Otley 39 Nuneaton 22
The smiles on the faces of Otley’s players said it all as they headed into their dressing room after the final whistle.
They had just beaten fellow strugglers Nuneaton and gained a try bonus point in their fight to avoid a second successive demotion.
It may not have moved Otley up the table from their fifth-from-bottom spot but it did their survival hopes a power of good.
Kendal’s home defeat against Westoe, bearing in mind their inferior points difference, means to all intents and purposes that they are down.
Nuneaton, meanwhile, are on the brink with just three matches to go and a maximum of 15 points to play for.
The other relegation place is resting between Harrogate (47 points), Leicester Lions (50) and Otley (51), with Hull Ionians not safe either on 54.
Otley hope to have wrapped up their place in the fourth tier before they travel to Ionians on the final day of the season (April 28), and the Cross Greeners’ director of rugby Tom Rock said: “It wasn’t our best performance of the season but it was one of our most important.”
However, as was the case with Keighley the previous week, they still needed a kick up the backside at half-time in a game they probably could not afford to lose.
Rock said: “We were a bit lazy in the first half, which was surprising considering the importance of the game.
“There was a danger of it developing into a ‘we score, you score scenario’ but I was proud of each and every one of the lads afterwards.
“We have the best set of backs in the league, two more on the bench and some others who were playing for the second team at Wharfedale.”
Given the dry pitch that they craved for, Otley gave flanker Toby Williams plenty of the ball early on and he helped to put them on the front foot as play was concentrated in and around the Nuneaton 22.
Full back Christian Georgiou put the hosts ahead with a penalty in the eighth minute, and he doubled their lead with another four minutes later.
Nuneaton fly half Huw Thomas halved the deficit with a penalty of his own after 14 minutes before tenacity from Otley left winger Curtis Wilson helped him break free in midfield six minutes later, centre Michael Coady being on his inside shoulder to receive a pass and scoot away for a try which Georgiou converted.
James Barnard then got on the end of breaks by fellow Nuneaton centre William Cave and Thomas to score a try in the 25th minute which Thomas converted.
Otley’s advantage was down to three points but a long pass to right winger James Twomey gave him the chance to put Georgiou over four minutes later.
Back came Nuneaton in the 33rd minute in what was becoming a tit-for-tat contest, right winger Stefan Cooksammy making the inroads to put full back Elliott Brown over.
But Otley gave themselves a bit of breathing space before half-time when Rock’s delicate left-footed chip put Wilson in for a try, Georgiou’s magnificent touchline conversion from in front of the stand giving the hosts a ten-point lead at 25-15 and a further lift.
Twomey showed confidence and good footwork at pace to clinch the try bonus point for the home side in the 45th minute, weaving inside and then out to confound the Nuneaton defence, Georgiou again adding the extras to stretch Otley’s advantage to 32-15.
But the outcome was back in the melting pot six minutes later when Barnard broke free for left winger Kane Nixon to score, Thomas converting to bring the deficit back to ten points.
Rock then decided to play for territory, ensuring that if Nuneaton were going to score they would have to do it from deep in their own 22.
But, as it happened, Otley got the only remaining try, Nuneaton paying a heavy price for kicking away possession.
A long Georgiou pass found Twomey in space on the right and he pinned back his ears and outpaced the cover to run in Otley’s fifth try, Georgiou finishing the match as he had the first half with a magnificent touchline conversion.