Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Sunday's Coming - South Wales Scorpions

Cast your mind back to 1982. Cardiff Blue Dragons came to the Athletic Grounds and in their ranks was Paul Ringer - former rugby *nion hard-man, with a fearsome reputation. That day Hornets fielded a young prop called Dave Lockwood and Ringer singled him out for his first drive of the ball. Locky stood his ground and hit him what these days gets called a 'big shot' sending Ringer and his reputation reeling. The tackle raised a cheer as big as any try and as Locky punched the air in celebration, Ringer's welcome to Rochdale heralded the waning of a national hero.

Fast Forward to December 1994…

Hornets v Wigan at Central Park in the Regal Trophy. Never really expected to give Wigan much of a game, Hornets were seen as ideal 'soft' fodder against which to give former Welsh *nion superstar Scott Quinnell his debut. After 20 minutes Quinell was introduced to the game to an uproarious welcome from the Central Park faithful. On 21 minutes Quinell was on his way back to the bench with his nose all over his face courtesy of Hornets Aussie prop Brian McCarthy. The apocryphal tale is that, as he clutched an ice pack to his face, he said to the physio: "F*ckin 'ell, I wasn't expecting that."

Indeed, it's not every week you get the opportunity to put one of kick-and-clap's most revered icons on his arse, and when these occasions come around you have to relish them.  
Ringer, Quinnell, Powell - Deja vu, Welsh-style

Fast forward to Sunday...

Other than the small matter of getting beaten at home by Gateshead, the only story at South Wales Scorpions is the arrival of former Welsh rugby *nion lump Andy Powell.

As part of Wigan's attempt to turn him into a proper rugby player, Powell finds himself farmed-out to the Scorpions to knock off his *nion edges, give him some much-needed experience and have him annealed ready for his Super League bow.

Capped 23 times for Wales, Powell is probably most renowned outside of the principality for for stealing a golf buggy after Wales' last-ditch win over Scotland in the 2010 Six Nations.  He was found - and arrested - driving said buggy at Junction 33 on the M4 at 6am. The following day he was booted out of the Welsh squad for 'behaviour contrary to the squad's code of conduct'. He was later given a 15 month driving ban and fined after admitting the offence at Cardiff Magistrates court.

He ended his *nion career at the City of Salford Stadium, walking to the breakdown for Sale Sharks.

Needless to say, his return to South Wales has caught people's attention. In what might well be the League Express' most interesting typing error, Scorpions coach Dave Clark said: " He's a cult figure in Wales". Quite.

Clark went on: "We've had a lot of interest over the last few weeks about the prospect of him playing with us and we're hoping that some rugby *nion supporters will come and watch him take on the challenge of Rugby League."

That most partisan of Rugby League writers Ian Golden captured Powell's 'homecoming' in glowing prose: "Former Wales rugby *nion international Andy Powell made his South Wales Scorpions debut and made a nuisance of himself in the 40 minutes that he played, but was heavily marked throughout." One for the scrapbook there, Andy.

After the 36-30 defeat, Dave Clark was, needless to say, ever so slightly miffed and his post match analysis was brutally honest. From a veritable cornucopia of criticisms, we've selected our favourites. So, here's our…

Dave Clark Five!

1. "To give away 36 points in the game, you don't deserve to be anywhere near them."
2. We made ten mistakes in the first half. They had 17 sets in that period and we gave them ten of them. How can you compete like that? You can't and we got what we deserved."
3. "We have to change something."
4. "We don't deserve to be in the playoffs - simple as that."
5. "… at the moment, we are not good enough."

And Clark's last word on Powell? "The challenge for me is to give him plenty of field time, he has all the attributes and it's just a case of getting him to play the Rugby League way."

We can't wait for Sunday. We love a circus.

RFL match Preview

Chris Tyrer (groin) is Rochdale’s only absentee as the Hornets prepare to host South Wales Scorpions in Sunday’s Kingstone Press Championship One fixture.

Hornets coach Ian Talbot said: “Other than Chris, we should be a pretty similar 17 to last week.

“You’d imagine South Wales will be wanting to right a few wrongs, but we’ve changed the focus this year on to what we’re doing, rather than worrying too much about the opposition.

“We just need to keep improving week on week. If we keep doing that, we’ll end up where we deserve to be.”

Connor Farrer and Andy Powell could both feature for South Wales, but David James (back) is unavailable for selection.

South Wales coach Dave Clark said: “The players know what they need to do.

“We had a disappointing July and we know that we should be higher in the table. We have the quality of players in the side.

“We made too many mistakes against Gateshead last week. If we can put that right against Rochdale then we’ll be in with a chance of taking all three points.”

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Hornets Teach Oxford a Lesson

Hornets 54 Oxford 12

The badge on Oxford's jersey is a facade - a diversionary tactic to draw the eye away from the fact that they don't really 'live' in the town they represent. Whether 'implanting' a team from the other end of the country is a good or a bad thing depends on your point of view, but the RFL's 'made in the North' flat-pack development club came apart in spectacular fashion at Hornets' Spotland homecoming.

Having provided 20 minutes of resistance, from the 39th minute onwards, Oxford shipped 40 unanswered points as Hornets began their scramble back up the table.

Hornets started brightly, racing into a quickfire 14-nil lead. First, Danny Davies running off a Paul Crook pass as Hornets stretched Oxford's left-side defence, then Crooky turning scorer haring through onto a teasing kick into the in-goal: Crook adding both conversions and a last tackle penalty for stupidity for good measure.

Oxford's response was to send in the heavy brigade, and to some extent it worked. Twin battering rams Bentley and Morrison gave the visitors the punch they'd been lacking and, after three impotent repeat sets Clough somehow got the ball down through a tangle of defenders to get Oxford on the scoreboard and herald the now familiar 'Hornets 20 minute wobble'.

From a position of total dominance, Hornets crept back into their shell as a series of forced passes and errors gave Oxford a toehold. And when Bland blasted through the heart of the Hornets defence to sprint 50 metres and score on the half hour to take the score to 14-12, the exasperation was palpable.

Fortunately, Oxford's Leather skewed a penalty - and with the chance to level the scores ahead of the break gone, Hornets played their 'get out of jail free' card superbly, replaying the Crook to Davies move to score right on the hooter. Crook, cool as you like with the extras to give Hornets a much needed 20-12 lead.

Oxford started the second half in exemplary fashion as Roden hoofed the kick-off into the Pearl Street end. The resulting penalty marched Hornets under the visitors' posts and smart hands fed Dave Hull in to score. Crook with the extras.

Within five minutes, Hornets had set up camp in the Oxford 10 metre zone and, after a couple of forward drives had been repelled, Alex McClurg whacked 'em with a one-metre sucker try from acting half. Crook with an easy two.

Oxford's response was to keep sending in Bentley and Morrision, but with neither able to break a tackle or willing to look for a pass, it was a bit of a blunt-instrument approach. As it was, they resorted to a series of hopeful upfield kicks. It was from one such effort that Martin Waring gathered the ball close to his own line and set off on a mazy, mesmerising run that left Oxford's defenders clutching at air. As he weaved his way to half way, he hit the gas past a despairing full-back to blast the final 50 metres unopposed under the black dot for a spectacular try. Crook added the extras.

With 20 minutes still to play, this was Oxford's cue to try and turn the game into a sprawling, spoiling mess - lying in every tackle, bodies in the ruck, picking fights. Good to watch.

Creditably, Hornets just played round it. More slick approach work off the back of a booming Paul Crook 40/20 slotted Dave Hull in for his second; then John Cookson giving Oxford a taste of their own medicine, punching through a tight knit defence to score by the posts. With the game ebbing away, a break up the right via Danny Davies and Gaz Langley saw the ball dinked behind the defence, Paul Crook chased what looked like a lost cause, but as the defence switched off, he lunged in to get a hand to the ball. Four points for sheer determination - and Crooky grabbing 26 points with nine goals and two tries.

There's no doubt that the second half was as slick, clinical and entertaining as Hornets have been all season. And if they can maintain this level of performance in the run in it'll make the business end of this rollercoaster of a season very interesting indeed.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Sunday's Coming - Oxford

It's been a pretty crap July for Oxford. Kicking off the month with a 20-18 home defeat to competition whipping boys University of Gloucestershire All Golds (nilled in the second half of this one), they then got spanked 22-4 by their alter-egos Oldham in revenge for their shock win at Whitebank eary in the season. That was followed by a scrambling, last-ditch 14-all draw at Gateshead that saw Jonny Leather forced out of the game and onto the treatment table alongside fellow strike player Lucas Onyango. Both players are reported as doubtful for Sunday's debut at Spotland.
The Dreaming Spires of Oxford

After the game, Oxford captain Alex Thompson identified where Oxford had been found-out: "Their half back kicked us to death and kicked 3 forty twenty opportunities which put them on the front foot and relieved the pressure on them as they couldn’t get out of their half at times. I felt we weren’t clinical enough when we had the ball and didn’t take our opportunities when they came along which would have pulled us away in what ended up a really tight match.”

Specialism in the anomaly that is the bonus point sees Oxford tucked in at 4th place, two places above Hornets - having played a game more and having lost a game more. Indeed, it does make you question a points system where four defeats carry a greater return than one win. But as we're stuck with it, it's up to Hornets to not only beat Oxford, but also deny them their almost statutory 'loser's point'. (indeed, if you really want to see how the BP distorts things, go take a look at the KP Championship, where Hunslet have four wins and NINE bonus points - effectively nine losses the equivalent of three more wins!).

Without descending (too far) into a bitch about the bonus point, a team in that division could lose every game and get 26 points, whereas a team could win five games and get beaten by 13 points in all of the others for 25 points - AND GET RELEGATED ahead of a team that can't win. Now tell me it's not crazy. Go on…

Meanwhile, back in the real world, Hornets have five home games in which to salvage a season that has seen a 2,000 mile roadtrip result in some less than convincing performances.

Whilst defeat at Big Spending North Wales Crusaders™ might've been anticipated, defeats at London Skolars and at Hemel have left us chasing a home draw in the playoffs. With 15 points to play for - and the spectre of the bonus point liable to play a deciding role on final places - it's time to gird our loins, get a grip and take care of business with no complacency.

So, after almost 9 weeks away from Spotland, let's get behind the lads and see this thing through together.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Hornets' Hemel Horror

Hemel Stags 38 - Hornets 18

Hmm, where do you start with this one?

My mum used to tell me, "If you've got nothing good to say, don't say anything". But that'd pretty much be the end of this report. So let's begin at the beginning…

Hornets allowed the kick-off to bobble comedically out of play to concede a goal-line drop-out: the earliest of indications that it was going to be one of those afternoons.

From the resulting possession Hemel sent Sharp crashing in, but he was held-up over the line. But two minutes later some neat hands fed Mostyn over by the flag to give the Stags a lead they never looked like relinquishing.

The try heralded a period of sustained Hemel pressure and it paid off when Molloy caught the Hornets defence static from close range. 10 minutes, 10-nil.

To be fair, Hornets dug in, applying some pressure of their own, but came up empty-handed after three back-to-back sets courtesy of a drop-out and a penalty. After 25 minutes, Hornets found the pass that their big, noisy following had been waiting for; Hemel given a taste of their own medicine as John Cookson boomed in from five metres. Paul Crook added the extras, and with the half hour mark approaching Hornets had a finger-hold in the game at 10-6.

Visibly lifted, Hornets continued to probe and push the Hemel defence backwards, but a dropped ball on the Stags' 10 metre line was snaffled by fullback Forgham who pinned back his ears to win a 90 metre foot-race and plant the ball under the black dot at the other end. Bit of a bugger, really.

Hemel's next try had the air of a fluke about it. Prop Howitt's charge-down of a hurried clearing kick gave Hemel possession in Hornets 20 metre zone. With the set going nowhere a scuffed grubber from Coleman took a freakish bounce twixt two covering defenders, into the arms of Sharp who'd chased it more in hope than expectation. 16-6.

Having shipped two unfortunate tries, Hornets almost gifted Hemel another: the otherwise reliable Crook suffering a case of the yips, failing to find touch with a penalty, Mostyn steaming the ball back. As it was, the half ended with an audacious drop-goal attempt from Coleman drifting mercifully wide. 

Half time 22-6: Hornets struggling to contain Jy-Mel Coleman's incisive distribution game and killed by Hemel's ability to release second-phase ball off the back of some pretty ordinary tackling.

The second half followed a similar pattern. Hornets forcing passes, conceding cheap penalties and handing Hemel ample opportunity to sap their energy in the punishing heat.

Indeed, it took only 8 minutes for Sharp to crash through and score and, with Mike Ratu carried from the field and stand-in scrum half Gary Wheeler similarly removed, Hornets' shuffled Martin Waring to centre and Chris Hough to half-back.

The effect was almost immediate. Hornets working the ball downfield and Dave Llewellyn threaded through the smallest of gaps to score. Crooky with the extras.

At 28-12 with almost half an hour to play, there was a flicker of opportunity - extinhuished within three minutes as Sharp turned provider, creating space for Swndells to effectively end Hornets chances of getting anything from the game.

So Hemel parked the bus; happy to repel Hornets increasingly frustrated, flaccid attack and, in possession, equally happy to complete their sets, bang the ball downfield and compel Hornets to start again from their own 20 metre line.

With two minutes remaining, Hemel worked the ball to Pritchard for a simple try. But for lovers of irony, Hornets regained possession from the kick-off and with the hooter imminent, played their most lucid football of the afternoon to send Chris Baines in for a late, late consolation try. Crooky added the two to put this farrago of a game out of its misery. 

Speaking in League Weekly (July 8), Ian Talbot's frustration was clear: "I'm disappointed and pretty embarrassed for the lads who coughed up that performance. We've got all the easy excuses that we want - they were ready-made before we came: 'we've got ten players unavailable, the long travel, the hot weather'… but the lads dwelled on the negatives and, from the kick-off, were not dealing with it properly. I knew we were in for a long day because they were not quite switched on and it just went from bad to worse. We made uncharacteristic errors and I think we are in a bit of an identity crisis. We've lost a few games on the back of a winning streak and it's difficult to take.."

He continued: "On a positive note, that's our last away game of the season and we've five at home from here on in, so hopefully we can put a run on from now until the end of the season."

Certainly, Hornets look like a team suffering a crisis of confidence and its downward cycle - things go wrong, team tries 'too hard', passes get pushed, tackles get sloppy, things go wrong…

With a two week break ahead of five consecutive home games we have a period of respite. So let's regroup, get a few bodies back on deck, take a deep breath and start again.

And hopefully things'll come right in the end.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Sunday's Coming - Hemel Stags

Some wise-ass… er… man, once said "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step". And Sunday sees Hornets' final 'step' on a six week on-the-road-odyssey that will have seen the team and a hardcore of the faithful cover a staggering 1900 miles.

Here at TLCRF80mins, we're in no doubt that such a gargantuan ask of everyone at the club does take its toll, and that spending eight or ten hours of consecutive matchdays stuck on even the most luxurious of coaches isn't conducive to building momentum - on or off the field. Ergo last week's tired-looking, injury-hit implosion at Wrexham.

Drawing a line - and wearing our positive head -  Sunday presents an opportunity to celebrate the end of the travelling for this season and look to set a platform for our advantageous five-home-game run in.
But Hemel are no mugs.

One kick away from a draw at the Gnoll last week, a Mason Caton-Brown try at the death left BJ Swindells facing a tricky conversion to snatch the draw, but the stags had to settle for a losing bonus point instead, going down 16-14.

Having been 10-4 down at half time, it was a huge second-half effort from the Stags, who seem to have hit the ground running in the semi-pro ranks with a five and five record after ten games. By far their most momentous scalp to date being that of the execrable Big Spending North Wales Crusaders™ at Pennine Way three weeks ago. I wonder what Urinal Bragging Man thought of that as he pissed on his foot?

Boosted by three bonus points, the Stags remain ominously hot on Hornets' tail with 18 points as, fortunately, results last weekend went in our favour.

This weekend, Hemel will be teaming up with the Dacorum Community Trust to put on a fun-day at Pennine Way ahead of our game. Whilst they have face painting for the kids and a fire-engine - complete with firefighters - for the mums, they have by far the the most innovative bit of pre-match entertainment I've ever come across: a 9-hole crazy golf course! If you've ever thought "that Rory McIlroy thinks he's smart, but could he do that through a moving windmill?" Now's your chance to have a go and find out.
Hemel's new stand in its previous life

Hemel are a committed, co-operative, community focused club and, for a few of us, it'll be a great chance to see how their home has developed since our last visit 20 years ago. For most, it provides a chance to go and tick off a new ground in RL's booming Southern Herts-land (see what we did there?).
Certainly following the erection of their new grandstand was one of last autumn's online RL highlights. We're told that in a previous life it was part of the seating at The Mall for the Olympic Beach Volleyball. It now boasts a roof too! In April a spokesman for the club said: "The final rivet in the roof signifies the end of the major development of Pennine Way as a rugby league stadium. There just remains a few minor projects and a fair degree of landscaping and asthetic matters to complete the ground and give the sport in the South of England a unique facility of which it can be proud."

So, for the last time this season, I implore you to stick three mates in the car, suck up the miles and get yourself down there on Sunday to cheer the lads home. It's been a hell of a roadtrip and they really do appreciate our support.

Directions to Pennine Way Hemel are:
- Go South on the M1
- Leave the M1 at Junction 7/8 Southbound
- Continue towards Hemel Hempstead on the A414
- At the second roundabout take the 3rd exit onto tonto Maylands Ave/A4147
- At the next roundabout take the 1st exit to continue onto Swallowdale Ln/A4147
- At the next roundabout take the 3rd exit onto Redbourn Road
- Take the first left (after about 300 metres) onto Pennine Way and continue to the end of the road to arrive at Pennine Way Sports Ground