KENILWORTH 27 STOKE 16
Gutsy! Visitors Stoke provided a stern physical challenge to the Kenilworth XV but a combination of patience, good finishing and a lot of character saw the (much changed) home side secure their second win from the first two games of the new season, writes Ralph Murray.
Kenilworth were on the charge early and a good box kick from Gareth Renowden saw Rhys Jones follow up to force the Stoke full back into touch. With the lineout secured, the ball was passed to Simon Tyler who skipped one defender before being tackled but Stoke went over the top at the ensuing ruck. The kick attempt was spurned and a quick tap taken and Bobby Thompson received the offload and crashed over for the opening score. With the conversion missed, Kenilworth took an early 5-0 lead.
Stoke wasted no time in responding and were within striking range when good defence from Gareth Renowden prevented the Stoke 8 from getting the scoring pass away. But the referee had spotted an infringement and Stoke opened their account with a converted penalty. Stoke now enjoyed a period of sustained pressure and looked to have created numerous chances but, with an overlap established, they often chose to put boot to ball when the run looked the better option.
Stoke again looked to attack and their centre cut a good line inside but was well tackled. The attempted offload was well read by Ed Hannam and the Ks centre chipped ahead and it was now a foot race with the Stoke lock for the line. All that was required was some careful footwork to control the ball over the line but Hannam appeared to have put too much on it. Remarkably the kick found the bottom of the left post and bounced kindly for the centre who made the most of his good fortune to ground the ball close to the post. Hickman added the extras added and the lead was up to 12-3 with a quarter of an hour gone.
To their credit, Ks continued to take the game to their physically larger opponents and the Stoke frustration also increased. Eventually the referee's patience ran out and the influential Stoke 9 was carded for the latest in a succession of infringements. Kenilworth now sought to press home their advantage and good work from Tom Lane provided Renowden with another attacking platform; a slick offload to Jonny Openshaw saw the flanker establish the maul in a good attacking position. But Stoke to their credit again defended manfully and cleared their lines.
For the remainder of the half the pace of the game seemed to lessen but Stoke secured two penalties and at the interval had reduced the deficit to 12-9.
Kenilworth began the second half with increased urgency and at the first set scrum reversed the advantage Stoke had enjoyed in the first period with an impressive shove. A quick pick-up and go produced good yards and another penalty; the kick from Hickman found touch 10m out from the visitors' line. The chance went begging as the lineout was adjudged crooked. The attempted clearance was taken well by Rhys Jones who looked to take the ball back into the heart of the Stoke defence but the move was halted by a penalty.
The game was now stopped for a serious looking injury to the Stoke hooker and when play resumed it was Stoke who took the initiative. A series of attacks were thwarted by some brave defending; one notable occasion saw Tyler chase down the Stoke winger as he looked certain to score. The Ks centre was just as active in possession and one mazy run saw him beat two tackles before offloading but the ball eventually was bundled into touch. But the hosts showed admirable patience in building their attacks and Alex Selby offloaded to Thompson who drew the defenders before finding winger Joe Yeomanson with a precision long-range pass. The winger made sure in the corner and the lead was out to 17-9.
More good work from Kenilworth failed to add to the score due mainly to some robust defence from Stoke but still the hosts looked assured and persisted in their attacks. Stoke had a set scrum near half-way and looked to regain their advantage at the set-piece; a quick pick-up at the base found the full-back arriving at pace and the 15 outran the Ks defence to score near the sticks and with the successful conversion the difference had been cut to 17-16.
A number of Kenilworth attacks started from inside their 22 as Josh Hickman looked to convert every Stoke clearance into an opportunity to run at the defence. From one such move the full-back combined well with Rhys Jones who made good ground before being hauled down but Stoke infringed and Hickman converted to stretch the lead to 20-16. With so much time to be added for the numerous stoppages the Glasshouse faithful watched nervously as the clock ticked down but their fears were allayed by an unsavoury moment. As Jonny Cresswell looked to free himself from the grasp of a tackler the Stoke tight-head took exception to something and punched the Kenilworth captain square in the face – in full view of the referee (and the home crowd). Unsurprisingly a red card was the sanction and Kenilworth looked to take full advantage. The forwards mauled the ball towards the line before Renowden took the ball and darted inside; the offload found Creswell backing up well and the hooker eased his recent pain by charging over for the definitive score. The successful conversion proved the final score of the game and Kenilworth recorded a solid 27-16 win-and the bonus point!
A full-on encounter between two fully committed teams was let down by the red-card incident but there was plenty for Kenilworth to take from this game. Although missing a considerable number of players (six) from the previous week's victory, the XV on the day produced a performance of real character against a physically imposing team. Competition for places is a high-class problem for any coach and it augurs well for the coming season.