Monday, 6 July 2015

Plastic Fantastic!

Newcastle 28 - Hornets 32

More than an all-important top five contest, this game was also a clash of ideologies. Newcastle Thunder, the toy-de-jour of a multi-millionaire rugby *nion club owner; Hornets, fan-owned, prudently run within its modest means.

What was to unfold over a captivating 80 minutes on Kingston Park’s plastic pitch was the manifestation of the concept that money can’t buy you team spirit. Yes, Newcastle are a big, talented, hard-to-beat unit - but in the end you need more than a busload of imported reputations to pull you through. Sometimes you just need to refuse to lose.

Hornets opened like lightning - two quick-fire tries silencing the home crowd.

The first a lucid, sweeping passing  move that took Hornets fully 70 metres and left Thunder chasing shadows - Dale Bloomfield skinning his opposite number on the edge to slip an inside ball for Wayne English to score. The second came after Newcastle shipped a penalty for holding down; Danny Bridge piling through some ordinary tackling from close range. Crooky with two conversions and Hornets 12-nil up after just 10 minutes. Hornets continued to exert their dominance.

A rock-solid exit set surmounted by a great kick/chase; Thunder’s big-name signing Mark Mexico planted on his arse by Jordan Case; then another high quality approach set ended by Danny Yates’ teasing kick, gutsy chase and copy-book tackle.

The pressure on Newcastle was eased by a penalty for an innocuous ‘high’ tackle, but Thunder spent four tackles going nowhere before dropping the ball. Clearly rattled.

On 17 minutes, a rare Hornets lapse. A poor set handed the home side the ball on half-way. Newcastle’s recrimination was swift: quick hands wide for Capper to step inside and score. Beherrall the two; tannoy guy pleading for more vocal support to drown out the noisy Hornets contingent. 6-12

And when Newcastle moved the ball wide after 25 minutes for Brown to successfully exploit a hole , Beherrall was on target to pull Thunder level at 12-all. You sensed a momentum shift. Now Hornets rattled.

On the half hour attack was turned into frenetic, scrambling defence as a dropped ball was hacked to half-way, where Hornets coughed a penalty to take Thunder fully 80 metres. Then a dropped ball on the first tackle to gift Newcastle the ball. Frustrating.

With the half running on fumes, Hornets dug deep to snatch the advantage: Alex McClurg ghosting through from acting half to slip Matt Fozzard under the black dot. Danny Yates the two. Hornets with their noses ahead at the break by 12-18.

As Hornets fans queued for their half-time brew, news began to filter acros that John Cookson had been taken from the field with a broken arm. Painfully bad luck on Cooky who was looking the part on his recall to the side; a problem for Hornets, a substitute down for the remaining forty.

Hornets began the second half as they had the first: a 45th minute Alex McClurg break sending Matt Fozzard through a static defence; a teasing Yatesey kick forcing a drop-out. Within a minute, Ryan Smith produced an audacious show & go to score a great solo try. Danny Yates added the extras and Hornets, again, looking comfortable at 12-24. But this Thunder side just refuse to go away.

On 52 minutes, referee Mr Hewer missed a blatant Newcastle knock-on and, from the ensuing break Wayme English was compelled to concede a drop-out. Under pressure, the Hornets defence looked to have withstood the close range barrage when a Thunder player was held-up over the line on the fourth tackle. But a lofted kick across a stretched defence was enough for Blair to gather and score out wide. Beherrall the two: 18-24.

Hornets hit back with another sublime passing move. Having stretched the home defence to snapping point, ‘Pogo’ Paterson’s no-look pass to his wing sailed into touch. Having been handed a get out of jail card, Thunder pushed back downfield where a last tackle kick going nowhere was somehow deemed to have been played at by Wayne English, when clearly he hadn’t. In response Newcastle chucked the sink at the Hornets line, but great defence held firm.

Just past the hour, Thunder’s simons exploited a hole in centre field - jumping through from acting half to send Beharrell under the posts from 30 metres. His successful conversion locked the game up at 24-all with 18 to play. It was all down to who wanted it most.

Handed an eminently kickable penalty three minutes later for interference, Crooky elected to take the two, but pulled his kick agonisingly wide. Hornets fans tapped their pacemakers in anticipation.

On 71 minutes, a moment of pure magic. Wayne English’s electric kick-return saw him burst into open field; his pass found Lee Paterson who hit the afterburners to skin the fullback for a spectacular 70 metre try. Crooky the two: 24-30.

The last five minutes were heart-attack inducing stuff: Beherrall’s dramatic tumble after a tackle drawing a penalty from Mr Hewer; then another penalty in quick successsion: Newcastle pressing desperately.

In the last minute of the game Newcastle produced a freak rabbit from the hat try. Quick hands up ther narrow side saw Marsh blast fully 80 metres: Dale Bloomfield in pursuit, shepherding him towards the flag, but unable to prevent him getting the ball down. 28-30, Beherrall’s cool deserting him as he hauled the conversion across the posts.

There was just enough time left for Newcastle to launch one last desperate attack, but the ball was coughed as the passes became increasingly panicky. As the home side strove to push Hornets off the feed, Mr Hewer blew to repack the scrum. Beherrall spat the dummy and Mr Hewer penalised him for dissent. Crooky slotted the penalty over to seal the game as the hooter sounded. Cue much jumping around.

From start to finish this was a great advert for League 1 football - but mostly it was a great advert for guts, determination and effort as Hornets overcame a big, marauding pack to win where they had the advantage: pace where and when it mattered. Fantastic stuff indeed.