Sunday, 24 April 2016


Hornets 28 - Toulouse 28

Rochdale Hornets threw the kitchen sink at this one and came within a sliver of stealing this game from a scrapping, moaning Toulouse side that was more TOXIIIC than TO-XIII. Notwithstanding the constant niggling, harassing the officials, theatrical diving that would have made Cristiano Ronaldo look like a mard-arsed cheat and kicking off in the tunnel afterwards, Toulouse left under a cloud of allegations of gouging and biting that left Alan Kilshaw fuming.

In the end, that Kilshaw and the fevered, vocal home support were proud but disappointed to have taken a draw out of League 1’s ‘je-suis’ Charlie-big-spuds, speaks volumes for the effort expended in remaining unbeaten in this season’s campaign.

But my, how badly this game started. Ford’s ridiculous dive drew a penalty from Mr Grant in the very first set. Toulouse sent Curran in to score. Then on 7 minutes, great feet by Toulouse winger Minga saw him burn fully 80 metres to score. And, when Bentley hit an inside ball at pace to score on 11 minutes, it looked like it’d be a very long afternoon at 0-16.

Fortunately, Hornets sucked in, stiffened up and battled back into the game. Having goaded the visitors into conceding a penalty by holding the ball in the scrum, Hornets went on the attack: Crooky held-up over the line. And It was Paul Crook’s short ball to James Tilley that unzipped the Toulouse defence one minute later that lifted the main stand roof. Crooky cool with the extras and you could sense that the French weren’t used to such direct resistance.

Indeed, the remainder of the half became an arm-wrestle that Toulouse really didn’t fancy. With Samir Tahraoui and Jono Smith causing the French defence all sorts of problems, Hornets built some steady pressure. And a high tempo set on the half-hour fed Tom Lineham in for a debut try. 10-16: Toulouse hoofed the kick off dead.

Hornets went straight to the left edge where Lewis Galbraith ran out of pitch as the retreating French defence scrambled across. No matter, a steepling Yatesey kick to flapping winger Minga saw Tom Lineham out-muscle his opposite number to score. Crooky nudged the conversion wide. 14-16: Toulouse hoofed yet another kick-off dead.

With the half running on fumes, an obviously knackered Toulouse transgressed at a ruck and, with the hooter sounding, Paul Crook the coolest man in the ground to slot over the penalty to send in the teams at 16-all.  Astonishing stuff.

The second half began in a whirlwind of action. On 44 minutes, Lewis Galbraith reeled out of a tackle showing bite-marks on his arm. Mr Grant put the incident on report. From the resulting possession a direct, assertive set saw Hornets force a drop-out - and when Jono Smith came booming onto a short-ball from close range, you could hear the French sphincters squeak from the press box. Great try, Hornets in front 20-16: Toulouse on the ropes - now swinging blindly into tackles like a punch-drunk boxer.

On 50 minutes, Hornets produced a moment of magic. Great approach play pinned the French on their goal-line; Danny Yates’ show & go bamboozling defenders as he skipped in to score untouched. Crooky hit the target and Hornets in charge at 26-16.

On the hour mark, the passage of play that gave Toulouse a way back into the game. Again Ford belied his skills by taking another dive in back-play after a kick - pitiful cheating, really. Mr Grant suitably gullible. Toulouse gifted two repeat sets off two equally dubious penalties sent in White to score under a hail of boos from the home fans. Khierallah with the two and the French back with a sniff at 26-22.

Hornets rallied, looking for space up the edges, but their momentum was halted when Mr Grant penalised James Tilley for not regaining his feet at the play-the-ball despite Toulouse leaving bodies in the ruck. On 70 minutes, frustrations boiled over: Ben Moores forcing an error from Tyla Hepi, handbags all-round. Somehow Mr Grant dispatched Jono Smith and Toulouse captain Planas to the sin-bin.

Again Hornets probed the left-edge - Riley sniping off the back of some great running by Samir Tahraoui, but the French defence just about holding out.

Then what looked like a killer blow: a last tackle penalty to Toulouse 10m from the Hornets line saw the ball shipped wide for Ader to score. Khierallah good with the boot to give the visitors an unlikely lead with two minutes to go. 26-28.

Hornets went all-in for a big finish. A short kick-off regathered by James Tilley; Toulouse ill-disciplined; Paul Crook ruthless with the penalty to lock-up the game at 28-all. The home fans in a frenzy.

There was still time for Hornets to set-up Paul Crook for a drop-goal attempt that faded teasingly wide and for Hornets to repel one last French incursion to grab a draw that will make everyone in League 1 sit up and take notice.

Indeed, this was Toulouse’s first real test on English soil and they were found-out. When the going got tough, the French got niggly and that, really, is their weakness. Hornets got in their face and basically just refused to lose. And on St George’s day weekend, it was enough to swell this English heart with pride.