Sunday, 30 June 2013

Hornets Can't Compete With Crusaders' Hubris

North Wales Crusaders 48  - Hornets 0

North Wales Crusaders are way too good for Championship 1. We know this, not because of their thumping win against a disjointed, undercooked Hornets, but because everyone associated with the club tells you so at every possible opportunity. One bloke told me that they were 'too good this division' whilst I was having a piss at half-time. 

On this bulldozing performance, Welsh Urinal Bragging Man was right on the money. From 1 to 17 they out-thought, ou-powered and out-played their Hornets opposite numbers. But whilst spending most of the first 40 minutes in scrambling retreat or on thwarted advance, Hornets desperately clung to the game. Like a drowning man clutching a piece of wreckage, they hung on for dear life in the face of a potential torrent.

Crusaders opened the scoring after 10 minutes when  Dallimore ran off a Moulsdale break to score under the black dot. Five minutes later, the home side capitalised on cheap possession from a first tackle knock-on, Johnson drawing defenders before slipping an inside ball to Adamson. On 35 minutes, Massam grabbed his first, supporting a Bannister break to score out wide. Half time 16-nil.

Despite failing to create a single chance in 40 minutes, Hornets were somehow in contention, but needed to score first if they were to keep a fast-fading foothold on the game.

However, within four minutes of the restart Brown had sent Moulsdale in for the try that effectively opened the floodgates. Indeed, the more Hornets strove, the worse things got. With the home side's super-sized pack pounding out the hard-yards in centre field, the tries began arriving at regular intervals. Bannister on 52 minutes, a Massam double in the 65th and 72 minutes. Hard to watch.

Whilst pretty much out played in every aspect, Hornets did fall foul of some refereeing aberrations. Two late tries from Massam from outrageously forward passes stretched the scoreline further as the home fans wet themselves with delight.

As it was, Hornets went down not with a bang, but with a whimper. Failing to create a single, meaningful break in 80 minutes is that hardest thing to take about this. Yes, both Wayne English and Dom Speakman were held-up over the line from determined solo surges. And yes, a raft of injuries has seen a settled line-up shuffled and disrupted. But the lack of that killer-pass or kick that can crack a determined defence cruelly exposed Hornets' lack of a Plan-B when things begin to drift.

For the Hornets faithful who arrived strung-out after horrendous traffic probems en-route, this was painful to behold. And, whilst there was little if anything to sing about for us, you can't deny that, backed by their army of noisy fans, Crusaders do create an atmosphere. Sadly, it's one of entitlement, arrogance and hubris. 

1 Wayne English
2 Gareth Langley
16 Danny Davies
23 Dave Hull
5 Dave Sutton
6 Paul Crook
32 Danny Yates
8 John Cookson
31 Chris Hough
29 Carl Forster
11 Chris Baines
13 Jordan Case
26 Dave Llewellyn
28 Jordan Hand
24 Mark Goodman
30 Dom Speakman
10 Matty Crow

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Sunday's Coming - Crusaders

It's been month of mixed emotions over at Wrexham's Nvrsty f n Vwls. Having spent a week on the phone to the Samaritans after the shock defeat at Hemel, how happy Big Spending North Wales Crusaders™ were to ram 58 points through the competition whipping boys Gloucestershire All Golds.

It's raining cash...
Leading just 18-12 at the break, Crusaders scored 30 points in a runaway half-hour spell to take the Glos. off the All Golds' afternoon (see what we did there?). Former Warrington Wizard Jono Smith hiting the Jackpot, scoring a hat-trick. Off the bench.

However, the most existential quote of the week came from Crusaders' South African centre Christiaan Roets on coming back from  six weeks out with a ruptured pectoral muscle: "My core is fragile…" - we know how you feel, man - we are all but insignificant specks of cosmic dust in an ever expanding universe…

Talking of life in a vacuum, Sunday is Crusaders' last game before the Northern Rail Cup Final Bowl Plate curtain-raiser thing against Skolars in sunny Halifax two weeks hence. Looking at it coldly, Sunday would be a really bad time to pick up an injury. What with a final coming up and everything…

Needless to say, Clive Griffiths isn't happy about the enforced break. Speaking in the League Express this week he said: "It's not good."

All that remains is to say get over to Wrexham if you can on Sunday. This is the game of the day in KPCh1 and you wouldn't want to miss it if we won. Which we need to really after last Sunday's blip.

So we'll see you there. Until then, here's a Welsh classic for all you fans of profligate expenditure...

Monday, 24 June 2013

No Fun.

Skolars 32 - Hornets 16

At the best of times there's little edifying about a trip to London Skolars. No-one fancies the trip, no-one likes being there and no-one much fancies the journey home afterwards. And, once again, Hornets fell foul of the Skolars hoodoo as  - as is becoming an annual tradition - they saved their worst performance of the season for our trip to the capital's crucible of anti-football.

In our match preview we described the New River Stadium as a '… graveyard of unforced errors, slipshod defence and shocking discipine…'  and, in this nightmarish mess of a game, the hardcore travelling fans were subjected to all three as Hornets half-heartedly chased a game they never really looked like they wanted to catch.

Whilst Skolars are no world-beaters, they do know how to suck teams into a sprawling shit-fight on their postage stamp of a pitch and, when your shape and composure are gone, they're happy to play around the wreckage. And so it was in this game book-ended by two frankly depressing passages of play.

After just two minutes Skolars fullback Anthony came into the line as the extra man and Purslow's pass sent him through 30 metres of open field to score. Not a great start. Five minutes later things took a turn for the worse as Skee ran off a Wray pass to slip unhindered through a static defence. 10 minutes, 10 nil.

Struggling to find any fluidity, Hornets finally got forward and when Wayne English was launched towards the line after 15 minutes, a certain try was prevented as Anthony found the wherewithal to rip the ball free as Wayne reached for the whitewash.

Fired up by this, Hornets had their best passage of the game. A carbon-copy double strike from Jordan Case - both through a retreating Skolars right side defence - levelled the scores after 20 minutes. And when Steve Roper sent Danny Davies galloping in three minutes later it looked like Hornets had found their missing mojo - only for referee Crashley to call it back for a forward pass.

But Hornets continued to press, this time it was Dave Hull looking for that gap in the right centre channel, but he was bundled into touch-in-goal.

With the half ebbing away, Hornets had to hold out, get into the sheds and regroup. As it was, the defence switched off allowing hooker Smith to slump in for a one metre sucker-try from acting half to give Skolars a 16-10 lead.

Those hoping for some improvement in the second half were soon gravely disappointed. Almost immediately Hornets conceded a penalty for 'talking' whilst in possession under their own posts. Skee said 'thanks' and banged over the two.

From the resulting kick-off, the home side took advantage of the gusting wind as Skee hoisted a huge 40/20. Two plays after the scrum McClean waltzed through to score. Skee added the two  -  the 14 point lead now compelling Hornets to scramble for the bonus point. 

With the game now a shapeless, penalty-strewn mess, both sides struggled to make headway. After almost 20 minutes of impotent prodding by both sides a dropped pass close to the Hornets line was snaffled by Martin Waring who set off on a mazy 85 metre run through the entire Skolars team to score under the black dot at the other end. Crook added the two and a chink of light for Hornets at 24-16.

As it was, it wasn't sufficient to rouse Hornets from their torpor and when Skee slotted a penalty from half-way in the 75th minute for a high tackle, it was all hands to the pumps to hang-on to the bonus point.

Then - the coup-de grace. The wretched cherry on the top of this dreadful game.

The hooter sounded with Skolars in possession 25 metres from the Hornets line - no real danger; going nowhere. But Hornets allowed the home side to shift the ball laterally through three or four pairs of hands, inviting runners onto them rather than closing them down.  With Hornets defence in full retreat the ball was shuttled wide to Price who scored by the flag. 

Ladies and gentlemen, the bonus point had left the building…

As Hornets slip to third,  a cursory glance at the league table shows just how important bonus points are going to be in deciding who finishes where. Oldham and Oxford have three each; Skolars and Hemel two. In this slightly skewed world of the Kingstone Press Championships three narrow defeats is as good as a win - and letting one get away in such slipshod fashion is about as disappointing as it gets.

In the wash-up, the only positive is that Hornets would struggle to play this badly again. Indeed, every team has one shocker in them - you only have to look at Crusaders' result at Hemel for proof of that. Thankfully, this is one game that will fade quickly from the memory of the few who made the trip - so let's draw a line and move on.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Sunday's Coming - London Skolars

Tricky buggers, London Skolars. Probably the most improved side in the division, the Londoners have, of late, established a reputation as Hornets' bogey side.

Whilst they travel about as well as an unrefrigerated prawn sandwich, the Skolars are a very different proposition at home. I don't know what it is about the New River Stadium, but for the past few years it's become an absolute graveyard of unforced errors, slipshod defence and shocking discipine.

And though the ground has a hoodoo over Hornets, Gloucestershire All Golds came agonisingly close to breaking their duck their last week.
The New River Stadium earlier today:
Spot the grave-digger's van.

The 38-22 win moved Skolars into the play-offs spots for the first time this season. Coming on the back of the previous week's bonkers 55-52 points-bonanza at Gateshead it's clear that, while they're clearly capable of racking up the points, they also leak an awful lot.

Whilst shipping 77 points in two games and winning smacks of a team riding its luck, previous meetings at New River Stadium have always provided a stack of points. 2010 saw Skolars steal it 28 - 26, 2011 was 44 - 22 and last year was a 92 point thriller with Skolars running out 56 - 36 winners. 

So you don't have to be Wayne Bennett to see that strong defence gives you big platform for winning here.

Even Joe Mbu recognises that his side's Harlem Globetrotters mentality could cost his side against better drilled outfits. Speaking after the All Golds game he said: "We tried to overplay with long passes and some uncontrolled things".

There's no doubt that Joe Mbu's building a handy, open footballing side here and his latest acquisition, former Keighley pivot Jermaine Wray, will give them some much-needed pragmatic experience on both attack and defence.

Ultimately, winning this game shatters the hoodoo and sends Hornets to Wrexham next week with some real momentum. Whilst it's another long trip, if you can get there please do - this fixture is a proper banana skin and the lads need every inch of advantage they can get, so every voice counts.

We're going by train - here's hoping for a first class performance (see what we did there!)

See you on Sunday.

Official RFL Match Preview
London Skolars v Rochdale Hornets (3.00pm)

London Skolars are hoping it will be third time lucky when they entertain Rochdale Hornets on Sunday. Skolars have lost their two trips to Spotland this season, but hope to cause an upset at New River Stadium.

Coach Joe Mbu said: “We’ve played them twice so far, and they had a few changes in personnel between those games.

“I’m expecting the same Rochdale that we usually see – a good, strong, powerful team.

“I’m sure they will fancy coming here and getting a win off us.”

Mbu’s only injury absentee is Jack Dillon, who could miss the rest of the season with a knee injury.

Rochdale moved up to second with Sunday’s 46-4 win at Gateshead Thunder and coach Ian Talbot is looking for them to continue their recent good form.

He said: “It was a great performance, especially defensively."

“When Skolars came up to our for the league game it was tit-for-tat for long periods.
"I’ve spoken about it before – the quality in London is improving year on year, and it won’t be easy on that tight pitch there.”

Talbot will check on Dayne Donoghue (knee) and Jordan Case (throat infection), while long-term absentees Alex McClurg and Alex Trumper remain sidelined.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Hornets Turn Up The Heat

Gateshead Thunder 4 - Hornets 46

With the sun beating down on a lush Filtrona Park, it was an afternoon for the factor 50. But Hornets fell teasingly short of their own half century in a clinical performance that's really put a light under Kingstone Press Championship 1.

Keen to avoid the points landslide of last week, Gateshead started with real purpose: determined to play the game under Hornets posts. While they pressured and probed, they couldn't find the pass or kick to unlock a stern defence.

Having soaked up the early pressure, Hornets marched slickly downfield where Steve Roper found Wayne English arriving on a weaving run that took him clear to open the scoring after quarter of an hour.

It was now Hornets' turn to set up camp in the Gateshead 10m zone and when John Cookson was the recipient of Chris Hough's pass on a 'double prop' rushing move he proved too strong, crashing in by the posts. Crook with two from two. 12-nil after 18 minutes.
Hornets line-up an attack at sunny Filtrona Park

Gateshead responded well, regaining possession in the Hornets half off a lofted kick, but when Latus coughed possession Hornets reacted fastest: Steve Roper's break to halfway, a quick play the ball and Wayne English making the extra man to send Adam Swift in out wide. Crook lethal with boot for 18-nil

With Gateshead struggling to regain their shape after lynchpin halfback Hardcastle was carried from the field after a second crunching injury in as many miniutes, Hornets ended the half applying more pressure to a beleaguered home defence.

With the hooter immimnent, Dom Speakman punished Thunder's napping markers to land a sucker-punch try from acting half. The extras a formality from Crook and Hornets ahead at the break by a comfortable 24-nil.

It took less then five minutes of the second-half for Hornets to carry on where they'd left off. Dom Speakman's break, Wayne English in support and a snake-hipped, curving run took him clear for his second try of the afternoon. Crooky good for the two. 30-nil.

The noisy travelling support didn't have to wait long for the next score. Hornets driving Thunder back upfield, the ball knocked out in the tackle, Gaz Langley with the presence of mind to chip the loose ball into space, snaffle a perfect bounce and scoot away to score. Fantastic improvisation. Crooky with the two. 36-nil.

Just before the hour, Mike Ratu got his reward for an afternoon spent terrorising the Gateshead defence. Setting off on another bulldozing run, he skittled defenders to score from 30 metres.  Crooky just wide with the kick, the Hornets fans jokingly calling for Gaz Langley to be reinstated as kicker.

Crooky was more certain with his next effort in the 67th minute - converting an opportunist Dayne Donoghue try after a grubber ricocheted off a post to cause chaos in the Thunder in-goal. 

At 46-nil with 10 minutes remaining, the (factor) fifty looked inevitable. But wait…

With Gateshead seemingly going nowhere, Heil skipped through a couple of tackles and showed an impressive turn of pace to dash in from 60 metres for Thunder's only points.

Hornets response was immediate. A series of fast play the balls took them upfield where a flat Steve Roper pass appeared to have sent Wayne English somersaulting in for his hat-trick, only for referee Mr Brooke to rule it forward.

But it'd be churlish to complain too much. Hornets were ruthless, well-organised, convincing winners. And with Big Spending North Wales Crusaders™ going down by 18-10 at Hemel, the heat is really on in the 2013 promotion chase.

Hornets Victory Song at Gateshead
Yes  - we ARE ready ready!

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Sunday's Coming - Gateshead Thunder

And so, Hornets ongoing odyssey takes us all up to Gateshead. Well, South Shields, actually. The game will take place at the fantastic Filtrona Park home of South Shields FC - a stunning, verdant swath of Geordie pasture perfectly prescribed for summer sport (we like it).
Filtrona Park - looking verdant earlier today

With a solitary win to their name in 2013, coach Kevin Neighbour must be wondering just what Gateshead have to do to grab another - especially as his side's return to this lush crucible of endeavour was more Billy Smart than Billy Boston.

An astonishing game at Filtrona last week saw London Skolars snatch a narrow win, edging out the home side in a 107-point thriller by a quite staggering 55-52. And if that doesn't boggle your mind enough, Gateshead were 20 points up late in the first half.

Thunder got on an early roll with 5 tries in 15 minutes to give them a 34-18 half-time lead. But us Hornets know only too well about second-half turnrounds and shipping four unanswered tries in the third quarter took the momentum  - and ultimately the game - Skolars' way.

Neighbour was concise in his assessment: "Our Defence was awful… you don't deserve to beat anybody if you give them 55 points". Unless of course, you score 56.

Like all good coaches, Neighbour knows where the buck stops: "I won't take any responsibility for this," he said. " The lads didn't do what I asked… they are not kids any more and they need to stand up as men." Teflon-coated: nice work.

What is clear is that Gateshead's partnership with Hull KR does seem to have improved their ability to compete (the previous week they went down by just five points at Oxford). Indeed, over the seven games so far, their -83 averages at an 11.8 point losing margin: right in the Bonus Point Zone: so it's hardly surprising that they have more bonus points (four)  than anyone else in the division

Hornets have yet to concede a point at Filtrona park, winning last years fixture by 38 to nil, Paul Crook weighing in with a try and five goals, but buoyed by last weekend's frankly barking points-fest - Gateshead are averaging a 'for' of around 23 points a game, so they clearly know where the goal-line is. So no room for complacency.

Route Planner has it at 134 miles, in around two and a quarter hours - so a mere hop compared to last week. So let's get up there in numbers, make some noise and cheer the lads on.

Quickest route is:

M62 to junction 29, take the M1 N - it merges with A1(M)
Continue on A1(M) following signs for Darlington/Newcastle
Just after Washington Services, keep right to continue on A194(M), follow signs for South Shields
At the roundabout, take the 2nd exit onto Leam Lane/A194
Follow A194 through 3 roundabouts
Turn left onto Shaftesbury Ave (there's a Tesco, McDonalds and a car wash on your left)
The Mariners Club/Filtrona Park is half a mile on the right.

Preview Update
From the RFL:

Gateshead Thunder v Rochdale Hornets 
Craig Borthwick is doubtful for Gateshead Thunder, while Luke Hardcastle is facing up to three weeks on the sidelines with a knee problem.
Thunder coach Kevin Neighbour is aiming for big improvements after last week’s 55-52 reverse against London Skolars.
Neighbour said: “We can’t afford to score 52 points and get beat – it’s suicide. Defence is the key this week.
“We had a pretty tough session on Tuesday and we were very honest.”
He added: “Rochdale are a good, experienced side and we’ll have to be tough if we want to get anything out of Sunday’s game.”
Wayne English, Mike Ratu and Dayne Donoghue all missed Rochdale Hornets’ Tuesday training session, but coach Ian Talbot is hopeful all three will be fit.
Danny Davies is also back in contention, but Alex McClurg and Alex Trumper are definitely out.
Talbot said: “We’re only playing for 40, 50 or 60 minutes at the moment. We need to get a level of consistency in our performances across the full 80 minutes.”

Sunday, 9 June 2013

A Good Heart is Hard to Find

Oxford 28 Hornets 42

Hornets games should come with a health warning: not suitable for those with heart trouble!

On a beautiful sunny Oxford afternoon, Hornets put their coach and fans through the emotional wringer on the way to a confounding, yet comprehensive win.

Oxford were first to score when Burch ran onto teasing 10th minute grubber from Leather that caused chaos behind the Hornets defence. But Hornets kept plugging away and when Dave Hull seized a loose ball 40 metres from the home line, he set off on a strong, mazy run that took him under the black dot. Paul Crook converted.

Aided by an escalating Oxford penalty count, Hornets capitalised on a period of sustained pressure as Joe Greenwood was sent crashing in by the posts to give them a deserved 12-6 lead. And when Onyango hobbled from the field following a crunching tackle by Martin Waring, the home side lost its most potent strike threat.
Oxford - Definitely not Oldham.

But the introduction of Bentley gave the home side a much needed lift. His direct style gave Oxford the go-forward they'd desperately lacked and, when he barrelled in for a try on the half hour off the back of a curious refereeing decision that saw play allowed to continue after winger Robinson had clearlty been tackled into touch, you could feel the momentum shift.

As Hornets shape slowly began to disintegrate, Oxford took full advantage. First an opportunist try from Morris, then - after soaking up sustained Oxford pressure - a frankly embarassing last tackle lunge up the blind side by Robinson to give the home side a somewhat surprising 22-12 half-time lead.

Within three minutes of the restart, Hornets had found the self-destruct button. An aimless hoof downfield gathered by Wayne English who forced a first-tackle pass to a stretching Dave Sutton only for the ball to go to ground. Within a minute, Hornets holding the post mortem under their own crossbar as Leather converted the almost inevitable Johnson try to stretch Oxford's lead to 28-12.

At this point, it looked like salvaging a bonus point would require something special - but what happened over the next 35 minutes was, to say the least, extraordinary.

On 55 minutes Mike Ratu set off on a bullocking 40 metre run. Bluntly refusing to be tackled he shrugged off three or four attempts before bursting clear to score. Crook added the two and, suddenly, a chink of opportunity at 28-18.

Two minutes later Dave Hull hit the afterburners up the left centre channel, leaving a wake of flailing tacklers behind him to edge Hornets even closer. Crook with the two and, at 28-24 it was game-on.

With Hornets now punching big holes through the middle of a blowing home defence it was fitting that the next breakthrough came from Warren Thompson who hit a flat ball at speed to level the scores. Crooky added the extras to edge Hornets ahead.

From the restart, a quick interchange of passes in centre field found Warren Thompson arriving with serious intent. He shrugged off a couple of weak tackles and blasted fully 50 metres upfield - straight through the fullback -  to score the try of the day. Crook converted, the large and vocal travelling support sang and Tony Benson threw Bentley back on to try and stem the tide. Didn't work.

Hornets continued to drive Oxford backwards on both attack and defence, the home side reduced to six drives and a hopeful hoof downfield. And when a steady set took Hornets to within 20 metres of the home side's goal-line a precision cross-field kick from Paul Crook found Jordan Case who wriggled through a scrambling defence to score. Crooky coolly added the two and it was now Oxford left chasing a fast-departing bonus point.

Indeed, with a minute left to play Oxford were awarded a kickable penalty that would've salvaged the bonus point. But with the entire home bench signalling 'go for the two', Roden opted to tap the ball and the home-side's last throw of the dice was a flapping kick, sent dead by the Hornets defence with the hooter imminent.

With no time left for the restart, this was a quite astonishing win. Having been down and out, Hornets found the character, the wherewithal and the sheer heart not only to claw themselves back into the game, but to end it totally dominant.

Denying Oxford the bonus point was the cherry on top of an amazing comeback. As the big Hornets contingent sang their hearts out in celebration, it was fitting to reflect on the view that - while you can bus in a team that fulfils its brief - team spirit doesn't come flat-packed.

And - as Hornets climb over Oxford into second place in the table -  that, in itself, is a heartening thought.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Sunday's Coming - Oldha... er... Oxford.

Every pantomine needs a villain ('oh no it doesn't' we hear you cry) - and giving 'Big-Spending North Wales Crusaders'™ a run for their money in KPCh1 this season are new boys Oxford. Well, we say new boys…

Described to us only last month by a senior official at another KPCh1 club as "16 mercenaries on a minibus from the North every fortnight", Tony Benson has - it seems - quite literally bussed in a ready-made, off the peg Rugby League side that, to us,  has nothing to do with developing the game outside the heartlands and everything to do with fulfilling an action point on an RFL spreadsheet.
Bussing them in: The actual Iffley Road bus earlier today.

At the unveiling of the Oxford club last year, RFL Chief Operating Officer Ralph Rimmer said the the League's plan for introducing new teams into Championship One from new geographical areas is to "unearth and develop new players, provide more opportunities and increase the sport’s playing pool".

Keen to see how this plan is rolling out in Oxford we took a look at their squad.

Amongst a smattering of Irish lads and a token selection of former SW conference players, TLCRF80mins reckons that Benson's Oxford side contains no fewer than TEN former Oldham players (Lucas Onyango, Shaun Robinson, Dave Ellison, Tommy Connick, John Clough, Chris Clarke, Valu Bentley, Martin Roden, Danny Halliwell and Alex Thompson) plus former Hornet Johnny Leather and former Widnes academy half-back Danny Price. In fact, if you look on their 'Squad Profiles' page on their website, half of the squad are actually pictured wearing Oldham shirts (true!).

Ostensibly rooted in the University's sports department, the club is headed-up by Former St Helens CEO Tony Colquitt and they seem to have settled fairly well with an average home attendance of just over 300 so far.

Unsurprisingly, Tony Benson's side has been pretty competitive - though a points difference of +2 suggests that they nick games. Having pulled off a shock win at Oldham and taken NW Crusaders very close, last weekend Oxford sneaked past  Gateshead Thunder by 27 to 22, leaving them second in the table with the same number of wins as Hornets - but artificially elevated by virtue of three bonus points.

While the Oxford 'concept' is one that we should embrace in the name of expansion, it still feels to us like a bit of a souless exercise - an RFL box-ticking exercise involving a squad specifically recruited to fulfil a task, rather than a club with a heartbeat, a passion for our game and a desire to 'grow in the community':  a flat-packed club that could've been assembled anywhere.

So much for perceptions. Even amongst the most ardent Rugby League expansionistas here at TLCRF80mins Towers we have our doubts about this (though some may argue that the imported Northern team model was what got Fulham off the ground 30 years ago). The only way to really find out whether there is a soul behind the facade is to go and have a look. So we will.

See you down at Iffley Road on Sunday - here's the quickest route to get there:

South onto the M6.
Take the M6 Toll -  exit onto M42 southbound.
Exit M42 at J3A onto M40 southbound.
Take the M40 south until J9. Exit at J9 and take A41/A34 Oxford and head towards Cowley and Henley.
At the roundabout, take the 1st exit onto Southern By-Pass Rd/A423.
At the roundabout, take the 1st exit onto Abingdon Rd/A4144.
Turn right onto Weirs Lane /B4495 and continue to follow B4495.
Turn left onto Iffley Rd/A4158 and then turn left onto Jackdaw Lane.

Google Maps has it at 184 miles - 2 hours 50 minutes. Drive Safely - and keep an eye out for that minibus!

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Big Crowd Enjoys a Stag-geringly Good Day

Hornets 40 - Hemel Stags 22

At 3.45, there was an eerie feeling that we'd seen this game somewhere before. A week earlier at a sun-soaked Cheltenham Hornets had raced into a commanding lead only to give the opposition a foothold in the game. And so it was again.

Cheered on by a huge crowd (impressively bigger than four of the games in the division above) Hornets went off with an impressive bang. As Danny Yates hit Danny Davies arriving at unstoppable speed after just eight minutes, things didn't look good for the Stags. 

Try-scorer Jordan Case 
Then, when Yates released a teasing, bouncing kick that was superbly snaffled by Wayne English just three minutes later (both converted by Gaz Langley), it felt like a matter of 'how many' . And when Jordan Case blasted through Hemel's centre channel on a mesmersing 70 metre run that ended with him spectacularly dummying the full-back to score a try that brought the crowd to its feet, the game appeared to be speeding away from the visitors. Langley added the two - 18-nil with just 15 minutes on the clock.

But a series of daft mistakes, soft penalties and some indifferent defending gave Hemel their chance. And they took it well. In just 10 minutes, a Coleman try sandwiched between two efforts from Swindells saw the Stags breathing down Hornets' neck at 18-16. The squeak of sphincters was palpable and it was a stern-faced Ian Talbot that headed for the dressing rooms at the break.

Whatever was said, it worked. Hornets began the second half at a significantly higher tempo on attack and defence. It took only three minutes for the Two-Dannys (Yates and Davies) to combine to send the latter in for a well taken try.

With Hornets now building pressure deep in Hemel territory, the visitors' big men were clearly wilting in the heat and, with the more-mobile Hornets pack making serious inroads, it was only a matter of time before the Stags' defence cracked. And it was prop Warren Thompson who wrestled his way over on 55 minutes, Gaz Langley adding the two.

On their next possession in the Hemel Half, Hornets worked the ball wide via Steve Roper as Martin Waring was slotted in by the flag. Gaz Langley's conversion attempt drifted teasingly wide to end his three-game 100% run of kicks.

Hornets were now giving the visitors a taste of their own well-established medicine: the big forwards Cookson, Thompson and Forster pounding the Stags backwards. And it was Warren Thompson again taking advantage to bag his second on 71 minutes. Gaz Langley adding the two; 40-16 and job seemingly done.

As Hornets made late replacements, Hemel had one last throw of the dice and found the ball to send Young in with a minute remaining. Swindells added the two and - having played the role of spectators for 39 minutes of the second half, the Stags were suddenly within reaching distance of a bonus point they didn't really deserve. But Hornets held firm and denied them. Indeed, with Forster and Cookson both 'held-up' over the line twice, and Wayne English adjudged similarly, this could have been a far more convincing victory.

Ian Talbot commented afterwards that his side were neither 'fluent of fluid', but when the cogs engaged Hornets were a class apart. Even Stags coach Troy Perkins conceded afterwards that "it could've been 70 or 80 points".

In the end, this was a great day for Hornets as a club. The Co-Operatives day and ticket offer succeeded beyond expectations - creating a great atmosphere and introducing lots of new people to Rugby League.

So a win-win - and that's not something you see very often.