Sunday, 4 March 2018

Hornets Get The French Kiss-off

Toulouse 54 - Hornets 6

Once again we return from Toulouse asking readers to ignore the scoreline. Yes, Toulouse have a team rammed with big-name mercenaries pocketing a fortune to belittle smaller clubs. Yes, they play like the Harlem Globetrotters at times. Yes, they’ll probably buy their way into Super League at some point - and good luck to them: that’s their journey and we’re all just roadkill in the wrong place at the wrong time.

But this blown-out scoreline isn’t really representative of the effort that this young, untested Hornets side put in. And it’s artificially bloated by two gut-wrenching interceptions, a slouchy bounce or two and a dropped ball. As Alan Kilshaw pointed out in his post-match press conference, you don’t need to gift Toulouse 24 points, they’re more than capable of scoring them themselves.

But then they’d have to work for it - and they’re not right keen on the concept of hard graft.

Indeed, if there’s a lazier player in the Championship than Jonathan Ford, I’d be amazed. Prodigiously talented, he plays when he wants and causes endless damage - but he expends less of his energy and talent than any player we’ve seen. He slopes along at 40%, knowing that it’s more than enough to get by at this level - and when he released a languorous kick behind the Hornets defence after three minutes, he stood back and admired his handiwork as Barthau scored.

Hornets did dig in for a spell, sucking Toulouse’s big pack into a centre-field grind, while Ford hung around in back-play, seemingly contemplating a trip to the tea-bar for a bovril or a packet of crisps.

Meanwhile, Ader was busy gallically shrugging off Earl Hurst to score. ‘Bof!” The home fans were roused from their slumbers by the feverish honking of the house band.

Hornets simply went back to work, driving Toulouse back into the corners with some nicely controlled sets. Due reward came when debutant Dec Gregory exposed Ford’s bone-idle tackling technique, scooting through to release Richard Lepori up the right edge: Gregory going back for a neat return pass that sent him scampering under the posts. Ford slouched back under his crossbar to a hail of ridicule from the travelling fans.

Referee Mr Rossleigh had waited over 20 minutes to award his first penalty (to Hornets) and his second (also to Hornets) came hot on its heels, but as Harvey Livett looked to spread the ball up the narrow-side, Toulouse winger Maurel snaffled a poor pass off the floor to go 70 metres and score.

In a bizarre moment of deja vu, Hornets were awarded a penalty when Luke Adamson was tackled in back-play supporting a Richard Lepori break. But when Danny Yates launched a long pass, it too was snatched out of the air - this time Marcon going 80 metres to score. Two gifted tries gave the home side momentum - and when Curran broke free after 36 minutes he too looked certain to score, but a great chase and tackle from Rob Massam halted his progress. As it was, Barthau stepped through a stretched Hornets defence to score on the next play. Exasperating.

Pretty much the last action of the half was Toulouse’s Kiwi lump - Mika crunching in to score. Half time 32-6 and the game basically gone.

Hornets were compelled to shuffle the backline for the second half: Jack Johnson removed feeling the effects of a head-knock, Richard Lepori moved to full-back and debutant Billy Brickhill slotted in at right centre - where he grew in stature was the half progressed.

28 points up, Toulouse staged a ludicrous assault on Luke Adamson: two players trying to hold him in place while Puech rained down punches. Mr Rossleigh consulted his touch-judge and dismissed both Adamson and Puech for 10 minutes. Having been outnumbered three to one, Adamson left the field to a tirade of jeers from the home supporters. Sporting.

After 15 minutes of sterling resistance, the Hornets defence cracked: a quick-fire double whammy from Kriouache and Canet doing the damage. And when Ford finally emerged from an hour’s nap to slide a kick into the 10m Union in-goal, Marcon scavenged on a Rob Massam slip to score.

The game ended with yet another moment of fortuity for the home side, Dec Gregory clipping the ball into Canet’s hands to take them over the half century.

All-up, it was a tough day at the office. Toulouse have a well-drilled, high quality side that looks like it can do some serious damage this season (assuming they don’t choke, d’accord).

Hornets gave it as good a dig as they were able. Competing well for periods, but looking vulnerable when the ball found its way to the enigmatic Ford, who slinks around with all the intensity of a bloke with more pressing things on his mind. They must wash his jersey once a month…

We were impressed with debutants Dec Gregory and Billy Brickhill. Gregory is a compact dynamo whose impact belies his size; Brickhill a solid, hardworking debut that oozed promise. Fellow debutant Blake Turner was overshadowed a bit by opposing forwards with serious NRL credentials, but it won’t be the same every week.

Special mention to the hardy knot of Hornets fans who made the trip to the South of France - especially given the weather conditions leading up to the game. Having sung themselves hoarse for the cause, they gave the home fans a lesson in heart , soul and passion. Indeed - unlike the scoreline - they were impossible to ignore.