Sunday, 10 May 2015

True Grit

Hornets 28 - Swinton 16

Sometimes the difference between two teams comes down to who wants it most. In this tense, tight tussle, Hornets produced a performance laden with grit, determination and persistence to see off near neighbours Swinton. A win built on a foundation of outstanding - and occasionally, breathtaking - defence as Hornets soaked up periods of intense pressure, but refused to crack.

Hornets began the brighter of the two sides, on the attack from the very first set: a high kick to the cormer gathered by Dale Bloomfield who drove close, only to hand-over on the Lions’ line. Then another towering effort, fluffed by Lions full-back Atkin to give Hornets a repeat set. This time Hornets worked the ball smartly to the left where Danny Bridge produced a neatly-timed short-ball for Dave Hull to score. Lewis Charnock the two: 6-nil.

Swinton hit back courtesy of a soft-penalty and a forced drop-out - R. Hawkyard gathering a teasing kick to the corner to score by the flag. Atkin’s conversion: 6-all.

As the game became locked in a taut wrestle, it needed a moment of inspiration. It arrived in the 20th minute: a lightning fast 20 metre restart from Wayne English caught Swinton napping and he carried the ball towards half-way; Gaz Langley continued the momentum; Tony Suffolk next to crank up the momentum, now deep in the Lions’ half.

With the visitors’ defence retreating, a beautifully delayed pass from Danny Bridge sent Danny Yates scampering in for a great try. Lewis Charnock good with the boot: 12-6.

Hornets continued to press - Jack Ashworth producing a mecurial dummy, but the last pass went to ground. Swinton needed a questionable penalty to relieve the pressure. Having been swept 60 metres upfield, Rothwell capitalised on a defence stretched too far to score. 12-10.

Hornets ended the half as they began - pressing hard under Swinton’s posts. With the hooter clearing its throat, Ant Walker not only produced the most outrageous dummy to gallop through a mesmerised defence, he audaciously made a mug of the full-back too as he scored a stunning try under the black dot. Paul Crook now on kicking duty: half time, 18-10.

Hornets began the second half with a visible determination: Lee Paterson forcing an early error, then quick hands across the field only for the last pass to go awry. Hornets’ momentum was aided when the Lions’ conceded a penalty for talking after an admittedly peculiar decision from referee Mr Bloem. They then conceded an immediate penalty for a high tackle on Ant Walker. They then went to stand under their posts after Jack Ashworth’s show and go created anough space for him to lunge in from close range and score. Crooky uncharacteristically sliced the kick: 22-10.

For the remainder of the third quarter, Swinton chucked the kitchen sink at Hornets. Having regathered the kick-off and forced a repeat set they turned the screw. On 50 minutes Hornets produced a moment of spectacular defence that brought the main stand to its feet. Swinton had stretched the defence to snapping point in search of an opening, and when they fed R. Hawkyard into space out wide, a try looked inevitable as he dived for the corner. But he had’nt reckoned on the determnation of Gaz Langley, Lee Paterson and Wayne English who combined to launch the airborne winger into Row D. Amazing stuff.

Swinton continued their sustained barrage of the Hornets line and, as the hour mark approached, they eventually conjured a try out of nothing: a set going nowhere, a hit & hope kick to the corner R. Hawkyard getting hand to ball. Atkin the extras: 22-16 with 20 to play - and Hornets under the pump.

A last tackle penalty swept Swinton back downfield, but great cover defence snuffed out the threat; a fluke of a bounce hitting Lee Paterson to give Swinton a repeat set; Gaz Langley millimetres away from an intercept handing Swinton a scrum on the 10 metre line; Langley again mopping up behind the defence to concede a drop-out; D. Hawkyard held-up over the line; a first-tackle suicide pass from Wayne English handing the ball back to Swinton, only for them to cough the ball first tackle. This was tense stuff.

The Lions camped in Hornets half for a good 10 minutes, but some frankly stunning defence held them at bay. An exhausted Hornets clawed their way back upfield where Paul Crook’s 72nd minute drop-goal attempt was waved away. Swinton coughed the ball on the first tackle and Hornets went for the kill - but the coup-de grace came in freakish fashion.

Danny Yates launched a drop-goal attempt, the ball cannoned back off the post against the blue tide of a retreating Swinton defence, in the scrambling panic that folowed, Yatesey followed up his own kick and - amongst a tangle of limbs - touched down to score. Incredible. Crooky the coolest head in the stadium to add the two. Hornets home and hosed at 28-16.

There’s no doubt that this was a benchmark win - the point at which Hornets put down a serious marker at the top end of League 1. And, while Oldham were getting handed their arse at Barrow - exposed having finally played someone half-decent - Hornets climbed into second place in the table.

We all knew this season would be tough and tight. But if this was a representation of our challenge in microcosm, then buckle-up - it’s going to be a tense, but thrilling ride.