Cruel! Kenilworth met their toughest challenge of the season so far with typical courage and no little skill but were denied a hard-fought draw with a last second score from the visitors, writes Ralph Murray.
The writing was on the wall from the off as Kenilworth competed fiercely in the early exchanges. James Wadey's first break from a scrum made 15m before being tackled but quick recycling by Alex Selby found centre Simon Tyler who looked left and found Josh Hickman entering the line. The full back sent Arthur Haynes into clear air and he looked odds on to score but, seeing Tyler inside, chose that option but the centre was held 2m out. Hereford ran the ball from deep and the wing showed blistering speed to outrun the defence and a promising series of phases from the Ks ended with the visitors scoring the first points of the afternoon. A fine conversion made the early lead 0-7.
Kenilworth went straight back on attack and a series of phases provided centre Ed Hannam with an overlap but the centre ran out of width and was marshalled into touch. With the attacks continuing, Hereford were penalised for repeated offside and from the 10m line Josh Hickman got the Kenilworth account started with 20 mins gone. The K's were getting a slight edge at the set scrum and one such break took them to within 5m of the Hereford line. Scrum half Alex Selby dummied and half the Hereford defence bought it as the ball found Simon Tyler at second receiver. The centre had a clear overlap but stepped his marker to score and a fine conversion by Josh Hickman put the hosts ahead for the first time, 10-7.
The response from Hereford was not slow in coming and Kenilworth found themselves under the cosh and conceded a 5m scrum as the visitors look to have scored. The Ks however got a nudge on the Hereford put-in and the attempted pick-up by the No 8 was smothered and this resulted in a penalty to Kenilworth. There was no let-up in the effort from either side but there was also no real threat from the two teams. Hereford looked to break from defence with the same move that brought their opening try but an outstanding chase and cover from Mikkel Andresen snuffed out the threat. Outstanding defence was the feature of the half but with the interval fast approaching Hereford launched another attack from the Kenilworth 22. The decoy runner was clearly between the ball carrier and the defender but there was no whistle and Hereford run off him to score in the corner on the stroke of half-time. 10-14.
Restarts were the most disappointing phase of this game for Kenilworth and the start of the second half continued that trend; a set scrum near midfield resulted from the kick off looked to provide the Ks with a solid platform. But the set-piece which had served them so well in the first period went awry and Hereford put together multiple phases in the red zone which lead to their third try. Another good conversion and the lead is up to 10-21.
Kenilworth were trying to regroup and play territory now as they fought to get themselves back into the game; running phases inside the Hereford 22 they had an overlap but a dropped pass looked to have ended the move but the Ref called play back for a penalty. In addition the Hereford open-side received a 'yellow' for a "professional foul". Ken opted for the catch and drive and maul the ball over with some authority and it's15-21. The home side looked to press the advantage and more good work from Dale Glover ensured they continued to make progress but there were no easy yards. Hereford looked to secure their ruck ball but an outstanding steal from Bobby Thompson on the Hereford half-back turned the ball over. The No 8 found the supporting Alex Selby with a delightful pass out of the back of his hand; the 9 nudged ahead but Hereford appeared to have it covered. But the attempted clearance only found winger Joe Jepps who set off on one of his runs and made a good 20m before finding Simon Tyler. The centre found Ed Hannam on his left shoulder 15 m out and he took the first hit before stepping through the next tackle 5m out. As he fell toward the ground he stretched and momentum took him over to take Kenilworth to within a point at 20-21.
Hereford now went for another surge and were pressing inside the Ken 22 before a penalty was awarded for offside; the successful kick stretched the visitors' lead to 20-24 with a quarter of an hour to play. Kenilworth now go for broke and are chucking everything at the Hereford line; as their defence creaked they concede another yellow card which meant Kenilworth should have a man advantage for the remainder of the game. A set scrum to Kenilworth 5m out and Hereford wheeled it before Bobby Thompson picked and crashes over and with Josh Hickman adding 2, Kenilworth take the lead 27-24.
With time running down the Hereford full-back has a second chance to level the scores which he does and it's 27 a piece as news comes through that the ref is adding 5 mins. Kenilworth press for the killer blow and there are phases a plenty as they edge ever closer. Hereford turned the ball over and are pinged on their 22; in the absence of the injured Hickman, Tyler took over the kicking duties but his attempt is wide left. Those restarts come back to haunt the Ks as Hereford kick off and win a ruck in midfield before Kenilworth are penalised. Hereford take a quick one which puts the winger into space on the right wing who dashes over to score at the death.
A hugely entertaining game featuring some high-quality rugby from both sides. Kenilworth will be bitterly disappointed at letting the chance of sole occupancy of second place slip from their grasp but there is much to admire from this performance. Slipping 11 points behind early in the game could have triggered capitulation but the Ks were having none of it; defence was heroic and commitment and skills levels remarkable. Restarts eventually did for them but the result was still a cruel twist and it doesn't get any easier with a trip to Worcester Wanderers a week away.