Stoke on Trent 19 Kenilworth 19
An error-strewn game coupled with poor decision making conspired to make this a disappointing outing for Kenilworth as they tried to build on the momentum of the season opener. A depleted Stoke side offered a chance to get the season off to a real flyer but both sides failed to demonstrate any real continuity and this made for a poor spectacle.
From the opening minute you could be forgiven for believing that Kenilworth would be heading for a bonus point win. From the kick off, indecision by the Stoke recievers saw Kenilworth take possession and go straight on the attack and, after one phase and some slick passing, Nicholson took the ball over in the corner – not even a minute on the clock. Sadly this was not an indication of how the game would develop and the vision and execution demonstrated in this opening score went missing for the rest of the afternoon. The next 60 seconds proved to be a cameo of the match; good work from Sheehan from the restart put Kendall clear but his inside pass was intercepted by the Stoke winger who ran in unopposed to level the score. The successful conversion put the home side ahead with barely 3 minutes gone.
These early scores seemed to have an adverse effect on both sides as the next 10 minutes were littered with errors and stuttered play. Stoke looked the more threatening during this period and eventually the pressure told and some good passing gave the winger a run in down the left who finished well to put the home side further ahead. Ks responded well and made good yards with a driving maul but when the ball did go to ground it came out on the Stoke side. Much of Kenilworth’s set piece was snuffed out by a Stoke back row which were seldom bound in but this was not called once during the afternoon; other decisions were also questionable but this in no way was the reason for the poor quality of the game.
Another rib injury for Openshaw saw Purewal replace him and made his mark quickly; another Stoke attack was building when he put a ferocious hit on his opposite number to snuff out the threat. Ks used this momentum to gain good ground and were within 10m when they’re awarded a pen; despite Kendall’s good form with the boot, Cresswell opts for the chance of 7. A series of punishing runs are repelled but eventually the ball reaches Dodd who surges over the line and with the successful conversion Kenilworth are back on terms. With a momentum change on the cards O’Brien makes a great break from his 22 and takes the ball to the other 22 before attempting a wide pass out right but the pass is astray and what looked like a sure score is lost. Stoke respond with a series of attacks and with time running out in the half made the most of some poor Kenilworth defence to turnaround 19-12 ahead.
The second half began with some great interplay between Selby, Hannam and Middleton and the phases continued and looked to bear fruit but the ruck was stopped by the Stoke 8 although clearly off his feet. More chances go begging as Ks continue to try and level the score but it is Stoke that look the more threatening on the break; the fast pace of the game clearly suited the home side better and many of Kenilworth’s errors could be attributed to this. But Kenilworth were not giving up and they looked to run at Stoke at every opportunity with their front row particularly effective during this phase. Another series of breaks from Kenilworth all start promising but all end without a return; no lack of effort from the visitors but poorly directed at times. One such attack produced some top-drawer play and great passing and what would have been a season highlight goes begging as the final pass is wayward.
With time running out, Kenilworth are camped on the Stoke line in a desperate effort to even the score and the home side are penalised for multiple offences. The ref’s patience finally runs out and runs under the posts to award the penalty try; Kendall adds 2 and the scores are tied. With 3 minutes to go thoughts of a repeat of last week’s heroics return but it was not to be and the game ended with Selby choosing to kick the ball to touch.
Kenilworth gained a valuable two points from this outing but there was little else to celebrate. Structure, execution, pass selection were not at the level required to succeed in this league and there will be sterner tests ahead so these issues will need to be addressed without delay. But there is a lot of character in this team and they do not quit and these qualities should not be underestimated. As previously stated, the effort cannot be criticised but its application must be so much smarter.