Saturday, 15 April 2017

Hornets struggle with Eagles life in the slow-lane

Hornets 18 - Sheffield 42

Even the the most ardent purist would have struggled to appreciate this dog-ugly turd of a game.

Sheffield wore Hornets down in super slow-motion, playing barely any discernible football in a pseudo-vacuum where time itself ground to a near-halt. It was, by some distance, the worst way to lose - a perfromance bereft of aesthetics, an exercise in ugly stasis. A Derren-Brown-like hypnosis where reality became blurred and, when you woke up disoriented, you just happened to find Hornets stood under their own crossbar anticipating a conversion.

Hornets started brightly: a try from their first attack after just three minutes as Josh Crowley pounced on a Danny Yates grubber. Lewis Palfrey added the two and Hornets had peaked before some people had even taken their seats.

Three minutes later Hornets invited Sheffield back into the game. Having pressed hard with a repeat set and a penalty, Matty Blythe knocked on on the first tackle and 40 seconds later Lo strolled through some very ordinary left channel defence to score. Brown levelled it at 6-all and the game headed downhill - very very slowly.

Sheffield went back to Hornets dodgy left channel after 10 minutes as Lo fed Mincella in for 6-10. Brown good with the boot to double the Eagles’ lead. And when the visitors broke 60 metres up the guts of the Hornets defence two minutes later it required desperate measures to prevent further damage. Having scrambled, Hornets’ stand-in full-back Jack Johnson was brave under a bomb, Sheffield penalised for contact in the air.

For the next 20 minutes Hornets strove to contain a Sheffield side that threatened much, but constantly ran out of ideas. Indeed, they even found a couple of chances themselves: Rob Massam unable to reel in a speculator by the flag, Gary Middlehurst held up in goal - but Lewis Palfrey was snagged for obstruction as he delayed his pass a moment too long from the resulting possession.

And Palfrey was involved again two minutes later, halting a Sheffield attack with a timely interception. Hornets were then awarded a penalty for ripping - but Palfrey failed to find touch from 15 metres. Awful. Thankfully good defence forced Spedding into touch as Sheffield again probed up the left.

Having seemingly ridden out the worst of the torpid storm, Hornets switched off on the half hour mark - Burns strolling through a napping defence from Acting half, Brown the extras for 6-18.

Hornets responded well sending Samir Tahraoui crashing in off a short ball to score with his second touch, but - having reduced the arrears - Hornets were on the back-foot immediately as Matty Blythe carried the kick-off into touch.

Sheffield ended the half landing a shocking double whammy: Yere smuggling the ball out of the last tackle for Lo to appear in the in-goal, followed on the hooter by a huge break by Lo deep in his own half, Spedding released up the touchline to score from 50 metres. Half-time score 12-30. All kinds of awful…

The second half began as the first half ended. A 90 metre break from Millar only halted by a huge defensive effort from Rob Massam. But when Matty Blythe knocked on under no pressure it handed the momentum back to the visitors.

As it was, the Eagles forced their first repeat set after 48 minutes and Straughier was first to react to a frankly awful lost tackle kick for 12-34.

Hornets showed some brief resistance: pushing Sheffield off a scrum to gain possession against the head; Lewis Galbraith hitting a short ball at pace to skip through a flat-footed defence to briefly rouse Hornets fans from their slumbers. Palfrey the extras 18-34.

Sheffield underlined their credentials as the league’s dullest dullards, taking a penalty on the hour mark to stretch their lead, from which point the game shuddered towards its end at a glacial pace, with barely a discernible pulse.

Right at the death, Lo stepped out of some awful tackling to score in the corner, Brown added the two and the Hornets fans sleepwalked towards the exits to the sound of distant cheering. Final score, a horrible 18-42.

There’s no doubt that this was by some distance the worst performance of the season on pretty much every count. Hornets looked flat and low on enthusiasm, their DR left edge of Blythe (poor) and Prell (anonymous) looking for all the world like two blokes who’d won a place on the team photo in a raffle.

What’s most galling though is that Sheffield were bereft of any creativity whatsoever. Set up as a ruthlessly pragmatic, attritional unit, they’re awful to watch, but very effective - and thereby hangs a deeply unattractive lesson in how to survive in this division.

At this point we’d usually ask people to forget this abberration and move swiftly on - but as there’s so little to actually remember about this one, let’s take it as read and hope for a better response at Swinton