Wharfedale 15

Otley 8

ON AN afternoon where defences were generally in charge, Otley’s winning run against Wharfedale was finally halted in a match that doubled up as a first-round Yorkshire Cup tie.

The Greens had lost their previous four matches against the Cross Greeners but triumphed 15-8 at The Avenue in their National League Two North opener, courtesy of tries by back-rowers Rob Baldwin and Matt Speres and a penalty and conversion by fly half Jack Blakeney-Edwards, one of several players on view who have played for both clubs.

Otley, who failed to take advantage of opportunities, replied with a try by winger Henry Roberts and a penalty by fly half Ben Smith in front of a crowd of 693.

At times it seemed as if Otley were destined to make it a nap hand of triumphs against Dale, particularly after the hosts lost full back Rian Hamilton (torn hamstring), hooker Dan Stockdale (gashed head) and lock Jim Mason (ankle injury) in the space of two minutes just before the half-hour, with Sam Gaudie, Will Smith and Ben Leacock replacing them.

Blakeney-Edwards put the hosts ahead with a fourth-minute penalty from just outside the 22 after Otley were offside but missed another attempt five minutes later and the visitors made him pay.

Full back Ben Magee – who was a threat all match - came into the line to put Roberts over in the left-hand corner in the 14th minute but Ben Smith missed both the difficult conversion and a penalty four minutes later.

After their triple substitution, the hosts pressed for the rest of the half, causing referee Ben Rayner to sin-bin Otley flanker Will Burns in the 35th minute but that didn’t stop the visitors from pushing the home side off an attacking five-metre scrum.

However, Wharfedale’s replacements made an impact, and none more so than scrum half Gaudie a minute into the second half.

After a determined run by winger Oli Cicognini, Gaudie’s speed gave him a half-break and he put Speres over on the left.

Another Magee run had the Greens back pedalling and Ben Smith levelled with a 45th-minute penalty but the visitors could not halt Wharfedale’s momentum for their second try 16 minutes later.

Gaudie, Canny and Will Smith almost created something on the right but, safe in the knowledge that Rayner had already awarded them a penalty, Wharfedale moved the attack left for Baldwin to cross in the left-hand corner from a looping pass.

Baldwin had the sense to run infield to make Blakeney-Edwards’ conversion slightly easier but the Greens spent a large proportion of the rest of the match in defence, winning a vital turnover in their right-hand corner before Otley were held up on the other side of the field.

Wharfedale survived that five-metre scrum, Cicognini won them a crucial defensive penalty as the clock ticked towards 80 minutes and Leacock stole an important line-out, allowing Blakeney-Edwards to kick the ball off the field to signal a home victory.

Otley’s director of rugby Charlie Maunder was disappointed but not too downcast after losing at Wharfedale.

Maunder said: “It was the first game of the season and we didn’t take advantage when we were ahead. We had enough opportunities to win it.

“We didn’t play our shape or system and were a bit hesitant at times and it wasn’t a true reflection of how we want to play.

“We made some decisions that, ten games in, we would do differently but, as they say, you win or you learn and there was a lot to learn from here, but all credit to Wharfedale, who were fantastic.”

There were some consolations for Otley, however, with Maunder adding: “We pressurised, never gave up and picked up a losing bonus point away from home, and I think that we waited until February last season to get one of those.

“Elliot Morgan did well on his debut, Freddie Watson made an impact off the bench and Riggy (Will Rigg) and the front-row boys were fantastic early doors but we didn’t piece it together for more than five or ten-minute spells.”

“We have another big game next week at home to Huddersfield – another derby – and we will look at what we have done here, stick together, work in training and look to improve but the boys are disappointed.

“We were missing Joe Graham with a calf injury but we hope to have him back within two weeks but Henry Watson is going off to Japan and what we had here was pretty much our first-team squad.”