Sunday, 13 April 2014

Hornets Fast-Forward Past Slow-Motion Whitehaven

Hornets 20 Whitehaven 16

Previously, rugby league fans might've questioned whether all the plutonium in West Cumbria's water-table constitutes an illegal dietary supplement. But on this showing, the 770 fans that saw a patched-up Hornets scrap and scramble to victory over a sluggish, half-speed Whitehaven might suggest a test for mogadon instead.

As Hornets got sucked like quicksand into Whitehaven's world of slow-motion torpor, it took a gutsy second-half performance to shake off the dead weight of the visitors and take the points that lift them off the bottom of the table.

'Haven applied all the early pressure, but - despite a 40/20 and a ten-minute encampment in Hornets' 20m zone, they showed their slow-hand early to reveal that they were bereft of ideas.

As it was, Hornets launched the first proper attack of the afternoon on 15 minutes when Lewis Sheridan was unable to capitalise on Paul Crook's teasing crossfield kick.

Off the hook, Whitehaven somehow fashioned a scrappy last tackle try that exemplified their rather tedious brand of anti-football: Mitchell reversing over the goal ine from 5 metres, with all the grace of a bin-wagon doing a three-point turn.

Southernwood converted: 6-nil - to the low-hum of gentle snoring.

Having coughed possession on the first tackle, Whitehaven beat a leaden retreat to their own line as Hornets began to build pressure. A good kick and chase from Ryan Millard forced a drop-out and swift hands across the line slotted Gaz Langley in by the flag. Crooky wide with the conversion attempt. 4-6.

Time and again, Hornets drove Haven back under their own posts, with repeated repeat sets, but with the visitors looking short on ideas, John Cookson fumbled the ball early in the tackle count and Whitehaven exhaled.

Completely against the run of play, Whitehaven awoke to summon up a 39th minute break through centre-field, but with the line at their mercy they came up with a comedy-pass that saw the ball bounce harmlessly forward.

Half-time 4-6.

For lovers of irony, it was Whitehaven that caught Hornets napping - gathering the kick-off ball and bundling Southernwood over by the posts. He converted his own try to give 'Haven a 12-4 lead.

Hornets had clearly had enough of Haven's clueless blunt-instrument tactics and hit the gas.

On 46 minutes a mercurial 70 metre break from Wayne English left a back-pedaling 'Haven defense grasping at shadows and, as they came crawling back upfield, quick-fire hands to the left threaded Lewis Sheridan in for a clinically executed try.  8-12.

Then, on 53 minutes, it was Gaz Langley soaring to snaffle an inch-perfect lofted Paul Crook chip to score. Crooky with the two; Hornets in front at 14-12 and the opining from the visitors to our right went up a notch.

On 56 minutes, Wayne English made the extra man on a sweeping passing move; his neat inside ball creating a huge hole for Ryan Millard to step through and score. Crooky hit the target and at  20-12 there was really only one team interested in winning this one.

'Haven strove desperately to suck the last drops of life from the game, but Hornets stood resolute as the visitors' impotent prodding became ever more flaccid.

Haven's three back-to-back sets on 70 minutes provided their epitaph for this game: 18 stumbling drives that came to nothing - their best shot, an attempt to shove Doran in backwards from 5 metres. Wretched.

In the 75th minute, referee Stokes awoke from his own slumbers to award Whitehaven the first offside penalty of the day. Only now did the visitors consider giving the ball to possibly the fastest winger in the league, and Calvert took his one chance well to score out wide. Southernwood slammed the conversion attempt haplessly wide and Hornets comfortably batted out the last five minutes to grab a vital 20-16 win.

Whilst this wasn't pretty, we'll gladly take a perfunctory win - especially one against a team whose pig-ugly game plan seemed to involve making time stand-still and hitting the opposition on the break as it nodded off.

And, while Hornets celebrate further progress in the Championship, quite a few West Cumbrian rugby league fans will be waking up wondering just what the hell happened to their team at Spotland.

Sleep well, everyone.