What a sensational game and more so, a sensational ending, that keeps Kenilworth on track for the league title with one game remaining, away at Bedworth, writes Willie Whitesmith.
A glorious sunny day and a bone hard, but grassy, pitch set the scene for a high scoring game, similar to the first game encounter at Kenilworth in September. Early pressure from Kenilworth came to nothing but a shock for Kenilworth in the 10th minute with a scrum on half way was taken against the head by Dunlop and their No8 ran 30m before offloading for the first try under the K’s posts, duly converted. This sparked Kenilworth into life and a long return kick from Kendall resulted in a Dunlop knock on and from the resulting scrum Bobby Thompson scored in the corner, with Kendall converting a super score from near the touchline. From the kick off Kenilworth collected the ball but a silly infringement allowed Dunlop a penalty which was missed. Hooker Ross Lowthian then suffered an eye injury and was substituted by Jonny Cresswell. On 22 mins a lineout close to the Dunlop 22 was stolen by Jonny Openshaw and the ball was carried forward by Dom Sheehan who, in sight of the posts offloaded to Stephen Todd who scored to make an easy conversion for Kendall. There then followed about ten minutes of parity with both sides creating chances but Dunlop then hit Kenilworth with two quick sucker punches resulting in two converted tries from poor Kenilworth defence and a 21-14 lead with half-time approaching. However Kenilworth responded well and on the stroke of half time another great run from Sheehan resulted in a penalty which was quickly taken and ended with Jonny Cresswell burrowing over. Kendall added another superb conversion to level the score. There was further disruption in the K’s ranks when flanker Stephen Todd, who had been having a superb game, had to leave the field to be replaced by the experienced James Wadey. Kenilworth’s half was not yet finished and they finished it in style when a kick into the Dunlop 22 was collected and returned, but to Alex Selby, who spread it back across the Kenilworth line to Jimmy Middleton who had Tom Kendall on his left and who crossed in the corner for the crucial fourth (bonus point) try. Kendall, once again had another superb touchline conversion and a half time score of 28-21 to Kenilworth. Breathtaking stuff.
Coach Glyn Owen’s half time message was to play the game in the Dunlop half and to, simply, go out and win the game as the bonus point was in the bag but the message went unheeded as Dunlop stormed in again with an early try from their rather large prop, duly converted and the game was all square again. However within five minutes Kenilworth were back in front when a short lineout from Cresswell to Wadey resulted in two tap penalties which took Kenilworth close to the Dunlop line for Jonny Openshaw to cross the line for another try, this time not converted and a 33-28 lead. From the kick off a great kick from O’Brien caused havoc and a break from Cresswell who offloaded to Thompson. Good work then produced another try for Gaz Renowden from close range, this time normality was restored with a Kendall conversion and what appeared to be a comfortable 40-28 lead with 30 minutes remaining, and coach Owen screaming to Harry O’Brien to ‘be boring!’ However K’s poor defence again reared its head and Dunlop once again scored under the posts and, with the conversion, a 40-35 lead to Kenilworth. Kenilworth then went back on the attack but good defence from Dunlop kept them out. With 20 minutes left further disruption to K’s who lost winger Nyle Beckett (who had suffered an early dead leg) was finally replaced by Adam Clifford. Kenilworth’s dominance in the scrum was now evident and a drive from a scrum took them 20m up the pitch. The ball was taken on by Renowden but was lost on the line and another big Dunlop clearance. Dunlop then responded and should have scored but for good defence from substitute Clifford. The Dunlop pressure finally told and a penalty in front of the posts reduced the deficit to 40-38. There then followed a very tense five minutes with both teams going for the final score but being thwarted, Kenilworth in particular being denied on a number of occasions by long clearance kicks form the Dunlop No10. Following Dunlop pressure two successive Kenilworth clearance kicks found touch but they went out on the full. For some reason the second resulted in some backchat from Kenilworth that resulted in a penalty which was smartly dispatched from wideout and Dunlop were in the lead, 40-41 deep into injury time. From the kick off Kenilworth headed into Dunlop territory and gained a penalty out wide. Kendall fancied it but Captain Jonny opted for the kick and lineout. The ball was duly taken and driven towards the line but was held up, resulting in a 5m scrum to Kenilworth. After being dominant all day, the scrum was amazingly lost against the head and the Dunlop No10 only had to kick to touch to win the game – this he did but it was charged down by Renowden/Openshaw (both taking the glory!) for Harry O’Brien to pounce on the ball and an unlikely winning try. I don’t think anyone noticed the Kendall conversion to make the final score 47-41 and to keep Kenilworth on course for the title. A truly amazing game that will live in the memory and a credit to both teams.