Monday, 14 August 2017

Number Crunched.

Hornets 14 - Batley 34

Jeez, where to start with this one.

Fundamentally, weight of numbers were the deciding factor in this horrendous mess of a game, perpetuated by what can only be described as inconsistent knee-jerk officiating.

Having started as a tight, combative encounter, this game became carved into a series of inedible chunks as referee Mr Grant lost his tenuous grip on both the laws and the game swirling around him.

As it was, Hornets were forced to play 10 v 12 at one point and ended the game on the wrong end of a 13-6 penalty count, deemed twice as bad as a Batley side that took the phrase ‘win at all costs’ to its extreme.

Wringing every last drop from their Championship experience, Batley capitalised on Mr Grant’s visible - and risible - lack of control, sucking Hornets into a shit-fight they were only ever going to lose.

After the game, Alan Kilshaw was incandescent with rage at the treatment meted out to his side at the hands of the officials - and in conversation with a Batley director post-game, even he conceded that Mr Grant had a shocker.

Long before the rot set in, Hornets started brightly - forcing an early drop-out, then creating a hole up the right edge for Jake Eccleston to step inside and score.

At this point, Batley were looking ragged, shipping penalties and, when Gaz Middlehurst was taken out after a last tackle kick, Danny Yates took the two for 6-nil.

Then two quick-fire penalties (Middlehurst in possession for not regaining his feet, then Jo Taira for what appeared to be for ‘rough play’) took Batley to within striking distance, where Scott made the extra man to score. Walker tied up the scores with the conversion.

Then a hint of what was to come. Gaz Middlehurst snagged for not being square at the play-the-ball, a frank exchange of views and then all hell broke loose. Batley coughed the penalty possession, Hornets handed them the ball straight back, then Reittie fumbled under attention from defenders. All pretty awful.

It was the cue for Batley to activate plan B. First, Jono Smith wiped out in back-play - Batley fans booing as he received attention. All class. Then Gaz Middlehurst hit late, Gav Bennion tripped as he broke the line, Farrell putting in a shoulder charge (ignored by the officials) and Yatesey decked at the play-the-ball. Batley placed on a team warning.

Hornets’ response was clinical - ball whipped wide to the right where Kev Penny scored with an acrobatic aerial plunge into the corner. Quality.

But the lead was short-lived. A poor last-tackle kick by Lewis Foster was followed by a penalty and Batley moved the ball to Ainscough who found space to score. Walker added the two and the visitors headed to the sheds 10-12 to the good.

If the first half was combative, the second was chaos - neither side seemingly capable of completing a set.

Hornets came up with a forward pass in the first set of the half, Batley’s response was a knock-on. Lewis Galbraith then muscled himself into open field, but his pass to Chris Riley was pretty awful. Batley’s response? A knock-on. Danny Yates also forced a pass to ground. Batley knocked-on.

It took almost 10 minutes for Hornets to settle: Lewis Galbraith running a great angle to take Hornets close. Jono Smith launching himself onto a flat last tackle pass only for the ball to come loose. Having taken a 20 minute sabbatical from his whistle, Mr Grant then gave Batley back-to-back penalties.

On 50 minutes, Jono Smith failed to come out of a tackle and, as he lay out cold on the field, he incurred the ire of the travelling fans who seem to think it’s perfectly ok to berate a player with concussion. Jono was taken, staggering, from the field.

Having shuffled the pack a bit (Jordan Case stepping in), Hornets dug in for some determined defence after Dec Kay fumbled a teasing bomb. Having stood firm for two consecutive sets, a Batley penalty five metres from the Hornets line proved too much and Bretherton broke through to score. Walker off the whitewash for 10-18.

As the penalty count began to rack-up, things became fractious. And when handbags after Crooke’s try on the hour ignited into a flurry of punches, Mr Grant dismissed Crooke and Middlehurst for fighting, yellow carding Ben Moore in the process.

Hornets were reduced to 10 men four minutes later when Jordan Case was sin-binned for use of the knees.

Hornets then belied their deficit, Chris Riley blasting a huge hole up the Hornets left to send Danny Yates dashing in from 50 metres to score for 14-22.

As it was, the weight of numbers finally told. Despite some heroic defence, Batley eventually did the maths for Bretherton to score, with Scott adding his second through a stretched defence on the hooter to blow-out the scoreline.

In the end, this pig-ugly scrapyard brawl of a game was one that Hornets were never likely to win. You can overcome a one-sided penalty count if you are able to compete on equal terms. And you can overcome a numerical deficit if you are given an opportunity to play. As it was, Hornets were given neither and Batley have way too much nous to shun such an opportunity.

Wearing our analytical head, it’s hard to see in a feisty contest like this, how one side can be deemed more than twice as bad as the other in terms of penalties - and it’s little wonder that frustrations boil over when players have no consistent template to play to.

Fortunately, results at Oldham and Swinton went in our favour, so Hornets live to fight another day. Hopefully, though, not quite as literally next time.