Hornets 32 London Skolars 24
Here at TLCRF80mins Towers, we've always preferred an ugly win to a handsome defeat. But, christ-on-a-bike, this game was so aesthetically unappealing it made your retinas hurt.
As the rain draped Spotland in a soggy grey sheet for most of this pig-ugly encounter, it provided a fitting backdrop for this 80 minute test of even the most ardent fan's endurance.
What made it worse was that it started so brightly. A seemingly benign clearing kick fumbled under his own posts by Skolars' comedy full-back Anthony allowed Dave Llewellyn to pounce after just three minutes; and when Chris Baines steamed in untouched after ten minutes off a short Steve Roper pass, it looked like a fairly basic afternoon's work was in prospect.
But with Referee Mr Merrick's inconsistent policing of the ruck, some sloppy handling and a rising error count, the only respite in the next 15 minutes was a Lovell try for Skolars off the back of two consecutive penalties for… well… your guess is as good as mine.
As it was, Hornets finally gained some traction, hitting the visitors twice in five minutes at the end of the half. Firstly Joe Greenwood showing good strength from close range, then Dom Speakman with a classic sucker-punch from dummy half.
With Paul Crook injured during the build-up (broken ribs - painful and could be a while to heal) 'Angry' Gaz langley took over the kicking duties and slotted home the first of his three from three.
So Hornets went to the sheds 24-6 to the good - less than fluid, but certainly better than a Skolars side that showed little in terms of craft.
Hornets' start to the second half was little more than shambolic. Stray passes, dropped ball and little appetite to go to ground to deny Skolars posession gave the visitors the chink of momentum they needed. Two quick-fire, carbon-copy tries by the flamboyantly monickered Smokie Junor - both converted by Skee - pulled Skolars back to 24-18 and, to the sound of a fast departing bonus point, Hornets found themselves scrambling to save the game.
Having battled back upfield, Hornets worked the ball to Dave Hull who simply refused to be tackled, heaving through a wall of defenders to get the ball down by the flag. Cool as you like, Gaz Langley stroked the conversion through from the touchline.
With the deterioration of the game into a sodden slog-fest - Hornets struggled to hold the line. Within five minutes, Skolars' dual-reg prop Dollapi came barelling over the line from five yards and, at 30-24, you could hear the squeak of tightening sphincters amongst the crowd of 523.
Hornets needed a cool head to settle the ship. Cometh the 70th minute, cometh the man, as Gaz Langley took the two from a 45 metre penalty to put the game beyond Skolars.
Yes, this was a hard one to watch. A wet, slippery mess of a game that would challenge the sensitivities of even the most ardent Winter-Rugby purist.
But a win is a win - and that is the most important thing given the confidence denting defeats of the last two weeks. Yes, it's irritating that we gifted a frankly awful Skolars side a bonus point, but Hornets needed a win of any kind and that's what was delivered. However, what became clear was the level of influence Paul Crook has on Hornets momentum. Removed from the game, Hornets never really re-established their dominance and lacked incision with ball in hand and from the boot.
Whilst the performance was less than the sum of its parts, we should mention the relentless work ethic of Chris Hough, Danny Davies' desire to take the ball forward, and the emergence of Gaz Langley as Hornets new go-to man when we need to find a way to win.
With a week off now to regroup, refocus and re-energise ahead of the trip to Gloucester, Hornets can hopefully start looking up the table with purpose and determination.
And we wish Ginger General Paul Crook a quick recovery.