Monday, 20 March 2017

A Giant Disappointment.

York 26 - Hornets 20

Welcome to the Rochdale Hornets emotional wringer.

From the chest-bursting pride of two weeks ago, we find ourselves this morning trying to not think too hard about that shadow of embarrassment lurking in our peripheral vision.

2017’s brutal wake-up call arrived in the shape of Hornets’ unshakeable hoodoo. We wrote in Friday’s preview of our discomfort of being the giant in a potential giant-killing and, from the moment that Danny Yates coughed the kick-off at four seconds after three, you sensed that it was going to be one of those afternoons.

While York kept their game-plan brutally simple - fast ruck-speed, direct running, minimal errors and something tricky to think about on the last tackle - Hornets disintegrated into a mess of dropped-ball, forced passes, cheap penalties and - for the first time this season - some decidedly flaky defending.

James Ford’s masterstroke, though, was to persuade Jon Presley to put his boots back on. So often Hornets’ tormentor-in-chief last season, he produced a tight, controlled performance that proved to be the difference.

Indeed, after 15 minutes, two kicks into the in-goal had yielded tries for Smith and Batchelor to give York a dream start. Hornets at this point barely having carried the ball. In between Tyson-Wilson slotted a penalty and the Knights looked good value for a 14-nil lead.

When - after half an hour - Hornets finally got some meaningful possession they capitalised. First Lewis Palfrey trickling the ball behind the defence for Miles Greenwood to score; then a bit of a freak try as a Palfrey bomb was lost in flight by York defenders, skittling off Tyson-Wilson for Chris Riley to touch-down. Within the space of three minutes, Hornets back in the contest at 14-12.

Having clawed their way back, Hornets switched off with seconds of the half remaining, allowing Moran to crash through and score a coach-killing try, Tyson-Wilson added the extras and Hornets retired to the sheds 20-12 down for what we imagine was a frank exchange of views.

Hornets started the second half with visibly more purpose, but fell foul of some indifferent refereeing. First Jo Taira seemed to have scored a perfectly vallid try only for it to be struck-off for a highly dubious double movement, then Jono Smith was held-up in-goal despite being face-down on the ball.

Hornets then had a six-minute purple-patch: Lewis Galbraith embarking on a wide, meandering run to send in Rob Massam, followed by swift-hands right for Chris Riley to score out wide. 20-all with 20 to play.

With Hornets looking increasingly desperate to seize control of the game, the errors continued to mount and with time ebbing away there was whispered discussion about the golden point. All that became moot in the 73rd minute when Presley produced a cool offload in traffic to send in the other Tyson-Wilson, his brother spot on with the boot.

Hornets spent the last seven minutes banging their heads on the York defensive wall, closest to a break being a Ryan Maneely step that almost took him clear of a last-ditch grasping tackle.

In the wash-up, this was a shocker in every sense of the word. Hornets couldn’t play this badly again if they tried. But while the result was pretty humiliating, it provides a real test for Alan Kilshaw and his squad. Having had a bit of a boom start to life in the Championship, this result asks lots of questions and they need a big response.

Ultimately, if what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, we can hope that this wretched result serves  some sort of fortifying purpose. But at the moment it just feels like a chastening disappointment - and, it seems, York seemed destined to continue to lurk in Hornets' blind-spot.