A beautiful late autumn day at Glasshouse lane for a crucial game between 4th and 5th in this Midlands 2 derby with the home side boosted by the return of full back Tom Kendall with Andy Whitehall’s impressive recent form maintaining his first XV selection, this time on the wing.
Kenilworth started brightly and some early work in the opposition 22 lead to a straightforward penalty in front of the posts for Kendall who gave the side an early 3 point lead with 4 minutes on the clock. Earlsdon’s first attack from the restart saw Kenilworth stray offside and the scores were level.
With both sides having points on the board the next 10 minutes were largely even with both sides having decent possession but neither having the final move to add to their tally. What did become apparent in this period was that Kenilworth had a clear superiority in the set-piece, particularly at the set scrum; this would become a key factor in the outcome of the game. From one such scrum a dominant surge by Kenilworth produced good ball to O’Brien who sent a probing kick in the direction of Beckett running towards the corner but the ball drifted into touch. Earlsdon could not secure possession and with Kenilworth moving forward Renowden went over for the first try of the afternoon.
Earlsdon now put together a series of attacks and were awarded a number of penalties but had nothing to show for their efforts. Kenilworth, attempting to clear one such attack, kicked the ball straight back to the Earlsdon wing on their 22. A number of phases followed marked by some stern Ks defence and from one such action Jonny Openshaw ripped the ball from the attacking forward and, with the help of some friends, brought the ball out to midfield.
Earlsdon were guilty of repeated infringements at the ruck and the referee showed considerable patience in not taking things further. From one such offence the visitors compounded their errors by losing 10m for backchat – not once but twice! Ks now had a lineout 5m out and the drive took them within a metre of the line but was stopped by what seemed an early tackle. From the resulting scrum the ball was moved right to Lowthian who straightened the run to score in the corner. Back came Earlsdon from the restart and some good work gave them a lineout inside the home 22. The throw-in was too long and was eagerly snapped up by Thompson who wasted no time in charging up the field with his usual vigour. He was eventually brought down but Earlsdon infringed and Renowden attempted a quick tap and go but was tackled after only 3m by the very vocal Earlsdon half-back. The referee immediately reached for the yellow card.
Ks now looked to take full advantage of the extra man; Beckett was held up on the line from one such attack but set scrum was still a weapon for Kenilworth. Two scrums later Ks knocked on with the line beckoning. Earlsdon attempted to clear their lines but back come Kenilworth with some good hands between Openshaw, Renowden and Whitehall made good ground up the left wing. Whitehall was eventually edged into touch for what was the final act of the half.
With the amount of possession and the advantage of the extra man the home side could be forgiven for thinking they should have had more of an advantage but the omens were good for a more productive second half. But Earlsdon had not reached their position in the table by accident and they started the second half with renewed purpose. So often Earlsdon were not able to convert good possession and field position into points; unforced errors and stout Kenilworth defence did for them.
The first Kenilworth attack of the second half put Middleton close to scoring but Earlsdon cleared the eventual ruck. Back came Kenilworth and from a lineout close to the Earlsdon line, Collett disguised the carry well before putting Renowden over for a score close to the posts. Kendall added the 2 and the home side were looking very secure at 20-3.
The tempo was now being notched up by the home side with some delightful handling and forceful attacking moves; one such move looked certain to produce another score with some good interplay between Whitehall, Renowden and O’Brien but the final pass went astray. Earlsdon were not lying down and responded with a series of runs close to the Kenilworth line. The Earlsdon fly-half, who had already tried a number of options, decided to go it alone and broke two tackles to score near the posts; the easy conversion made the score 20-10.
Another key event in the match now followed with Earlsdon again not giving 10 and the early tackle producing another yellow; strange to see the player shaking his head in disbelief as he had seen the same result for his teammate in the first half. Ks wasted no time in pressing home the man advantage. From the ensuing possession the ball was spun left with O’Brien putting Sheehan in for the bonus-point score. Any thoughts of an easy last 20 were quickly dispelled by Earlsdon’s next series of attacks. Scott, who had an industrious afternoon at 10 for the visitors, had again looked at various options before attempting a deft chip ahead to the in-goal area but Renowden had it covered and the pressure was eased.
Earlsdon found themselves defending their 22 soon after and the ensuing clearance produced the moment of the match. An attempted touch finder found only the grateful arms of Beckett just outside his own 22 who looked to counter but was closed down by the chasing Earlsdon defence. A brief interplay with Whitehall looked to maintain the momentum and the ball was eventually returned to Beckett who broke one tackle and stepped the next. A farce burst of speed took him deep into the Earlsdon defence and good footwork allowed him to evade the would-be tacklers. The full-back was all that stood between him and a scintillating try; another step and a blinding turn of speed saw him round the 15 to score the try of the season under the sticks – breathtaking!
At 34-10 the home crowd might have expected the flood gates to open but Earlsdon were having none of it. The decision to go to uncontested scrums had removed a key weapon for the home side but the visitors continued to press in the hope of getting something out of the game. One such attack saw the ball spun wide to the Earlsdon centre who stepped his marker well to score in the left corner. Again the visitors took the ball up close to the K’s line and won a penalty; an early tackle by Tom Nicholson saw him sent to the bin with the referee absolutely consistent in his application of the law. From the ensuing possession, playmaker Scott again surveyed his options before going it alone to score the final try of the afternoon.
It would be churlish to focus too heavily on the negatives of this match but there are key areas which must be addressed as we face two pivotal fixtures in the next fortnight; away to Newbold and home to the league leaders a week later. There is a nagging propensity to see the fourth try as the signal to switch off; a cry often heard from the sidelines is “nil-nil” as the team returns to midfield for the restart. This suggests a mentality of playing as if nothing had yet been achieved but we need to do this not just say it. Our set piece worked well but when the scrums were forced to go uncontested we did not adjust accordingly; better use of the maul and counter-ruck would have allowed us to exploit the forward advantage.
But the positives from this game far outweigh the negatives; first and foremost a 4-try win over our nearest challengers. Consistently high levels of defence were shown throughout the team, often leading to great attacking positions. Set-piece performance and discipline brought a real advantage with the forwards contributing even more in open play. A willingness to attack from almost anywhere with the backs displaying a real sense of adventure – and of course there was “that try”.
Collett, Lowthian, Dodd, Wadey, Flowers, Nicholson, Openshaw, Thompson, Renowden, O’Brien, Middleton, Sheehan, Whitehall, Beckett, Kendall