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.