Sunday, 11 June 2017

Heat Stroke

Toulouse 56 - Hornets 16

Just occasionally the scoreline doesn't tell the whole story The story of this game is one of a patched-up Hornets side shorn of six regulars, bolstered by DR kids and a couple of debutants who gave the cause everything in the punishing French heat.

With the Mercury creeping up over the 32 degree mark, this was always going to be a tester of a game, but against a strong TO side that relishes the conditions, it was a test too far.

Hornets started innovatively, teasing the home defence with a short kick-off. But when TO passed the ball into Gav Bennion on the floor in the ruck, referee Mr Hewer ignored the RFL's guidelines on conning a penalty and marched the home side downfield: less than a minute on the clock and TO cheating.

It was hardly a surprise when Mika launched himself onto a short-ball to score. The tannoy announcer barely with enough time to tell the crowd to cheer.

From the resulting kick-off TO conned another penalty out of Mr Hewer after they appeared to drop the ball, but this time the Hornets defence stood firm and lines were cleared with a good out-set.

Hornets finally got a break when tyro full-back Dec Kay fielded a deep kick, only to be near decapitated by the on-rushing Planas. From the resulting possession, Tyler Whittaker's teasing kick was just too long for Miles Greenwood.

As TO brought the ball away, a shuddering shot from Rob Massam knocked the ball loose, and when another good set ended with TO bringing the ball back from their goal-line, a clutch of French fans retreated away from the noise of the Hornets contingent. Lovely.

TO's response was clinical: ball shipped left, Ader overlapping on the edge to score. Khierallah the extras 12-0.

But Hornets stuck to the task. Good completion, good metres with the ball, good kicking options drove TO backwards and, when Josh Crowley forced an error from Mika, Lewis Hatton was held-up over the line. From the next play Lewis Galbraith was snagged offside as he reeled in a Danny Yates kick to score.

TO finally cracked when a neat flat pass found Rob Massam with plenty of space to run over his opposite number and score. 12-4 and the home fans silent. Well, we say 'silent': when their side was on defence or bringing the ball out from their own half, they casually chatted amongst themselves - neither caring nor knowing what was going on on the field. Bizarre.

Hornets continued to push hard, Matty Hadden and Trigger taking metres out of every contact and a brilliant kick-chase saw the home pack still walking back three tackles later.

Then disaster: Hornets wilting to concede four tries in a nine minute period to change the course of the game. First Robin allowed to continue a mazy last tackle run to score; a break up the guts of the defence, Ader out wide the beneficiary; then an outrageous show & go by Khierallah after a big 40/20; then that man again under the black dot after TO worked a tidy 'out then in' shift through a tiring defence.

Having played nine minutes of lucid football in forty, TO went in at the break a punishing 34-4 up. A punch-drunk Hornets kept out on the field in the cool of the shade at the break as Alan Kilshaw regathered his battered troops.

The second half began  in the worst possible way: the ball dropped loose second tackle, forwards Mika and Boyer exchanging passes for a simple try, but Hornets dug in, pushing forward to force a drop out at the other end. Then some unsavoury play from the home side, Danny Rasool and Lewis Hatton both hit late in back-play, the latter leaving the ground with a face full of stitches.

TO took full advantage of the disruption to set up a try for Marion, but once Hornets settled, they took the game back to the French side.

On 55 minutes the ball slipped from Lewis Galbraith's grasp as he reached to score; then a Miles Greenwood break up the left, his cheeky dink into space just beyond the reaching fingertips of Danny Yates; then - at last - reward in the shape of a Dec Kay interception, blasting clear of a slow-turning defence to score under the posts. Tyler Whittaker the extras for 46-10.

Straight from the kick-off, another head-shot on Lewis Hatton saw him receive attention for blood streaming down his face.

Just past the hour Hornets forced a drop-out when a great kick behind the defence forced Khierallah's arse to prolapse, straight from the drop-out a big drive from Gav Bennion and a short-ball to Miles Greenwood saw the winger blitz defenders on his way under the posts. Tyler Whittaker the two, the home fans distinctly miffed that Hornets dare offer any French resistance.

Hornets went into the last ten minutes out on their feet, the score line bloated courtesy of two late tries to Marcon and Curran, but Hornets were innovative to the last: finding touch with the kick-off and forcing a drop-out with seconds remaining. The game ended with Lewis Galbraith reaching painfully short with the last play of the game. Final score 56-16.

In the wash-up this was a game of a quarter and three quarters: the five try burst either side of half-time the killer blow in a contest in which Hornets matched TO for long periods. What was essentially a skeleton team shored-up by DR kids and debutants gave a good account of themselves in the face of some pretty heavy odds. Indeed, this was an identical winning/losing margin to last year's league game - and we all know how that panned out.

After the game, the players were disappointed that they hadn't done more - but we're not sure there was much more could be done. Every player gave every ounce and that's all you can ask.

Off the field a big mention to the noisy Hornets contingent who put in a sterling shift - especially Gill and George who drove up for the game from Benidorm! That, my friends, is dedication.