In a week where I was finally convinced that storms should be described as the very windy one or the start of the apocalypse rather than a named like distant relatives, there were various messages and feedback from the Sheffield away game. This was countered by the U16’s lifting the county cup and the continuing success of the Colts squad illustrating that as a club we are in very fine fettle. The senior squad despite not getting the results continues to battle hard and develop which will serve us well in the future, it will frustrate that we seem to be so close in so many ways but the existing “big” clubs in this league were never going to make it easy.
I like many I am very intrigued by the backroom changes at Manchester Utd football, now before the complaints roll in its not either the Manchester or the football that interests me but the Sir David J Brailsford angle. This is a man that applied the ethos of marginal gains into the cycling teams; this ethos is that if you make little changes here and there then the overall gain gives you the advantage to succeed, it’s also known as the 1% factor. If each aspect or person within the squad tweaks or makes a 1% gain then that overall is a massive shift and may make the difference. So in a squad on the field you have the opportunity to refine 15% of your game. If this extends to doping issues that continue to dog cycling is one I’ll leave for now but now the principle may be applied to a team sport rather than the combination of man and machine will be very interesting. It’s the small changes and development that provide the long lasting, shared improvement. Having talked to many players after what I have considered a very good games, it always I missed too many tackles and how do I get there and make more next time which seems harsh at the time but this self motivation is key.
With all of this in mind it was good to make the weekly gym session which is becoming very crowded with the quota of club legends on the increase. It’s a great session as the ethos is everyone does what they can, for someone with the energy of an I Phone 8 it’s good to get stuck in and be pushed by those around you. It’s a decent day on Saturday with a light breeze as I fight with an unmovable toilet seat and end up running towards the hill, which is not easy in full cowboy attire. As I search for a pen, my attendance is noted and the delayed kick off is confirmed but no problem as the teams emerge shortly. Otley look quite a physical unit as they jog out in mainly Black with white trim, the White and greens then run out in quite a contrast followed by the three officials with sky blue in the middle and red on the touchlines.
It’s Otley to kick off towards the club house and we are away with a high kick followed with a good chase, Billingham collect and very quickly opt to punt it up the middle. Otley then counter and at the breakdown the man in the middle spots the first infringement, it’s a straight arm. Otley look to get points on the board early from a central position and open the score with 0 – 3, given the league position it’s a pivotal game for each team.
Billingham kick off and a loose hand knocks the ball, Ed Graham is first on the scene collects and heads into the Otley 22. Billingham fail to secure the ball as Otley reach in at the breakdown so it Otley from deep in their own half but with combination runners they make good headway and with a dangerous looking break they look down the dugout side but runners overlap obstructing the defence so its curtailed. It’s the first scrum and a big nudge from Otley as Billingham are forced to kick into touch to clear, I expect that Otley will use that as a platform during the match. Otley take the line out clean and are soon into their stride gain but knock on leading to another scrum. It’s a reset but Otley again have the upper hand with the push, it’s another straight hand as Otley pop another over the sticks for 0-6.
Billingham kick off but Otley secure by a tall forward getting into the air, kick are exchanged and Otley get good position as Billingham get pinged for not rolling away. It’s a kick into the corner this time as Otley look to catch and drive but Billingham graft in defence resulting in a penalty and chance to clear. Form the line out its Dan Burns cleanly to set Billingham away but its lost wide which Otley pounce on, its runners up the middle to test the defence. Moving the ball the 8 gets into space the support winger come in then feeds an inside runner to grab the try. Converted it maintains the Otley push at 0-13 and it’s a very subdued Billingham crowd.
Otley secure the next kick off and return the ball with a low bouncer. As Billingham look to counter there’s an Otley hand in the mix so it’s a kick to touch. From the line out Otley regain the ball and send in the runners again, who to be honest look dangerous all game and they break the line again forcing Billingham to cover. It’s held up on the line with the man in the middle right on the spot to make the decision. At this point the mount faithful are aware that Otley have coaches on headsets positioned all around the pitch relaying instructions as the game continues, they also are on the pitch at times to continue their coaching under the guise of water bottle carriers/physio. In reply to the coaching staff response, one water bottle does not a physio make. As the drop out is launched and Otley set up again their simple running, support and ball retention is allowing any chances at the moment. Billingham have to defend the line after another Otley break then another infringement is spotted, yellow it shown and Billingham go down to 14 as Otley opt for the scrum. Billingham disrupt and its Nathan Myers burst with ball in hand, it’s away from danger as Billingham opt to lump it up field. Otley collect, have a chance to view where the gaps are and counter with a switch, it’s on again but Billingham infringe. Otley opt to move the score on to 0 – 16.
Billingham kick off again, Otley secure under pressure and kicks are exchanged but there’s a bit of a kerfuffle behind the play leading to an official’s conference as Billingham get a kick to touch well in Otley territory. Burns rises as Billingham look to run some phases. Good strong runs from Peter Youll and Dan Dixon drive it in. Otley look to slow it down for one penalty and go into the breakdown on the side for another, it’s still stern defence as the forwards phases go close. It needs a quick ball and pass plus Peter Evans with a weaving run to reach the line. Converted the home side banish the doughnut to warm up the mount for 7 – 16.
Otley send a high one up with Billingham securing and not hanging around with a kick to touch. I don’t know why but a ripple of errors for Otley allows Billingham a foot hold as a not straight line out throw, scrum penalty and high tackle move Billingham up the pitch. Both teams look secure at the line out with Burns up in front of the Otley jumper to whip the ball from the clutches as Billingham use hands to move the ball out to Ed who goes in wide. Conversion goes wide but Billingham eat further into the Otley start at 12 – 16.
From the kick off Billingham knock on to allow Otley a great position which despite dogged defense and some iffy passes they use to get the next score. It’s a scrum that Billingham pressure and a very poor scrum half pass that the 15 has to go back for but then he uses this to side step through the chasing defence to go in. The Otley coaches are on the pitch passing info on as the conversion is straight through the posts 12 -23.
It’s more of the same from Otley towards the break with controlled running, the leggy 15 looking dangerous with every carry plus they are targeting the breakdown getting cleanly over the ball. It’s a bit stop start but Otley butcher a few overlaps as we end the half at 12 -23.
The half time round up can be summed up as how are we not further behind, do we attempt to wander round the pitch and can that fella on the headset get me tins of soup from aisle 4. I switch pens for the second half; well it can’t hurt can it. I catch up on the Friday night tour de Billingham and wonder if I can get new phone sponsorship not sure if Applewood?
As the calming notes of Thunderstruck arrive from the club house end the teams emerge for the second half as Billingham play towards the club house and the mount end is sparse as of course all of the action will be at the other end. Peter Evans sends the ball skywards as Otley collect but knock as moving it out as the balcony finds their voice. Billingham look to get on the front foot early with a solid scrum then testing the line as its out with a chase for a nudge through but its back for a penalty. Do Billingham take the points to narrow the gap? Nope, it’s a kick to the corner to turn the screw. Catch and drive from the line out but Otley get in. Billingham retain and go around the corner, with Dan Dixon getting across the line. Ryan Foreman converts and it’s already a different full to the first half with Billingham still trailing 19 -23.
Apart from the opening 20 minutes the match has evened out with both teams taking chances when in the others half, Its Billingham with a little bit of Uncle Mo as they collect the kick off and go through a number of phases. Rather than stretching along the line Peter E looks for a couple of inside runners and the quick recycle is certain making in-roads, there’s a glimpse up the wing but Otley shepherd into touch. The line outs seemed to have settled down to favor the team throwing it in and this allows Otley a platform to then unleash the runners who test each touch, they have overlaps a few times but greedy hands don’t share but it’s a temporary issues as the 9 finishes under the posts, converted the visitors move out to 19 – 30.
Billingham kick off and Otley allow it to bounce allowing Peter Y at pace to collect, it’s a chance but Otley cover with Billingham interfering at the breakdown Otley clear to touch. It’s off the top form Otley and then runners up the middle, a few phases later it’s a kick that bounces just before the touch line to put them onto the Billingham 22. It’s then Billingham moving back up the pitch as Otley don’t release twice then block the midfield. It’s into the corner as Billingham reprise the last visit and Dan D grabs another bring up the 4 tries for Billingham. It’s across the face posts for the conversion but Billingham narrow the gap again at 24 – 30.
The next passage of play is marked by a few loose passes as both teams look to gain the upper hand. Billingham look to be in a much better rhythm, with continued clean work at the line out by Burns and lifters and the backs trying to bring the wings into play, they have been on defensive duties all game but a clear break has been elusive. Otley look to move the ball and have numbers but opt to pop it over the top with is collected, its midfield exchanges as AJ and Luke Armstrong look to run it in. Otley steal the ball while on the floor so it’s to the corner we go to set up again. Billingham set up with the forwards and go close but it’s a quick recycle and out to Joe Ross to get over the line. Out wide it’s a tricky kick so it’s still Otley ahead at 29 – 30.
It’s all to play for as Otley kick off and Billingham knock on, from the scrum Otley kick into gear setting up the runners away, the centers get into a gap and post the 15 into space and he canters in to get Otley breathing space. Conversion is wide so still finely balanced at 29 – 35.
Billingham kick off, Otley collect move the ball and a cracking kick for a 50 – 22 and Otley on the front foot. Line out is good but Billingham steal the ball and its AJ plus Dan D with strong runs that get Otley back peddling. Otley get over the ball again but knock on whilst countering up the stand side so its scrum time and Billingham hold firm again. It’s a pick at 8 as AJ starts the move and Billingham look from side to side, there’s a glimpse of a break by Joe Spoors and Billingham look to recycle. It’s another cruel momentum buster as Otley regain posetion and break up the stand side, as Billingham cover across Otley switch the play across with numbers in hand to bag the try. Unconverted it takes Otley to 29 -40 as Billingham look to narrow the gap in the hint for another point.
Billingham kick off and Nathan gets a hand to it but unfortunately in the wrong direction, Billingham look to pressure the scrum but Otley play it safe as the 15 stretches his legs again. There a few fractious exchanges but Otley don’t really give another glimpse of a break and are happy to punt the ball off the field for the final whistle. 29 - 40 at the end, 16 nil down at the start and got really close at times.
Another massive match at Greenwood road and it’s a long huddle in the middle then the players disperse to meet and greet. If you were under any illusion of the graft you only need to look into the players eyes as they leave the pitch. Otley move into a little group 8 – 11 where points are tight, Billingham remain with it all in their own hands so let’s support the club and the team as we go again.
No time this week for watching the wheelie bins roll by, bilingual bar manager, tour de mill lane, post match comments, local juggernaut, NFL (not flipping likely), cheeseboard discuss, even you would have scored that and on the count of one.
‘It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out, it’s the pebble in your shoe.’
- Muhammad Ali.
An innocent bystander.