With Cross Green immersed in bright sunshine and the pitch in immaculate condition, the scene was set for Otley to put the record straight against their rivals from the wrong side of the Pennines. In what were perfect conditions for expansive rugby, Otley ultimately handed out a ruthless lesson in clinical finishing.
The process started as early as the first minute when Kyle Dench set Robin Kitching clear down the left wing on halfway with an excellent miss-pass. Kitching evaded the clutches of the first couple of defenders before cutting inside on the '22. Having initially used his pace, the South African exile fended off three would-be tacklers before crashing over next to the posts. Kitching converted his own try and Otley were off to the perfect start.
Manchester then enjoyed their best part of the game during the next 15 minutes. Their expansive style of play saw the ball transferred from side to side but unfortunately for the visitors they were not making sufficient progress in a forward direction as the best defence in the division stood firm.
Gareth Wynne did convert a penalty for the visitors to make it 7-3 and they should have taken the lead when a ball was hacked towards the line. Manchester's left winger Seldorn Kuadey and Otley's Guy Easterby embarked on a foot race but as both players dived for the ball it squirted free over the try line. Unfortunately for Manchester, their fly-half Richard Wainwright fumbled the ball forward as he tried to pick up and score.
Otley cleared the danger and soon obtained the territorial advantage from which the forwards launched some powerful pick and drives. With Otley 5 metres from the try line, Easterby popped up a well timed pass to back-rower Paul Williams who crashed through the guard defenders to score. Kitching converted and Otley led 14-3 after 20 minutes.
Kitching converted two penalties and Wynne registered his second of the afternoon to make it 20-6 with half-time approaching.
Otley were awarded a penalty 40 metres out and Kitching was just wide with his effort. Otley re-gained possession from the '22 drop-out but uncharacteristic indecision at the base of the maul allowed the visitors to gain turnover ball and launch an attack down the left. Kuadey was on hand to grab the try after good work by the Manchester backs. Wynne failed to land the conversion but Manchester were back within touching distance at 20-11 at half-time.
Wynne kicked his third penalty of the afternoon to make it 20-14 just after half-time but failed to reduce the deficit to 3 points with another attempt soon after. This was the kick up the backside that Otley needed as they went on to completely dominate the remainder of the proceedings.
The Otley forwards were overpowering their opponents in the close quarters which created the space for Otley skipper Ian Shuttleworth to slice through a gap in the Manchester midfield and dive over between the posts for his seventh try of the season. Kitching converted and Otley had a commanding 27-14 lead after 62 minutes. Then came the hunt for the important bonus point while ensuring Manchester returned home pointless.
Manchester's defensive effort was now starting to show with their attacking efforts resorting to sending ponderous inside centre Rawlings down the middle which was food & drink to the likes of Mooney, Buchanan, Hyde & Co.
With the Otley steam-roller in full flow, it was a matter of time before the fourth try came. After Kuadey fumbled a high kick in the Manchester '22, Otley's pack got to work once again. This time it was engine roomer Richard Snowball who received an inside pass from Shuttleworth before barging over the line for his first try for the Club. Snowball, the unsung hero of the Otley side, was a well-deserved recipient of the large roar which greeted this important score. Kitching stroked over the difficult conversion to make it 34-14 after 72 minutes but Otley weren't finished.
A good kick took play to within 5 yards of the Manchester line and from the resulting pressure, Manchester had replacement prop Thomas Mantell sin-binned after 75 minutes for a trip on Otley right wing Steve Parsons.
The Otley crowd thought No.8 Dan Hyde, who enjoyed an excellent return to the side, had grounded a pushover try but the referee had seen a knock-on. Otley dismantled the resulting scrum and were awarded a penalty which they chose to use for another scrummage. This time Hyde was denied by ielegal intervention from the Manchester back-row leaving the referee with no option other than to award a penalty try which Kitching duly converted to make it 41-17 at the final whistle which sounded soon after.
An emphatic win which, combined with Stourbridge's defeat at Blaydon, sees Otley go 8 points clear at the top with Manchester in 3rd place a further 10 points behind albeit with 2 games in hand.
Otley now look foward to next weekend's challenge at Henley Hawks who are scrapping for survival. Once again, heads will need to be on to ensure the work so far is not undone.
Otley: Dench; Parsons, Buchanan, Mooney, Kitching; Shuttleworth (capt), Easterby (McCormack 15-20, 65); Trethewey (Turner 60), Steele (Sayers 68), Fullman; Snowball, Parr; Williams, Bland (Andre 50), Hyde
Manchester: Coulbeck, Wynne, Wilson, Rawlings, Kuadey, Wainwright, Bramhall (capt), Gadd (Mantell 40), Platt, Flynn, Williams, Ralph, Eboral, Fessia, Moss
Referee: Terry Hall
Tries: Kitching, Williams, Shuttleworth, Snowball, Penalty Try
Cons: Kitching (5)
Pens: Kitching (2)
Pens: Wynne (4)
Click here for photos of the match courtesy of Paul Barrett
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