Crusaders 18 - Hornets 54
Don't be April-fooled by the scoreline. Apart from two five minute purple patches, the Crusaders never really got to grips with Hornets and were on the receiving end of a good old-fashioned flogging.
Post Match, John Stankevich said that the scoreline flattered the home side and he was right. But six minutes in, with Crusaders leading 4-nil from a straightforward ball-through-hands try, not one of the delerious home fans could've anticipated the almighty spanking to come.
On 15 minutes Adam Bowman got an arm free in the tackle, Steve McDermott showed some tidy soccer skills and his pass inside to Paul O'Connor put Hornets on the board and silenced the home crown. Chris Baines added the extras and Hornets were up and running.
Labouring under an increasingly lop-sided penalty count, Hornets soaked up what little pressure the Crusaders could muster, but the Welsh side's impotent jabbing came to nothing and Hornets strode downfield where Steve Roper threaded Mark Hobson onto a short ball to stretch the lead. Hornets were denied a try almost immediately afterwards when Dave Newton was adjudged to have been held-up over the line.
Stanky's introduction of new signing Phil Braddish caused chaos in the home side's ranks as his block-busting direct approach had them retreating every time he carried the ball. He got his reward on half an hour when he bulldozed through fro short range, exposing the Crusaders' paper-thin goal-line defence.
On the next set in the home-side's half Hornets compounded the misery; Phil Wood taking advantage of a tired defence, Hobson on his shoulder to take the ball on into space, drawing the full-back to send Roper scampering in with winger Wilkes desperately clinging to his legs.
With half time approaching, Hornets conjured up the try of the half; the ball worked wide to Dale Bloomfield on the last tackle, Bloomfield sprinting into space with the presence of mind to dink a kick beyond the approaching fulback for Johnny Leather to gather and score. Only one set of fans singing: the Crusaders drum silent; half time 28-4.
The second half looked a lot like the first. An early Baines penalty stretching Hornets' lead before Steve McDermott found Chris Hough who squeezed past defenders to score on 50 minutes.
Hornets were forced into a re-shuffle at half back when Roper left the field with a leg injury - Houghy goung to Scrum Half; Leather to stand-off. But before either had the chance to play themselves in, all hell broke loose as Gary Middlehurst and Crusaders' Morrison exchanged blows and were dismissed; Middlehurst accused of kicking out at the player on the floor, the Hornets man claiming afterwards that he'd been extracting his foot trapped under the tackle.
With the home crowd roused from their slumbers, the Crusaders re-structured quicker, with Wilkes troubling the scoreboard for the first time in an hour. But Hornets responded just five minutes later when Hornets nicked the ball one on one from marker and worked the ball upfield for Leather to grab his second.
Less than a minute later, Hornets again drove the ball through a flagging home defence and set up position close to the Crusaders line, where Leather found John Cookson with a peach of a short, flat pass and he blasted through to score a deserved try. Hornets fans sang his name; home fans sulked. Lovely.
With the game in the bag, Hornets took the foot off the gas a little allowing the Crusaders two late consolation scores from Massam and Hulme. But Hornets finished the stronger when Stephen Bannister's break found Adam Bowman on an inside ball for the prop to outpace the Welsh threequarters in a race to the line and bring the 50 up for Hornets. Chris Baines added the extras (nine from ten for him) and the noisy travelling Hornets fans again showed the Welsh how to sing.
This was a clinical, professional performance. Hornets took the game to the Crusaders and drove them backwards for pretty much 70 of the 80 minutes. Again, the forwards were immense, providing a superb platform for some great attacking football.
The Crusaders had little answer to Hornets' high-tempo, direct approach - blowing out of their arses after 20 minutes of both halves and physically dominated in every aspect of the game. If they take anything from this battering, it'll be the need to get fit and toughen up a bit.
Back when our U23s got beaten by a full-strength Crusaders in pre-season, I said to a Welsh bloke who was shouting the word 'YEEEES!' in my face that I'd bet him a tenner that we'd score an aggregate of 100 against them in the league this season.
We're more than half way there, boyo.