Monday, 10 July 2017

Lion Tamers

Hornets 33 - Swinton 28

“The most dangerous creation of any society is the man who has nothing to lose.”
James Arthur Baldwin.

Having announced a potentially terminal financial deficit of at least £100,000 and with the vultures of the HMRC already circling, Swinton came to Spotland with nothing to lose and everything to prove. Add Hornets’ desire to rectify what was essentially daylight robbery at Heywood Road earlier in the season and you had all the ingredients for an explosive molotov-cocktail of a derby. And this game didn’t disappoint.

It began with a bang as, twice in the first three minutes, Jo Taira rattled Atkin’s cage with a couple of range-finders. Referee Jack Smith set the penalty meter running: Atkin took the two.

Hornets response was swift and crafty. A good out-set took them to the Swinton 40m line, but as the Lions retreated for a kick which never came, Ben Moore took the ball up a gaping blind side to send Danny Yates scooting in. Yatesey adding the extras to edge Hornets ahead 6-2.

Then Swinton got lucky. Woods’ theatrical dive at a play-the-ball caught the eye of Mr Smith, then another penalty for Mooresey hanging on too long in the ruck took Swinton to within 10 metres of the Hornets posts.

Atkin spinning out of two tackles to score had an air of inevitability about it. And then all hell broke loose after Jono Smith arrived as soon as he could to let Atkin know he was there. Jono’s yellow card was matched by one for Swinton’s Barlow. Mr Smith awarding an additional penalty for an eight point try: 6-10.

This rush of blood sparked Mr Smith into a frenzy of puzzling penalties: one for ripping after he’d already given a Swinton knock-on; Swinton dropping the ball cold at a play-the-ball, but given one for - well - god knows what…

Meantime, Hornets produced a Harlem Globetrotters play up the left edge, but the last pass went astray. Then Jake Ecclestone unzipped the defence to dart in, only to be brought back for an obstruction that only Mr Smith saw. Poor.

Swinton’s response was a punt and hope kick into the corner where Kevin Penny shepherded the ball all the way to the dead ball line, though not quite far enough to prevent Butt diving in to get a hand on the ball. Atkins the two 6-14 against the run of play.

Just past the half hour mark Swinton’s Bretherton was given 10 minutes for dissent - and less than a minute later, Ryan Maneely sprang under the black dot to score. Yatesey the two; 12-16.

Swinton’s reaction was to march downfield, kick the ball into Kev Penny’s corner and let deja vu do the rest. Atkin the kick, Butt the touchdown. Deeply annoying. 12-20.

Having coughed up the kick-off under pressure, the visitors then wiped out Danny Yates in back-play. Action from the officials? De nada. And when Chris Riley bounced out of a tackle to end a looping run with a touchdown, that too was struck off for a highly dubious obstruction.

To misquote Oscar Wilde, to pull two obstructions is unfortunate, to pull three looks like carelessness - so when Mr Smith snagged Jono Smith as he released Chris Riley up the left edge, you could sense the frustration.

However, when Swinton produced a similar obstruction play at the other end, only for the officials to take no action, it became clear that the ref was pretty much making it up as he went. Awful.

Hornets retired to the sheds 12-20 down, coach Alan Kilshaw - clearly incandescent - sent his captain Chris Riley to ask Mr Smith for his version of events, only to have him waved away. That in itself was interesting, because he seemed fine with having Swinton’s Bracek up his trumpet offering ‘advice’ for most of the game.

The surrealist officiating continued after the break: Danny Yates pulled for a supposed high-shot on Murphy. Then Yatesey producing some exceptional defence to force a hand-over.

On 44 minutes, Kevin Penny revealed his class: a gliding break up the guts of the Swinton defence took Hornets 60 metres and, the next play, the ball was shifted wide to Josh Crowley who steamed through to score. Yatesey the two for 18-20. Hornets with the momentum.

In response, Swinton winger Robinson produced a moment from the ‘Absolute Gits Book of Underhand Tactics’ - playing the ball on the chest of Danny Yates as he lay in the ruck. Despite the RFL’s recent guidance on this, Mr Smith gave Swinton the penalty. They chose to use the possession by creating a huge overlap up the left, where the last pass sailed into Row E. Justice, most felt.

A huge Swinton head-shot on Josh Crowley gave Yatesey the opportunity to tie the scores - which he did. Game on.

On 55 minutes, Hornets took the lead when Rob Massam tapped back a Lewis Foster bomb for Jake Eccleston to score out wide: 24-20. The lead lasted three minutes.

Despite looking like they’d knocked on a high kick to the corner, Swinton were allowed to play-on and Murphy took advantage of a flat-footed Hornets defence to burst through and score. Atkins the two for 24-26.

This time it was Swinton’s turn to switch off. The Lions coughed the kick-off, Jake Eccleston drove close and, when Jono Smith arrived to take a short-ball, he proved unstoppable, crunching in through a crowd of defenders: 28-26.

With Hornets looking to lock the game down with some big defence, Mr Smith saw the ball ripped where everyone else saw a knock-on. Atkin took the two: 28-all with 10 to play.

Having had a flawless game with the boot, it was Atkin’s nerve who deserted him when his side needed it most. Firstly hoofing the ball out on the full on the last tackle. Hornets’ response clinical: a great approach set ended by Lewis Foster’s soaring drop goal (29-28). From the kick-off Kev Penny looked to be tackled in the air, but the penalty was handed to Swinton. Given the chance to win the game, Atkin smacked the penalty against the post and Hornets brought the ball away. It was to be Atkin’s last contribution in a Swinton shirt, revealing after the game that he had secured an early release from his contract to join Hull KR.

With both sets of supporters in a frenzy, Hornets delivered a delicious denouement. Another great set took them deep into Swinton territory, where Foster slid a teasing last-tackle kick towards the corner. Panic in the Swinton ranks saw the ball deflected into the hands of Rob Massam, who pinned back his ears and crashed through his opposite number to score by the flag. Bedlam!

Final score 33-28 in what was a full-blooded, high octane tinder-box of a derby that saw both sides give it absolutely everything.

There had been much talk in the week of this being a crucial game for both clubs - and, though it went to the wire, Hornets proved their mettle by finding a way to win at all costs. Indeed, Alan Kilshaw described it as the most courageous win of his tenure. And who are we to argue with the gaffer?

Other results on the day saw Hornets go back to 8th. Where Swinton go from here is anyone’s guess, but we wish them luck.