Monday, 25 March 2019

A Zero Sum Game

Hornets 4 - Widnes 50

On days like this, it seems you can't win: literally and metaphorically.

As the 'new' Widnes machine steams on as if nothing has happened, Hornets were reduced to bit-part players as the hand-wringing League media focused on how a criminally mis-managed club that's burned millions of pounds could haul itself back to zero points by beating a fan-owned team of part-timers in their own back-yard. Anthony Gelling on Rugby AM even referred to it as an 'underdog story'. Yeah? No.

For all their troubles, Widnes remain a slick, well-oiled unit - well-organised and, by far, the fastest-breaking side we've seen this season. Indeed, it was their pace on the break that gave Hornets problems all afternoon.

Having hoofed the kick-off straight into the Pearl Street stand, Hornets had first use of the football - but Widnes were first on the board after just five minutes: Ince in out wide from the visitor's first meaningful attack.

Hornets pushed back. A set played within the Widnes 10m zone ended with Tyler Whittaker stepping through a flat-footed defence to level the scores. The huge travelling support silenced.

And so it stayed, past the quarter-mark: Hornets now attuned to the arm-wrestle: a hard-hitting copy-book tackle by Ryan Millington on Harrison Hansen setting the standard.

But Referee Mannifield's freestyle jazz interpretation of the laws piggy-backed Widnes upfield where Hansen hit a short ball at close range to slump in and score. Owens added the two for 4-10.

From the resulting kick-off, Widnes' out-half Craven produced a huge 40/20 and the ball was moved wide to Buckley who scored by the flag. Owens in target; Hornets reeling.

The half ended with a double-whammy from Ince: Hornets closest response came from Ben Morris who was unable to execute his pass to Lee Mitchell due to a clash of heads: the Hornets skipper stretching, but unable to reel-in the spiralling ball with the line at his mercy.

Hornets began the second half in positive fashion: good shape, good defence. But when Owens found a gap to release Brand after 52 minutes, you could feel Widnes move up a gear.

Two sucker-punch tries in quick succession just past the hour (Wilde going 80 metres from the back of a scrum, Roby first to react to a dink into the in-goal) blew-out the scoreline and a last minute 90 metre effort from Ince brought down the curtain on a difficult afternoon.

The Widnes fans celebrated like they'd won the cup - which those of you of a certain vintage will recall they used to do on a regular basis - but today it was all about the Vikings wiping off their penalty for going into administration.

In the end, whilst it was a hard game to enjoy for the Hornets faithful, they can console themselves with the thought that the revenue raised from the game exceeded budget forecast threefold. So at least Widnes helped us balance our books this week. And from a business point of view, THAT is a big win.