York left in disarray as first half half horror show hands Rochdale victory on a plate.

THE dark clouds were gathering ominously over Huntington Stadium last night - and it wasn't just down to the unseasonal weather.

As events took a worrying turn off the field, York Wasps were hoping for a bit of respite on it. Sadly there was no comfort to be found in a shocking first half performance which showed up the worst in this Jekyll and Hyde team.

There was no enthusiasm, no spirit, no defence - quite frankly York looked like a team on its knees. Rochdale took full advantage to go on the rampage and by half-time had run in six tries to lead 30-2, which could easily have been more.

Yet something very odd happened in those 10 minutes during the interval. Somehow, the York players transformed themselves into what we all know they have the potential to be - decent rugby players.

With the game effectively lost and the pressure removed, they came out for the second half a different side.

They even had the audacity to outscore Rochdale 20-12 which at least restored some pride which had been quashed in the first half.

And the one shining light throughout was the form man of the moment, second rower Andy Hill, who emerged with credit even during that first half horror show.

Australian Michael Smith also seemed prepared to fight for the cause and put in some barnstorming runs.

There was plenty of enthusiasm too from debutant Gareth Lloyd who didn't look out of place when he joined the fray on the wing just before the break.

He made some strong runs and showed enough touches to suggest he could have a big future in the professional ranks.

And there was a welcome return for Rich Hayes in the front row. As usual his work rate was first class, topping the tackle count despite being taken off with 15 minutes to go.

Those few apart, and two-try centre Andrew Lambert, there was little encouraging about this performance.

The first half was one-way traffic from the second minute when Matt Woodcock failed to take a cross-field kick and Rochdale winger Martin Miller swooped to score.

To make matters worse, outstanding centre Danny Wood's difficult conversion just sneaked over the bar. York had a brief glimmer of hope when Simon Irving replied with a 10th minute penalty but that was to be the extent of their first half scoring.

Three tries were scored down York's right flank in quick succession, the first from Wood who then turned provider for the next two for winger Scott Martin.

After Rochdale had a couple of tries disallowed for forward passes, Wood intercepted a Craig Robinson pass to race nearly the length of the field, then Miller capitalised on more poor York handling for the final try of the half.

Such was the extent of the battering that thoughts drifted to the possibility of some unwanted records for the Wasps.

But their renewed second half belief ensured that wasn't to be. Smith made it two tries in two games just a minute into the second half.

He took hard-working Alan Pallister's reverse pass and burst through four would-be tacklers to score under the posts.

Lambert was next on the scoresheet as Mark Cain's perfectly-timed pass split the defence and set Lambert streaking away to the line from 40 metres out.

Unfortunately, Rochdale were keeping their score ticking over too and responded to each of those tries with touch downs of their own by on-loan hooker Anthony Murray and Martin, who completed his hat-trick.

At least it was York who finished the stronger.

The short kick-off after Martin's try was regathered by Darren Callaghan, who made a bigger impact at scrum-half in the second half than he had at full-back in the first.

That set up play in Rochdale territory and substitute Spencer Hargrave spun out of a tackle to go over.

And Lambert had the final say when he collected Cain's pass and shrugged off centre Sean Cooper for a try.

The prospects were certainly brighter as the players left the field than they had been at half-time, but it wasn't quite enough to dispel those storm clouds.

Only if the Wasps have some good news off the field in the next few days will the rays of light really begin to shine though.

Players fail to pass mental test

Disillusioned coach Garry Atkins hailed his team's fighting spirit against Rochdale but admitted their shambolic first half display was simply not acceptable, writes Dianne Hillaby.

In a dreadful opening period the Wasps failed to defend and the Hornets took full advantage to score six tries on their way to a 30-2 half-time lead.

Yet York came out a different side after the break to take the second half spoils 20-12.

Atkins' only explanation for the Jekyll and Hyde performance was the players' mental attitude going into the game.

He said: "Sometimes the players don't switch themselves on for the game. Whatever you say to them sometimes you just get a glazed look.

"Some have mentally switched off for the season because there's nothing left to play for but they should be playing for pride if nothing else.

"It took the first half to kick-start them. In the second half they showed a bit of pride but whether it overcame the big dent from the first half I'm not sure about.

"But there were some positives. We didn't give in and we tried to claw some pride back even though it was too late.

"There were a lot of arguments early on but they knuckled down and tried to solve the problems which they haven't always done."

Atkins insisted that the threat of the winding-up order had not affected the team's performance.

He said: "It had no bearing. York have had it before and lots of other clubs are in trouble. At the moment it's all speculation. No-one really knows what's happening. All we can do is wait and see."

The Wasps boss is now planning to make a return to the playing ranks in Monday's trip to Batley. He is yet to decide at which position but confirmed he would not be replacing either Simon Irving or Andrew Lambert in the centres.

Gareth Lloyd could also get another run-out after a competent display on his debut. "He had a couple of strong runs and that's what he's there for. If he listens and learns he's got a good career in front of him," said Atkins.

Northern Ford Premiership

York Wasps 22, Rochdale Hornets 42

(Friday, May 26 at Huntington Stadium)

YORK WASPS: Darren Callaghan 6, Matt Woodcock 5, Simon Irving 6, Andrew Lambert 7, Max Ryce 5, Mark Cain 6, Craig Robinson 5, Rich Hayes 7, Alan Pallister 7, Steve Hill 6, Mick Ramsden 7, Andy Hill 8, Chris Judge 6.

Subs: Gareth Lloyd (for Robinson 39) 7, Michael Smith (Ramsden 32) 7, Spencer Hargrave (Judge 51) 7, Craig Forsyth (S Hill 51) 6.

Re-subs: Ramsden for Hayes 65, Judge for A Hill 72.

Tries: Smith (42mins), Lambert (57, 72), Hargrave (66)

Conversions: Irving 2.

Penalties: Irving 1

Sin-bin: Chris Judge 74mins (fighting)

Guildford Construction/Evening Press Man of the Match

Andy Hill: Andy is enjoying a terrific run of form and was one player who stood out even in an awful first half. Head and shoulders above the rest, full of enthusiasm.

ROCHDALE: Lee Maher, Marlon Miller, Sean Cooper, Danny Wood, Scott Martin, Jason Demetriou, Dane Dorahy, Danny Sculthorpe, Anthony Murray, Andy Ireland, Gavin Price-Jones, Chris McKinney, Chris Newall. Subs: Phil Waring (for Dorahy 45), Martin Bunce (Sculthorpe 26), Peter Green (Maher 51), Darren Robinson (McKinney 40)

Re-subs: McKinney for Bunce 49

Tries: Miller (2mins, 38), Wood (15, 34), Martin (19, 30, 65), Murray (48).

Conversions: Wood 5

Sin-bin: Ireland 76mins (fighting)

Match statistics

Penalties: York 5, Rochdale 8

Scrums won: York 10, Rochdale 9

40/20 kicks: York 0, Rochdale 0

Half-time: York 2, Rochdale 30

Referee: Peter Taberner (Wigan)

Attendance: 331

Match rating: 5/10

York's next match: versus Batley Bulldogs at Mount Pleasant on Monday, May 29, kick-off 3pm.