Monday, 10 August 2015

Point Breaks Crusaders Hearts

Hornets 19 - Crusaders 18

Some games, it matters not how you win, only that you win - and Hornets scrapped, scrambled and stole home by a point in what might prove to be a crucial twist in this heart-stopping season.

As in previous encounters with Crusaders, this was a fizzing, physical encounter that saw both sides reduced to 12 men, chances bombed at both ends and, ultimately, Hornets’ key players holding their nerve where their counterparts couldn’t.

After a tight, combative opening, Crusaders made the breakthrough after 8 minutes, Dallimore making a rare contribution with the kick that won a repeat set; quick hands down the line where Jullien squeezed in by the flag.

The game re-tightened - for 20 minutes both sides testing and teasing. The removal of the experienced Reardon with a broken wrist gave Hornets a chink of opportunity up the left channel, but before they had chance to test wing Turner’s mettle the game exploded. On the half hour, verbal exchanged at a tackle between Turner and Dale Bloomfield; the next tackle Turner raining blows into Bloomers’ bloodied face. Mr Merrick’s decision to send off both parties looking harsh on Bloomfield who was defending himself; Turner braying at the crowd as he went down the tunnel.

Hornets went on the attack. On 35 minutes the ball was moved wide to the right, Wayne English chiming into the line as the extra man, a pinpoint cut-out pass for Brad Hargreaves (who had his best game in a Hornets shirt) to score in the corner. Crooky teasingly wide with the conversion attempt; fans tapping their pacemakers as the teams went in at 4-all.

Hornets began the second half with clear intent. A high shot on the half’s fifth tackle gave Paul Crook a simple shot to extend the lead to 6-4. And when Lee Paterson punched a huge hole to blast fully 60 metres it took a spectacular last ditch tackle from Massam to prevent a certain try. No matter, three short passes later Jordan Case arrived at speed to step through and score. Crooky, cool headed, hitting the target, Hornets up 12-4.

This time it was Crusaders who upped the tempo, Despite some sterling, scrambling Hornets defence, it was stretched just too far, allowing Warrington DR Jullien to cut back inside for his second try. Johnson the two; Crusaders gaining fast at 12-10.

If nicking games means you have to ride your luck, Hornets got a solid gold Get Out Of Jail card as the hour approached. Good hands across the park from the visitors, Jullien hitting winger Massam with 10 metres of unobstructed fresh air between him and the goal line - Massam coughing the ball with the line begging.

Exhaling hard, Hornets marched straight upfield where James Tilleys shuddering hit forced a Welsh knock-on. Two tackles later Crooky hit Jordan Case with a inch-perfect face-ball, unstoppable from five metres; great try. Crooky the two, Hornets in control at 18-10. But wait…

For ten minutes, the visitors chucked the kitchen sink at Hornets, but couldn’t find the composure to finish. First Peet dropped Dallimore’s pass in front of a stretched defence, then Massam’s drop-off to Peet adjudged forward, no try.

Eventually, the pressure told - quick hands wide for Oakden to score Johnson short with the kick: 18-14 with 8 to play. A febrile frenzy - both sides now in search of the killer blow

On 75 minutes Hornets looked to have the situation under control: a solid set in the Crusaders 20, Crusaders retreating under their own posts, tackles in the bank. The book of commom-sense tactics suggested pushing Crusaders back as far as they’d go and look for a repeat set. At worst, hoofing the ball into the Pearl Street end would have seen Crusaders restart on the 20 against a flat defence. As it was, Danny Yates took a drop goal. 19-14 not enough if the visitors came up with a converted try; Crusaders kicking off to play under Hornets posts. All manner of wrong.

Almost inevitably, Crusaders regathered possession from a short kick-off and, on the 78th minute Massam chased down a Moulsdale kick to score. 19-18 - both sets of fans watching the conversion through their fingers: Johnson - reputedtly the best kicker in the league - unable to hit a barn door, slicing his kick wide. Hornets holding on for the narrowest of wins.

Time and again we write here that good sides find ways to win. And, amidst the pushed passes, daft penalties and coach-killing errors Hornets found the guile and the gumption to see off a determined Crusaders.

Indeed, in the end, it mattered not how Hornets won - only that they did. Whilst not a spectacular win, it was a great win - and, in doing so, Hornets supplant an increasingly busted Crusaders in the top five.