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.