A thrilling contest at Delves Road produced an end-to-end score fest which was ultimately decided by defensive errors and a yellow-card decision which left all bemused.
Kenilworth started briskly and their intentions were clearly to attack at pace and stretch the Walsall defence at every opportunity. The first test of this policy came with just minutes on the clock as a kickable penalty was turned down in favour of touch; this duly led to the first score of the game for Renowden before everyone had taken their seats. Almost from the restart, Kenilworth again secured good ball and the point of attack moved to the same spot where the earlier try had been scored and after good work by the forwards Gibson went over form close. Hickman, deputising for the injured Kendall, had a fine game and slotted his second successive conversion and just like that the visitors led 0-14.
The first quarter was punctuated by a continuous stream of penalties against the home side – 13 in the first quarter – mostly inside their 22- and this did much to slow the visitors’ attacking intentions but no further action was deemed necessary. Eventually the home side put some attacking phases together and produced a 3-on-1 on the right which produced a good score and with the successful conversion they were back within a score. After 16 mins we had the first set scrum and this resulted in yet another penalty for the visitors; Gibson taking the ball up strongly and bouncing the first tackler. What looked a promising move was cut short as his offload found a Walsall hand and the hosts were back on the attack. From a ruck on the 10 m line Kenilworth’s defence was found wanting and the tall Wotton strolled in under the posts with the kick making the scores level.
Kenilworth resumed their attacking plan from the restart and again headed for the left corner where the earlier scores had come; again good forward play brought them close with Lane going over form close. Another Hickman conversion and Ks lead 14-21. The penalty count against the home side was now becoming embarrassing; another whistle just after the restart plus some uninvited comments gave Hickman a chance to stretch the lead which he did to 14-24. The next 10 mins saw Walsall mount a sustained series of attacks and were successful with a number of penalty kicks as the penalty count against the visitors began to climb. But the referee did not exhibit the same patience as earlier and after relatively few infringements sent Selby (who had a fine game standing in at 10) to the bin for side entry.
As the second half got underway, Walsall took full advantage of the extra man, first by kicking the 3 and then scoring almost from the second half kick-off. With parity restored Kenilworth look to build the phases and are soon putting real pressure on the Walsall line. Again the set piece proves fruitful and the catch and drive surges towards the line and Lane added to his earlier score with Hickman adding the extras and Kenilworth edged in front 28-31. In what was to become a defining feature of this match, the visitors pressed again to extend their lead but turnover ball gave Walsall a chance to attack and, with the defence stretched, made the most of these lapses to score and retake the lead 35-31.
Another feature of this year’s Kenilworth is an almost fanatic ability never to accept defeat; scrum-half Renowden is a fine example of this and his strong running up the left and clever interplay with Wadey looked to have set Selby away to score but play was called back for a forward pass. But the move of the day was next on the agenda; Renowden is finally allowed to take a quick penalty and makes good ground leaving the defenders in his wake. It looks like he can finish himself but Selby, backing up well, takes the offload and finds captain Cresswell who scores close to the posts. With the added 2 from ever-dependable Hickman Kenilworth get their noses in front at 35-38. Not for long, the attempted box-kick is charged down by the Walsall hooker who collects to score and take the lead back at 42-38. But again the Kenilworth response is nit long in coming as Clifford’s kick puts the home full-back under pressure and from the resultant scrum, Kenilworth 8 Thompson scores from close. The missed conversion gives Kenilworth a slender lead at 42-43 but the felling is they have enough to close out the remaining two minutes.
Kenilworth are again pressing when an attempted drop-goal goes wide and Walsall look to run the ball from deep. A good move down the left flank sees the tall Wooton one-on-one with Lowthian and the front rower puts in a copy-book tackle to snuff out the threat. Unfortunately the referee did not see it that way and, to the surprise of both sets of players, not only penalised Lowthian but showed him a yellow card! With a crucial man advantage Walsall took the penalty and went in search of the winning score and an offside call against the visitors provided just that. The ensuing penalty proved the final act with Walsall winning 45-43.
A desperately poor end to a thrilling match. Although Kenilworth can feel aggrieved with the decisions that went against them they must accept that they had enough to secure this win but defensive lapses ultimately cost them dear. Commitment from this team is inspirational; in the four matches this season they have had to dig very deep in all of them and could easily be sitting on a 4-0 record. Even in this game with key players missing they showed a never-say-die attitude despite repeated setbacks. The home side took full advantage of any errors and this is perhaps the defining point of this campaign; at this level, despite the heroic efforts, these must be combined with error-free football if they are to reap the rewards their hard work deserves.