A glorious mid-September afternoon provided a perfect opportunity for an entertaining encounter at The Glyn Mitchell Memorial Ground; an impressive facility with surely one of the better pitches we will play on this season (away from home!).
The opening exchanges suggested that we might not get the open, running game the weather promoted with the tactical kick being the weapon of choice. Following one such kick, Kenilworth were penalised for offside within kicking range and the first points of the afternoon came from the boot of Sean Walker to put the home side 3 points up with only 3 minutes of the game gone.
The early exchanges suggested that Droitwich would build their game around a strong set scrum and tactical kicking whereas Kenilworth would focus on moving the point of attack and fast hands. Kenilworth’s response was to up the tempo of the game to a speed which put their handling skills to best use and the next series of attacks showed great promise. Too often, the final pass went astray or an infringement brought the attack to a premature end but in the 17th minute it all came together for a magnificent team try. Harry O’Brien, gaining in confidence with every game, spotted a gap in the Droitwich alignment and got behind the defensive line. Jenkinson and Wadey showed great awareness (and not a little speed!) to support the run with the pass eventually finding Beckett out on the right wing 30 m out from the Droitwich line. A neat step inside took care of two defenders as Niall headed on a diagonal run to the posts with his customary speed and even with the luxury of Openshaw on his left shoulder was able to get over the line close to the posts. Tom Kendall secured the conversion ahead to give the Ks a 3-7 lead.
Droitwich responded by playing to one of their key strengths; awarded a scrum in the Kenilworth half, their pack produced a surge which had the visitors in reverse and gave themselves a penalty in a kickable position. Although the kick was missed a clear warning had been sounded that the set scrum would be a challenge for Kenilworth all afternoon and the next period of play saw Droitwich mount some promising attacks but all came to nought with the final pass not going to hand. The home side reverted to the tactical kick option and Kenilworth adapted well to this with some good phase play but a liberal interpretation of offside allowed the Droitwich defence to stifle these plays. Eventually they were penalised but Kendall pushed the penalty attempt wide right.
The pressure continued from the visitors and eventually a penalty was awarded against the home side for a high tackle and this time the Ks went for the corner. From the 5m lineout a catch and drive was set up but Droitwich successfully nudged the maul into touch. More Kenilworth attacks followed with one promising move halted by some blatant handling on the floor which went unpunished. The resultant turnover pushed Kenilworth back inside their own 22 and an attempted box kick landed in the arms of the Droitwich winger who slipped a number of tackles to score against the run of play. An unsuccessful conversion attempt left the home side with an 8-7 lead at half-time.
The second half opened with Kenilworth adopting a more patient approach to the attack phase and one such move left Beckett in a one-on-one 20 m out; his chip kick looked well judged but the ensuing tackle seemed marginal and the attack fizzled out. The visitors’ persistence was rewarded in the 46th minute when good work by the forwards but Jenkinson in close to the posts. Another successful Kendall conversion put the Ks 8-14 ahead. Gareth Renowden, who had an industrious afternoon at 9, was in the middle of a promising move in open play when he was tackled very late following a kick ahead for the line. The ensuing penalty was successfully converted by Tom Kendall to put Kenilworth 9 points ahead with less than a half-hour to play; many of those looking on believed the penalty could have easily been harsher.
Despite the relative comfort of the lead, Kenilworth continued to press and, to ironic cheers from the visiting Kenilworth fans, were finally awarded a penalty for offside following one too many encroachments by the Droitwich defence. Another successful kick from Kendall put the visitors 12 points ahead with a quarter of the match remaining.
Droitwich were now spurred into a greater sense of urgency and one such attack saw the home-side winger make a break down the left flank with a team mate in support. The result of such moves depends on initiative; if the attacking players can keep their defensive opponents guessing the initiative lies with them and they can dictate the play. An early move by the defensive team forces the hand of the attacker and compels them to react shifting the initiative their way. Unfortunately for Kenilworth the home side kept possession for half the length of the field and this gave them a score in the corner to ensure the last quarter of an hour would be interesting.
An attempt by Walker to position the conversion a little more favourably was spotted by the referee (with some help from the Warwickshire contingent) and the tee was moved closer to the touchline. With delicious irony Walker slotted the ensuing kick from the more difficult position to make it a 5-point game. Kenilworth was awarded another penalty shortly after which restored the lead to more than one score.
The next 10 minutes were largely played out in the middle of the field with neither side making any telling incursions; it was almost as if the importance of the next score was recognised by both teams. That next score came from Droitwich after being awarded a penalty in the visitors’ half and the gap was back to 5 points.
That proved to be the final score of the game with Kenilworth running out winners 18-23. The Ks will look at this match as a job well done but with much work still to do; they will be concerned that 2 scores were given up from long-range attacks where opportunities to stifle them early were missed. One of the huge plusses arising from this game was the way which Kenilworth adapted to an opponent’s superiority at the set scrum. Quick strikes to the back row often resulted in secure possession and James Wadey did particularly well at 8 following Booby Thompson’s early departure having given his customary all for the cause. The lineout also worked well and did much to balance the advantage which Droitwich enjoyed at the scrum.
2 games, 2 wins; the league continues in a fortnight with Leamington visiting Glasshouse Lane. A full house and some good weather could contrive to give Kenilworth a dream start to the campaign.