Sunday, 26 February 2017

Hornets Defeat Built On Straw

Hornets 6 - Halifax 20

We speak often here of how, sometimes, teams have to find a way to win. But over the 80 minutes of this sloppy, scrappy performance, Hornets somehow found enough ways to lose to a Halifax team that looked bereft of ideas for long periods.

Amidst a tsunami of dropped ball, fumbled passes, forced plays and frankly awful penalties, Hornets somehow also found time to spurn four penalties within kickable range AND find themselves reduced to eleven men as referee Mr Straw gradually lost contact with the realities of what was happening around him.

Hornets had started the brighter of the two sides: ealy breaks from Rob Massam and Ben Moores had the visitors back-peddaling;Gaz Middlehurst producing a teasing dink to force a drop out. After just four minutes, allowing the resulting drop-out to trundle into touch looked like a casual error - especially when, just 90 seconds later - Rob Massam reeled in a shaky pass up the narrow side to  crash through two coverinfg defenders to score by the flag. Palfrey perfect off the touchline and Hornets looking bright at 6-nil. And when Lewis Galbraith had an effort chalked off on 8 minutes due to a knock-on somewhere in the build-up, it didn’t feel particularly significant.

Fax sputtered briefly: a pinpoint 40/20 from Murrell gave his side an attacking position deep in Hornets’ half. But stern defence was squandrered when Blythe knocked on. Again Halifax threw themselves haplessly onto the Hornets defence and, when they came up empty handed, an excellent Hornets set ended with a kick-chase that saw the visitors start agan from their own 10m line.

On 18 minutes Hornets were fortunate to gain a rare penalty after Danny Bridge had overcooked a kick into the in-goal, but a shocker of a pass from Gaz Middlehurst bounced off Samir Tahraoiu’s chest and Halifax were off the hook. They took full advantage.

Having worked the ball upfield, the visitors forced a driop-out after Chris Riley was snagged in-goal off a poor last tackle kick.
Lewis Palfrey’s drop-out was a short, scuffed effort and Barber stepped back inside across a compacted defence to score two tackles later. Tyrer levelled the scores.

Hornets then began racking up the errors. Initially pulled for a dubious forward pass, they shipped a penaty at the resulting scrum, followed by a penalty for not being square at the ruck - and another for offside. Gifted four repeat sets in Hornets 20m zone Halifax ran pointlessly at the wall of the Hornets defence, reduced to five drives and a big hoof. But when Jo Taira was penalised in possession for not playing the ball properly, Halifax cooly took the two points, whereas Hornets had declined two similar options minutes before. 6-8.

Hornets responded well: a big break by Danny Bridge putting Halifax on the back foor, only for Lewis Palfrey’s poor last tackle kick to ease their pressure. And when Halifax knocked on, with the half ebbing away it looked like a chance for a late test of the visitors’ defence. Hornets knocked on on the 2nd tackle. The last action of the half saw Murrell launch another huge 40/20 only for Halifax to run out of ideas long before the hooter.

Half time 6-8 and nothing in it.

Halifax began the second half on the front foot: three consecutive penalties giving them momentum, bit still they were clueless at the end of their sets. Increasingly it looked like a period of error-free football would seize control of the game, but when Grix knocked-on manwatching in a tackle, it looked like neither side had it in them,

Breaks from Lewis Palfrety and Josh Crowley gave the home fans brief hope of a breakthrough, and a kick through saw Rob Massam held-up. But a last tackle kick was defused by Worrincy, compounded by another penalty aganst Hornets in the ensuing set. In the resulting play, Tyrer outjumped Matty Blythe to score an unlikely try in Halifax’s first serious attack of the half. Tyrer slipped on his arse in his run-up sending the conversion attempt scudding along the ground. 6-12.

With the hour mark approaching, referee Mr Straw stopped paying attention to what was happening around him and began listening to the voices in his head. Hornets shipped a soft penalty for a sloppy Gaz Middlehurst high shot. Halifax took the two, Middlehurst dispatched for ten minutes. Halifax allowed the kick-off to go dead, but when Matty Blythe dropped the drop-out and Lewis Galbtaith gathered from an offside decision, it was all you could do not to shake your head.

From the resulting penalty possession Halifax went close - but when Ben Moores hung on too long in the tackle, Hornets were reduced to 11 - and Halifax smelled the opportunity. Hornets’ 11 man defence were tenacious, forcing Halifax to hand-over on the last tackle. Unable to break the line against 13, the visitors eventually took full advantage; and when Worrincy hit a hole on 65 minutes, the try was inevitable. Tyrer slipped over the extras for 6-20.

As Hornets regained numerical parity, Halifax went back to their impotent jabbing. And when Ambler stuck an illegal shoulder on Gav Bennion followed by a needless attrack on his head, tempers boiled over. Halifax somehow got the penalty. Beyond belief.

The game ended in a ragged mess of handling errors and slapdash play-the-balls - Mr Straw doing the only decent thing all afternoon, putting this shoddy show out of its misery.

In the wash-up Hornets were murdered in the penalty count and the reduction to 11 men finally broke the back of this game. But this was a pretty poor day at the office for all concerned. Halifax could have run at a 13 man defence all afternoon and not scored - pitifully short on ideas and over-reliant on Murrell’s boot and Mr Straw’s charity to make any ground. Indeed, it was a shocker for Mr Straw too - whistle-happy throughout and inconsistent in his policing of the ruck and of ‘illegal contact’.

In the search for positives, it’s good to view every game at this level as a learning experience. Halifax showed their Championship nous - patiently waiting for opportunities to take advantage and showing a ruthless streak when they arose. It’s simple, but effective.

There were plenty of questions asked afterwards about Hornets’ decision to run four clearly kickable penalties: effectively 8 free points up for grabs. In tight games, every opportunity to take points has to be considered seriously.

Indeed, it’s a dubious positive that Hornets can play this disjointedly and still not look out-classed at this level. So let’s take the learnings and move swiftly on.