Hykeham RFC made the journey west to take on Ollerton RFC for their fifth league game of the season. After some dubious performances in early October, Hykeham made significant progress in terms of attitude and team-play against Rolls Royce in the preceding week, and aimed to bring the momentum of that game into Saturday's fixture. However, momentum was limited somewhat with substantial changes in the line up due to injuries and mass unavailability.
Hykeham were fully aware of how Ollerton's league position was a canard, and just a result of disciplinary measures rather than a lack of ability and form. After a focused but rather brief warm up Hykeham set up and received the kick off. In many ways Ollerton strongly resembled most of the Hykeham's opponents in the league this season; large experienced pack with strong runners ball in hand through the middle. Because of this, perhaps it was not unexpected that Hykeham again struggled to contain the runners, with Ollerton charges sucking in multiple Hykeham players to stop the drive, and Ollerton capitalising on the gaps around the fringes.
Hykeham found themselves two tries down in quick succession, and were required to pick themselves up to claw back points before half time. After some good work in development, Hykeham found themselves with a penalty in the corner 5 yards out.
Hykeham's captain called for the scrum to the chagrin and surprise of Ollerton's larger pack. This endorsement was fully justified when the Hykeham scrum were relentless, reset after reset, until finally the ref awarded Hykeham a further penalty in response to Ollerton repeatedly bringing the scrum down. The forwards, after a tap and go, provided clean ball by setting the ruck. After some good work in the centres, Jamie Smith found himself driving towards the touchline, only to unselfishly offload, with fly half Steve Quinlan gathering confidently and touching down to reduce the deficit going into half time.
The second half followed a similar pattern. Hykeham started slowly and as a result of a few broken tackles Ollerton were twice able to add to their score with their strong running.
On a positive note, Hykeham showed much improved resilience in response to the scores in comparison to earlier games and kept their heads up and focused on reducing the gap. It is becoming noticeable that Hykeham are continually finishing games as the stronger side, and one would suspect this is a result of the relative youth of the squad in comparison to the teams faced to date. Hykeham scored the final try of the game in a similar way to their earlier effort, setting a solid ruck close to the line from a penalty tap and go, and as the ball cycled through the backs Quinlan was able to return the favour and offload for Smith to drive home the try. However, similar to previous games, it was too little too late, as Ollerton ran out deserved winners 22-12.
Like last week, there were positives to take from the defeat. There was all round commitment to the cause, and a noticeable lack of handling errors.
Nathan Bunn was awarded man of the match in a confident display, reacting quickly in penalty situations and finding his targets with aplomb. Moreover, Rob Sturge continued his rise to prominence breaking his first XV cherry, and one suspects to see much more of him over this season and next.
Finally, Hykeham look forward to next Saturday which brings the President's game, an exciting encounter against a strong invitational side, in honour of the great Hairy Thomas, a founding father of the Hykeham RFC, who the club sadly lost earlier this year.