A cold but bright afternoon greeted Kenilworth on their first visit to Malvern for some three years. Having faced the four strongest teams in the league in as many weeks, this fixture looked to offer a more even contest.
The first 5 minutes of the fixture looked anything like an even contest as play was firmly rooted in the Kenilworth 22 and Malvern retained possession with a series of attacks. Eventually the pressure told and the home side scored their opening try and converted it. From the restart Malvern continued where they had left off and as the phases built Kenilworth were guilty of over pursuit in the blitz defence and allowed a second, rather soft, try and with only 15 minutes gone the lead was 14-0. The intensity that is normally associated with this Kenilworth side was mysteriously subdued in this opening period but from the restart they attempted to wrest back the initiative with an attack on the right wing. The move was thwarted by an interception by the Malvern wing who looked certain to score but was halted by an excellent pursuit and tackle by Mills. It was to prove a brief postponement as Malvern regained possession and crossed for their third try in 20 minutes. With Kenilworth unable to respond to the home side onslaught the fear was that this game would turn into a rout.
In games such as this, a single move or cameo can change the momentum of the game and Thompson has often been the go-to player for Kenilworth in the past. He received the ball short from the restart and smashed his way through the first defence and found the excellent Mills on his shoulder. Kenilworth were now inside the home 22 and the tempo was picking up; so much so that Malvern were forced to committing 4 penalty offences in succession to try and stem the tide. Despite the continued infringements, penalties were deemed sufficient despite being in the red zone where more serious sanctions are the norm. Kenilworth stuck to the task and, after another series of phases, recorded their first score of the afternoon with a try for Wadey.
Now Kenilworth had shown they could breach the Malvern defence the hope was that they could build a period of possession and chip away at the sizeable deficit. Despite giving away 40-50kg to their opposite numbers, the Kenilworth pack were dominant at the set scrum but were unable to take full advantage. The Malvern front row stood up on a number of occasions and other infringements at scrum time followed but the expected penalties never came and this prevented the visitors from reaping their just rewards. Against the run of play Malvern were awarded a penalty which increased their lead to 24-5 but almost immediately Kenilworth were back on the attack and looked to be building a good series of phases when the half was brought to a close.
With coach Gibson’s half-time words ringing in their ears the Ks started the second half with a bang; a tap and go from inside his own 22 gave Cresswell sight of a break and the ball reached Beckett who was eventually hauled down inside the Malvern 22. The attack continued with Beckett again involved and the ball was moved wide to Thompson who crashed over for a second try and the added 2 brought Kenilworth back into contention at 24-12.
Kenilworth were now enjoying their best period of the match but were hampered by some strange officiating and their own errors. The strangest decision followed a good tackle by Hickman who, as a reward for his good work, received some pugilistic attention from a Malvern player but amazingly it was the Kenilworth winger who received a yellow! To their credit the Kens did not dwell on this incident but continued to try and get back on terms and their resilience was rewarded when another dash from Beckett saw the ball spun out to Sheehan who went over to get the Ks back to within a converted try. The conversion was missed – perhaps deflected by an onrushing defender?
With time running down Kenilworth were in full attack mode as they desperately tried to get on terms with Cresswell and Thompson combining well to get within 5m of the Malvern line. Ball moved wide again where Sheehan collected and ran over for this second try of the day and the difficult conversion was nailed to bring the scores level with the final act of the game
This truly was a curate’s egg of a game! A dismal opening 20 minutes could have seen Kenilworth on the end of a humiliating defeat but they dug deep and never lost hope. The key decisions went against them; their dominance in the scrum unrewarded and a player sin-binned under questionable circumstances would have done for lesser teams but they never gave up. Such experiences are invaluable in binding a team together and providing self-belief when the odds are against them.