Thursday, 28 April 2016

Sunday's Coming - Barrow

Barrow, this morning.

Sunday sees Hornets embark on a Bank Holiday Sunday trip down the UK’s longest cul-de-sac to Barrow.

Having seen his side go down 21-18 to 12 man Doncaster last week, Raiders coach Paul Crarey labelled his side’s approach as ‘amateurish’. In an attempt to rectify this, Crarey added former Barrow AFC strength and conditioner Paddy Maher to his backroom staff this week: “He will bring a wealth of experience and help to make us a lot more professional,” he said in the NW Evening Mail.

In a top eight where the margins look incredibly fine, Barrow sit 7th with three wins, a draw and a defeat from their five games.

Hornets face the Raiders:
You sure this is the right picture?
Since Hornets pulled off a gritty 4-14 iPro Cup win in monsoon conditions at Craven Park back in February, Barrow have flogged Hunslet in the league 40-6, battered a hapless North Wales 37-18, somehow drawn with Newcastle 24-all and whacked Coventry 0-36. All pretty good until they hit the buffers at Donny.

In an attempt to give his side a bit more creativity at Half-back, Crarey has added the peripatetic Jamie Dallimore at half-back. If he does for Barrow what he did for Oldham and North Wales, we won’t be complaining.

At a glance the Barrow squad is packed with quality local talent, augmented by some ‘imported’ players who clearly like a bit of a drive three times a week. Amongst those, the most eyecatching is Martin Aspinwall, who brings a top class pedigree and 15 years of experience. Having played 113 games for Wigan, 82 for Huddersfield, 19 for Castleford, 27 for Hull FC and 36 for Leigh, he’s currently three months into a one year deal at Barrow, with an option on a second. He’s got a bit of international experience too, In 2003, he played and scored a try for England A in a 22–26 defeat against Australia at Brentford’s Griffin Park and made a further two appearances against Wales and France in the 2003 European Nations Cup. He was represented Lancashire in the 2003 County of Origin match.

Hornets travel to Cumbria on the back of that rare rugby league commodity, a ‘massive’ draw - briging Toulouse’s juggernaut season to a shuddering halt at Spotland last week. In addition to maintaining our unbeeaten record, the result sent a message to the rest of the competition that Toulouse aren’t invincible if you get in their faces and don’t succumb to their dubious gamesmanship.

Taking dives in back-play and gang-hassling the officials are reprehensible enough tactics, but claims of gouging, biting and working the neck and head in tackles paints a picture of a side prepared to win at all costs. A poor advert for expansion, we thought.

Thankfully, Sunday will take us back to a proper blood and thunder contest against a good side with promotion aspirations in what is shaping up into another ultra-competitive season. It should be a cracker. And take a brolly just in case.

Sunday, 24 April 2016


Hornets 28 - Toulouse 28

Rochdale Hornets threw the kitchen sink at this one and came within a sliver of stealing this game from a scrapping, moaning Toulouse side that was more TOXIIIC than TO-XIII. Notwithstanding the constant niggling, harassing the officials, theatrical diving that would have made Cristiano Ronaldo look like a mard-arsed cheat and kicking off in the tunnel afterwards, Toulouse left under a cloud of allegations of gouging and biting that left Alan Kilshaw fuming.

In the end, that Kilshaw and the fevered, vocal home support were proud but disappointed to have taken a draw out of League 1’s ‘je-suis’ Charlie-big-spuds, speaks volumes for the effort expended in remaining unbeaten in this season’s campaign.

But my, how badly this game started. Ford’s ridiculous dive drew a penalty from Mr Grant in the very first set. Toulouse sent Curran in to score. Then on 7 minutes, great feet by Toulouse winger Minga saw him burn fully 80 metres to score. And, when Bentley hit an inside ball at pace to score on 11 minutes, it looked like it’d be a very long afternoon at 0-16.

Fortunately, Hornets sucked in, stiffened up and battled back into the game. Having goaded the visitors into conceding a penalty by holding the ball in the scrum, Hornets went on the attack: Crooky held-up over the line. And It was Paul Crook’s short ball to James Tilley that unzipped the Toulouse defence one minute later that lifted the main stand roof. Crooky cool with the extras and you could sense that the French weren’t used to such direct resistance.

Indeed, the remainder of the half became an arm-wrestle that Toulouse really didn’t fancy. With Samir Tahraoui and Jono Smith causing the French defence all sorts of problems, Hornets built some steady pressure. And a high tempo set on the half-hour fed Tom Lineham in for a debut try. 10-16: Toulouse hoofed the kick off dead.

Hornets went straight to the left edge where Lewis Galbraith ran out of pitch as the retreating French defence scrambled across. No matter, a steepling Yatesey kick to flapping winger Minga saw Tom Lineham out-muscle his opposite number to score. Crooky nudged the conversion wide. 14-16: Toulouse hoofed yet another kick-off dead.

With the half running on fumes, an obviously knackered Toulouse transgressed at a ruck and, with the hooter sounding, Paul Crook the coolest man in the ground to slot over the penalty to send in the teams at 16-all.  Astonishing stuff.

The second half began in a whirlwind of action. On 44 minutes, Lewis Galbraith reeled out of a tackle showing bite-marks on his arm. Mr Grant put the incident on report. From the resulting possession a direct, assertive set saw Hornets force a drop-out - and when Jono Smith came booming onto a short-ball from close range, you could hear the French sphincters squeak from the press box. Great try, Hornets in front 20-16: Toulouse on the ropes - now swinging blindly into tackles like a punch-drunk boxer.

On 50 minutes, Hornets produced a moment of magic. Great approach play pinned the French on their goal-line; Danny Yates’ show & go bamboozling defenders as he skipped in to score untouched. Crooky hit the target and Hornets in charge at 26-16.

On the hour mark, the passage of play that gave Toulouse a way back into the game. Again Ford belied his skills by taking another dive in back-play after a kick - pitiful cheating, really. Mr Grant suitably gullible. Toulouse gifted two repeat sets off two equally dubious penalties sent in White to score under a hail of boos from the home fans. Khierallah with the two and the French back with a sniff at 26-22.

Hornets rallied, looking for space up the edges, but their momentum was halted when Mr Grant penalised James Tilley for not regaining his feet at the play-the-ball despite Toulouse leaving bodies in the ruck. On 70 minutes, frustrations boiled over: Ben Moores forcing an error from Tyla Hepi, handbags all-round. Somehow Mr Grant dispatched Jono Smith and Toulouse captain Planas to the sin-bin.

Again Hornets probed the left-edge - Riley sniping off the back of some great running by Samir Tahraoui, but the French defence just about holding out.

Then what looked like a killer blow: a last tackle penalty to Toulouse 10m from the Hornets line saw the ball shipped wide for Ader to score. Khierallah good with the boot to give the visitors an unlikely lead with two minutes to go. 26-28.

Hornets went all-in for a big finish. A short kick-off regathered by James Tilley; Toulouse ill-disciplined; Paul Crook ruthless with the penalty to lock-up the game at 28-all. The home fans in a frenzy.

There was still time for Hornets to set-up Paul Crook for a drop-goal attempt that faded teasingly wide and for Hornets to repel one last French incursion to grab a draw that will make everyone in League 1 sit up and take notice.

Indeed, this was Toulouse’s first real test on English soil and they were found-out. When the going got tough, the French got niggly and that, really, is their weakness. Hornets got in their face and basically just refused to lose. And on St George’s day weekend, it was enough to swell this English heart with pride.