Hemel Stags 38 - Hornets 18
Hmm, where do you start with this one?
My mum used to tell me, "If you've got nothing good to say, don't say anything". But that'd pretty much be the end of this report. So let's begin at the beginning…
Hornets allowed the kick-off to bobble comedically out of play to concede a goal-line drop-out: the earliest of indications that it was going to be one of those afternoons.
From the resulting possession Hemel sent Sharp crashing in, but he was held-up over the line. But two minutes later some neat hands fed Mostyn over by the flag to give the Stags a lead they never looked like relinquishing.
The try heralded a period of sustained Hemel pressure and it paid off when Molloy caught the Hornets defence static from close range. 10 minutes, 10-nil.
To be fair, Hornets dug in, applying some pressure of their own, but came up empty-handed after three back-to-back sets courtesy of a drop-out and a penalty. After 25 minutes, Hornets found the pass that their big, noisy following had been waiting for; Hemel given a taste of their own medicine as John Cookson boomed in from five metres. Paul Crook added the extras, and with the half hour mark approaching Hornets had a finger-hold in the game at 10-6.
Visibly lifted, Hornets continued to probe and push the Hemel defence backwards, but a dropped ball on the Stags' 10 metre line was snaffled by fullback Forgham who pinned back his ears to win a 90 metre foot-race and plant the ball under the black dot at the other end. Bit of a bugger, really.
Hemel's next try had the air of a fluke about it. Prop Howitt's charge-down of a hurried clearing kick gave Hemel possession in Hornets 20 metre zone. With the set going nowhere a scuffed grubber from Coleman took a freakish bounce twixt two covering defenders, into the arms of Sharp who'd chased it more in hope than expectation. 16-6.
Having shipped two unfortunate tries, Hornets almost gifted Hemel another: the otherwise reliable Crook suffering a case of the yips, failing to find touch with a penalty, Mostyn steaming the ball back. As it was, the half ended with an audacious drop-goal attempt from Coleman drifting mercifully wide.
Half time 22-6: Hornets struggling to contain Jy-Mel Coleman's incisive distribution game and killed by Hemel's ability to release second-phase ball off the back of some pretty ordinary tackling.
The second half followed a similar pattern. Hornets forcing passes, conceding cheap penalties and handing Hemel ample opportunity to sap their energy in the punishing heat.
Indeed, it took only 8 minutes for Sharp to crash through and score and, with Mike Ratu carried from the field and stand-in scrum half Gary Wheeler similarly removed, Hornets' shuffled Martin Waring to centre and Chris Hough to half-back.
The effect was almost immediate. Hornets working the ball downfield and Dave Llewellyn threaded through the smallest of gaps to score. Crooky with the extras.
At 28-12 with almost half an hour to play, there was a flicker of opportunity - extinhuished within three minutes as Sharp turned provider, creating space for Swndells to effectively end Hornets chances of getting anything from the game.
So Hemel parked the bus; happy to repel Hornets increasingly frustrated, flaccid attack and, in possession, equally happy to complete their sets, bang the ball downfield and compel Hornets to start again from their own 20 metre line.
With two minutes remaining, Hemel worked the ball to Pritchard for a simple try. But for lovers of irony, Hornets regained possession from the kick-off and with the hooter imminent, played their most lucid football of the afternoon to send Chris Baines in for a late, late consolation try. Crooky added the two to put this farrago of a game out of its misery.
Speaking in League Weekly (July 8), Ian Talbot's frustration was clear: "I'm disappointed and pretty embarrassed for the lads who coughed up that performance. We've got all the easy excuses that we want - they were ready-made before we came: 'we've got ten players unavailable, the long travel, the hot weather'… but the lads dwelled on the negatives and, from the kick-off, were not dealing with it properly. I knew we were in for a long day because they were not quite switched on and it just went from bad to worse. We made uncharacteristic errors and I think we are in a bit of an identity crisis. We've lost a few games on the back of a winning streak and it's difficult to take.."
He continued: "On a positive note, that's our last away game of the season and we've five at home from here on in, so hopefully we can put a run on from now until the end of the season."
Certainly, Hornets look like a team suffering a crisis of confidence and its downward cycle - things go wrong, team tries 'too hard', passes get pushed, tackles get sloppy, things go wrong…
With a two week break ahead of five consecutive home games we have a period of respite. So let's regroup, get a few bodies back on deck, take a deep breath and start again.
And hopefully things'll come right in the end.