Monday, 18 April 2016

Cup shock: Widnes actually quite good!

Hornets 6 - Widnes 62

On a weekend of cup upsets, Hornets found a two division differential too big a gulf to bridge, battling hard against a workmanlike if unspectacular Widnes. The visitors did most of the damage in the two quarters either side of half-time when they stepped up a gear to score seven tries - Kevin Brown, as predicted, pulling the strings and bagging a hat-trick into the bargain.

But for long periodsl Hornets competed valiantly - and, when the going got a little ‘robust’, you could see Widnes wobble.

The other contributory factor to Widnes’ dominance was Referee James Child’s inconsistently awful policing of both the ruck and the 10 metres. In an overly picky performance, he allowed Widnes to leave bodies in pretty much every ruck, but repeatedly snagged Hornets for the same ‘offence’.

Indeed, it was a Widnes repeat set off such a penalty that led to the opening score when Bridge found a gap. He then blasted the conversion comedically wide - something he’d continue to do all afternoon, unable it seemed to hit a cow’s arse with a banjo unless bang in front.

Hornets responded well with some pressure of their own, but their momentum was halted when James Child was the only person in the ground to spot a forward pass.

On 10 minutes a huge break by Chamberlain swept Widnes upfield, but Wayne English produced a top class tackle to stop him in his tracks.  The visitors continued to build pressure, but some determined defence saw the Hornets line hold, before a rapid counter attack involving Dale Bloomfled and Stu Biscombe drove Widnes backwards; a rare penalty creating a good attacking platform. And how Hornets capitalised.

A teasing Paul Crook dink into the in-goal created chaos in the Widnes defence and, with the ball bobbling free he was first to react, lunging in to touch down. Crooky as cool as you like with the extras and Hornets looking good value for a 6-4 lead.

Hornets now had the momentum and went straight back on the attack. With Widnes pinned against their goal-line, a fizzing Ben Moores cut-out pass launched Dale Bloomfield for the corner, only for his opposite number to nudge him into touch by the flag.

Against the run of play, Widnes created a huge break for Johnstone to score under the black-dot. Bridge finding his range from 10 metres; 6-10.

But Hornets continued to press - a Dale Bloomfield intercept agonisingly slipping from his outstretched hands. From the resulting possession, Brown found space to twist through defenders and score. Then, a rare aberration as Crooky put the long kick-off dead. Thankfully Widnes panicked the kick at the end of a set going nowhere, Michael Ratu mopping up in the in-goal.

Then, on 35 minutes, the catalyst for two quickfire Widnes tries. Mr Child gave Joe Taira ten minutes for a ‘muscular’ contribution to a tackle on Johnstone and the visitors clinically exploited the extra man advantage: first Brown producing a carbon copy effort, then Thompson right on the hooter.

Bridge frankly embarrassing with the boot. Half-time 6-28.

Two equally rapid tries at the start of the second half (Bridge on 41 minutes and Marsh on 43) streteched the scoreline to 6-44, but the return of Joe Taira shored-up the defence: Hornets setttling the ship for a good 20 minute period where some ‘sturdy’ defence knocked the shape and momentum out of the Vikings. But as the Hornets defence began to tire in the last 15 minutes, Widnes took full advantage.

On 65 minutes, trundling lump Manuokafoa crashed onto a short-ball from all of a metre, on 68 minutes Brown reversing in to somehow get the ball down, Bridge on 71 joining Brown on a hat-trick, then Thompson and Whitley combining from range in the last minute to turn a knackered defence inside out. Final score, a flattering 6-62.

In the wash-up Widnes were undoubtedly a much, much better side. But the fact that for long periods Hornets matched them for invention and intensity is a major positive to carry through into the league campaign. Hornets also showed a bit of ‘mongrel’ - Super League players jumping into tackles six at a time to the jeers of their own fans is a reasonable indicator that you’ve got under their skin: and in Samir Tahraoui and Joe Taira Hornets provided two major irritations.

Elsewhere in the cup, next week’s visitors slipped past Leigh by 10-8. And, whilst this was a challenge, next week is the real test.