Monday, 18 March 2013

Cru-de but effective.

Crusaders 30 Hornets 16

The thing about Clive Griffiths is that you know what you're going to get. He's perfectly open about the tactics he employs to shut teams down. And when his team contains the agricultural Ryan MacDonald and the portly talents of Jono Smith, you get an inkling that it'll be a fairly fundamental afternoon.

And so it proved. With the super-sized Welsh pack pounding a relentless furrow down the middle for most of the afternoon, lucid football was at a premium. Indeed, any deviation from this blunt instrument approach was likely to be the difference twixt winning and losing.

For 70 of the 80 minutes, there was little between the sides. Locked in a messy arm wrestle and scrambling for any scraps of open play.

The home side were first to settle and when Johnson tracked a Moulsdale half-break he was slipped into space to score after just five minutes. In characteristic style, the home fans almost wet themselves.

But Hornets kept their cool. Working hard off a good kick-chase game, they edged themselves downfield, where they produced carbon-copy tries through the right centre channel in quick succession. Lee Gaskell showing good balance to step through, followed by Danny Davies hitting a pass at speed. 12-6 Hornets.

However, Hornets couldn't maintain the momentum. Having withstood back to back sets, a series of cheap penalties, questionable 50:50s and the compulsion to force passes gave the Crusaders easy yards. And they capitalised with McConnell slumping in from a yard to send the home fans wild. 12-all.

With the half ebbibng away - and Crusaders camped in the Hornets 20, a straightforward pass from Durbin was fumbled by Middlehurst and Lee Gaskell gathered the loose ball to outpace the cover over 80 metres to score. Crooky hooked the conversion attempt and Hornets went to the sheds 16-12 to the good.

The first score of the second half was crucial and it was the home side who shook off the shackles to find the ten minutes of flowing football that seized the momentum and, ultimately, the game.

On 52 minutes, a jinking lateral run by Durbin was allowed to progress unhindered and, when the defence finally made up the ground a neat over the top pass to Massam created just enough space for him to score out wide. Johnson slotted the extras and Crusaders had the lead.

On the hour Hornets' luck took a turn for the worse as debutant Mike Ratu ws stretchered from the field with a serious-looking ankle injury, collapsing in a heap whilst tracking back into the defensive line without a player within 20 metres.

Shuffling a now heavily reshuffled backline, Hornets' shape was found wanting as, again, Durbin replicated his earlier break, this time Massam hitting the flag on his way over the line, but the officials certain that he'd grounded the ball. 24-16 to Crusaders and, suddenly, this was starting to look like a bit of a battering.

For the last 15 minutes, the game reverted to type. Locked solid in the forwards, Hornets continued to turn over cheap possession and subject themselves to set after set of relentless defence: the only real yardage being made from Crook's booming downfield kicks and a creditably enthusiastic chase.

As it was, the coup de grace came after 75 minutes. Having again defended repeat sets, Hornets defence was out on its feet, so Crusaders did what they do best: send a big lad steaming in from two yards - Stephens piledriving in to send the home fams into paroxysms of mawkish singing.

There was just enough time for ex-Hornet Middlehurst to get himself noticed. Chasing down a long kick, he left a little something in his tackle on Gaz Langley. Langley reacted uncharacteristically, launching a hopeful headbutt in Middlehurst's direction. Referee Mr Brooke produced the red-card. Middlehurst departed the scene laughing under the congratulations of his team-mates.

A disappointing end to a disappointing afternoon. Having matched the big Welsh pack and nullified the Crusaders strike players for the greater part of the 80 minutes, a 50% completion rate, an inability to snap back into shape and a clear lack of a 'Plan B'  when play got bogged down ultimately cost Hornets a game that was closer than the scoreline suggests.

As it is, barring a disaster at Hemel, it's Crusaders who progress out of the NRC group. And for Hornets? Some heavy-duty recalibration and a return to the basics ahead of the real business of this crucial Kingstone Press Championship One season.

This morning's Rugby League press reports have Paul Crook as the Hornets player dismissed for 'punching'. It wasn't - it was Gareth Langley for his retaliation to Gary Middlehurst's tackle. All you have to do is pay attention, boys.