relieve the pressure either. A penalty allowed Chester to set up another attacking lineout on the opposition’s 22. The ball was overthrown but recovered, allowing the home pack to carry the ball into contact three times before Alick Croft crossed for a try in the corner. James Robins added the extras with an excellent conversion from near touch to put Chester 14-0 in front after 20 minutes.
Chester continued to dominate territory and possession and were rewarded on the half hour, when the forwards showed excellent control, carrying the ball through ten phases before Guy Ford scored in the left hand corner. James Preston narrowly missed a difficult conversion. Further pressure, by way of another driven lineout from the home forwards, yielded a penalty under the Otley posts, which James kicked to put his side a satisfactory 22 points in front. However, from then on the tide began to turn. A soft penalty from a late tackle yielded an Otley lineout in Chester’s 22 in the 39th minute. The visitors’ forward drive was contained, but only at the expense of a penalty, which Otley took quickly. The home defence was slow to respond and Otley’s Henry Roberts broke to his right and scored a try converted by Joe Rowntree.
This late score clearly changed the complexion of the match from Otley’s point of view, giving them the sniff of a comeback after having absorbed a half of pressure. Yet the second half began quite brightly for Chester. There was a wonderful break by Chester fullback James Preston, who found an outside shoulder to break down the right wing to create a 2-on-1 with Sean Green, but could not quite find Sean with his pass. Sean also managed a clean break of his own, once again coming off his wing into midfield. This ended with a Chester lineout in the Otley 22, but was really the end of the ‘good news’ for the home side. The lineout ball was not straight, Otley won a penalty from the ensuing scrum, an ominous sign of their growing scrum dominance. They ran the ball quickly from inside their 22, and inside centre Mike Coady managed an excellent break upfield against a home defence that again adjusted slowly to Otley’s speed of thought. This then led Chester to cough up another penalty, which set Otley up with a lineout in the home 22. From this the Otley pack moved the ball infield before winning a third penalty in succession. Needless to say they ran it quickly to score a converted try in the right hand corner.
This made the score 22-14 after 57 minutes, giving the visitors ample time to win if they could exert sufficient pressure. Chester were almost visibly tiring. Their line speed in defence was slowing, allowing Otley ball carriers over the gain line and some first up tackles were being missed. Nevertheless, at critical moments Otley’s attacks foundered, not least from a malfunctioning lineout. Conversely, the home defence held, notably on 70 minutes, when Otley attempted to drive a lineout just outside the Chester 22 and were held up, allowing the home side to clear the ball. Otley did manage an unconverted try by wing forward Tom O’Donnell from a chip ahead. One final Otley lineout malfunction on the Chester 22 was enough to see Chester home for a hard earned win, leaving Otley with a well deserved bonus point.