Otley arrived at Blundellsands in buoyant mood to face a Waterloo side struggling for form in the latter half of the season. After securing promotion at Cross Green last weekend, the final challenge facing this Otley side was to secure the league championship – any win would do.
Three personnel changes were made for this, the final game of the season. Paul Turner was promoted from the bench to start at loosehead with Steve Trethewey taking his place among the replacements. Jon Buchanan replaced Rob Whatmuff in the centres and Steve Parsons returned to the side on the right wing in the place of top points scorer and new dad Robin Kitching. Danny Smith switched to his preferred position on the left.
Any fears of Otley complacency were dispelled early in the game as the pack immediately asserted their authority over the home side with several early lineout drives. The backs too signalled their intent to attack with width, Smith making yards down the left after good handling in the midfield. After a Waterloo infringement, the penalty was kicked to the corner and from the resulting lineout the Otley forwards drove their opponents over the line for the try. Howard Parr showed his scoring knack as he surfaced with the ball and Alistair Monks converted from the touchline. 0-7 after 5 minutes.
The away side continued their dominance with Waterloo offering little attacking threat but persisting with a pre-planned tactic to test the nerves of the Otley full back with several high balls. Captain Ian “The Javelin” Shuttleworth was up to the task and counterattacked with verve. After one such attack, the ball was fed to Buchanan who put in an excellent probing kick to find touch on Waterloo 22’. When Waterloo struggled to find distance with their touch clearance, the Otley forwards pushed the lineout drive from 25 yards out to within yards of the line but then the maul broke up with the try line begging. However this was in part due to Waterloo infringements and after a succession of offences in the “red zone”, referee Andrew Vertigan condemned a ‘Loo second rower to the sin bin. Yet again Otley’s driven line out was thwarted but this time the ball was fed by Guy Easterby to the short side where Parsons evaded two tacklers and stretched out a long limb to score and unconverted try in the corner.
Further Otley pressure midway through the first half resulted in a penalty under the posts to be kicked successfully by Monks. However Waterloo were not content to just make up the numbers and exerted pressure on Otley from the restart. Poor discipline in defence allowed Waterloo some territory at last and after some strong running by the ‘Loo pack, the home side broke Otley’s defence to score a try on the left. Otley were not going to have it all their own way.
In recent weeks, Otley have had a habit of conceding tries just before half time. However it was Otley this week who scored. More strong mauling saw Parr driven over for his second try of the game and fifth of the season for the squadron leader. Tempers flared after an off the ball incident after the try and this gave the home side a lift, as again they pressurised from the restart and looked close to punishing Otley but a scrambled touch clearance after a charge down signalled half time.
For probably the first time this season the weather was calm and so the teams switched at ends with little impact on tactics. Otley began the second half as they had the first. Smart handling down the left put Smith away on a great solo run but his chip ahead bounced over the pocket winger and he was denied a try. Waterloo re-gathered but a turnover in midfield allowed the ball to be fed to the right wing where Parsons again was the grateful recipient for the try, converted by Monks from the touchline.
The bonus point secure, Otley took their foot off the gas. Some uncharacteristic mistakes and a yellow card to Jon Buchanan were exploited by Waterloo who scored two tries in 5 minutes and threatened to spoil Otley’s day. However a second late challenge on Shuttleworth allowed Otley to relieve some pressure. As the side played deep into Waterloo territory, a penalty close to the posts allowed Shuttleworth the opportunity to put the game out of Waterloo reach. The captain made no mistake despite some heckling as he swung a £25,000 leg (£5,000 per kg) at the ball to slot it between the posts.
The icing was applied to the Otley cake in the final minutes of the game. Good handling from Paul Mooney and Buchanan put Parsons away down the right as Otley stretched the Waterloo defence. The cover defence halted progress only briefly as the ball was recycled quickly and Otley plunged into the home 22’. As the ball was sent infield, Mooney made a half break through the creaking defence and offloaded “out of the back door” to the lurking Parsons who dived under the posts for his third of the day. Shuttleworth converted and minutes later booted the ball into touch to end the game and with it, secure the National League 2 championship.
At the start of the season, the team’s aim was to gain promotion. Peter Clegg clearly stated back in August 2007 that "anything else will be seen as failure". Not only has this been achieved but it has come with the added bonus of winning the title. This fine achievement has required a massive effort from everyone involved both on and off the field. The team & coaches would like to thank the supporters for their unfailing support at all corners of the country. We look forward to locking horns with our old rivals back in National One next year.
And finally, congratulations to Robin Kitching and Hannah on the birth of their twins, William and Emily, on Friday.
Otley: Shuttleworth (capt), Parsons, Buchanan, Mooney, Smith, Monks, Easterby, Turner, Sayers, Fullman, Snowball, Parr, Stockdale, Hyde, Lewis
Referee: A Vertigan (RFU)
Tries: Kerfoot, Bradley, Nugent
Tries: Parsons (3), Parr (2)
Cons: Monks (2), Shuttleworth
Pens: Monks, Shuttleworth
Click here for photos of the match courtesy of Paul Barrett
Click here for individual league records