Monday, 23 April 2012

Holt Will Tear us Apart (Again)

Barrow 44 - Hornets 18

Every game has a turning point: a fulcrum around which momentum, fortune and confidence shifts. For Hornets it arrived on the 45 minute mark with what, at the time, seemed an insigificant blip in an otherwise confident, cohesive performance.

What came before had been tight, and intriguing; a first half arm-wrestle with both sides showing determined defence. Barrow had started brightly, an early try by Low edging them ahead, but Hornets slowly, steadily dragged the game back in their direction, rewarded on 24 minutes when Paul Crook followed Steve McDermott's scuttling break to send Danny Davies in and lock-up the scores at 6-all.

Both sides blew further chances with last passes that went awry: Barrow flinging the ball away with the line at their mercy, Hornets rushing downfield, Crook's pass to Dale Bloomfield deemed forward.

With neither team able to find the killer break, the half-time hooter saw the game teasingly poised at 6-all.

Hornets began the second half with a bang. Playing high-tempo football they drove a harried Raiders defence backwards. Slick passing and stepping in traffic saw Wayne English combine with Paul O'Connor, who found Paul Crook arriving at pace. O'Connor's pass threaded Crook into space and he out-paced the chasing defence to score under the black dot. His conversion a formality, Hornets had seized the initiative at 12-6.

But what happened next shaped the remainder of the game. Hornets shuttled the ball back downfield via a series of block-busting forward drives. And as the home defence stretched and flapped, a desperate reaching arm to the left of the posts became a high tackle. Two points here would mean daylight between the teams; Barrow compelled to chase the game, needing two scores to regain the lead. Two points seemed the logical choice; simple kick, get the ball back, maintain the momentum.

But the otherwise reliable Crook slotted the penalty wide. Barrow exhaled in relief. Off the hook, they grew in confidence and the game was irreversibly changed.

By the time Hornets troubled the scoreboard again in the 77th minute, Barrow had crashed in 6 tries. What had been a game of inches became an irresistible tsunami of blue-shirts. Orchestrated by the boot of Daren Holt, Barrow swept through the Hornets defence in waves. 32 points in the space of 18 minutes washed the game away from Hornets - Ballard backing up a huge 50 metre break, Larkin overlapping by the flag, Holt lofting the ball into the stride of Nixon, Campbell stepping through disoriented defenders. And the coup de grace, a booming 40/20 kicked fully 100 metres diagonally across the field by Holt; Holt himself the pivot on a runaround from the resulting scrum, sending in Campbell.

This was an implosion of cataclysmic proportions. For fully 20 minutes, Hornets didn't see the ball; either chasing increasingly elusive shadows, kicking off back into an increasingly confident Raiders or stood beneath their crossbar.

When Hornets did get the ball, they marched straight down the field where Steve McDermott scooted in to score. Crook's conversion from almost the same spot as the doomed 45th minute penalty made it 38-18.

There was just time for Ballard to break 60 metres through centre field, going back for a pass from Campbell to loop around a static defence and score. Holt underlined his quality banging over the extras from the touchline. Devastating.

When Hornets took their positions for the 20 metre drop-out in the 46th minute, no-one in the ground anticipated what would happen next. Hornets fans can discuss whether taking a tap, building pressure, compelling Barrow to do more tackling under their own posts would've been a better option than taking the two; but it'd be a moot point. At the time, Barrow were on the rack and an 8 point margin would've taken the game in another direction.

What we can can be sure of is that Barrow used their 'get out of jail' card in devastating fashion and as their confidence grew, Hornets' ebbed away. Ultimately, the real mystery is how a game so taut could deteriorate into such a horror-show. And from that wider perspective, the turning point of this game becomes far less of a significant factor.