BURTON 23 KENILWORTH 8
With a number of first choice players injured or otherwise unavailable, the Kenilworth team sheet had an unfamiliar look to it. Nevertheless the young replacements gave a good account of themselves and were well in contention for most of the game, writes Ralph Murray.
As the teams took the field the physical advantage for the home side was clear to see; the pitch itself was playable – just – but there were large areas where the expected grass was replaced by thick, soggy mud. The early exchanges were an opportunity for the home side to establish a platform using their size advantage but Kenilworth were more than a match defensively and the initial series of attacks were all successfully repelled. Not that it was all one-way traffic; the visitors looked to counter at every opportunity and one such steal by Wadey saw the Ks maul the ball a good 20m.
Such moments can inspire teams and the following attack saw Hannam cut a sublime line through the Burton line but the chip ahead was well fielded but good follow-up kept the ball in the home 22. Eventually Burton ground their way out of the red zone and on half-way produced a set move between 8 & 9 which took play almost to the try line; only some stout defence kept them out but the warning signs were there. As if on cue, the next attack saw the Burton 8 crash over for the first score of the day but only after half an hour of some committed defence by Kenilworth.
From the restart Burton were straight back on the attack and looked to add to their advantage as the centre made a clean break but some outstanding defence from Beckett covering back (with the speed normally seen in the opposite direction) snuffed out the threat.
Beckett was again in the thick of things at the next Burton attack as he turned the wing over and looked to break outside. Hannam offered him another good line and, seeing nothing on, chipped ahead. Smart thinking by the centre allowed the full-back to get to his feet but he was eventually called for holding on and more quick thinking by Selby saw him tap and go and score - and just like that the scores were level at 5. This score seemed to stun the home side who were expecting an easier day of it and were back on the attack from the restart but the ball found Cresswell who thundered a 25m clearance into touch to end the half all square.
Burton began the second half with real intent and the first 10 minutes were almost exclusively spent in the Kenilworth 22. More heroic defence from the visitors kept the scores level but eventually a rather harsh penalty provided breathing space and an opportunity for the hosts to take the lead which they did – 8-5. Form would suggest that Kenilworth would now wilt under the incessant pressure and the traffic would be all one-way but this was not the case; indeed Kenilworth were smart in picking their battles wisely with the young midfield to the fore in standing up their opposite numbers. But the forwards were not out of it and an inspired maul drove the ball within inches of the Burton line but the referee decided that momentum had stopped and possession was turned over. Another Ks attack ended in bizarre fashion with the Burton 10 coming round on the wrong side of the scrum and kicking the ball away – the official decided that a penalty was the appropriate punishment and Hickman nailed it to bring the scores level again at 8s.
So, with a quarter of the match to go, second-placed Burton were being held at home by a depleted Kenilworth side and momentum was with the visitors. Burton looked to retake the lead with a driving maul but outstanding defence brought progress to a halt but. Just as the Ks were celebrating their heroic efforts, the decision went in favour of the home side and, from the ensuing scrum, scored with a centre miss-move to make the score 13-8.
The next 60 seconds defined the game and ultimately decided its outcome. From the restart, a speculative kick ahead was met with indecision by the covering Kenilworth players; an error pounced on by the Burton centre who scored on the crash ball. In the space of 2 minutes Kenilworth had gone from level terms to a 10-point deficit and the final act of the game was a bonus-point try for Burton in the corner with time running out. The final score of 23-8 in no way reflected the balance of power between the two sides; indeed the set-piece domination by Burton would ordinarily result in a much greater advantage. But the defence from Kenilworth was outstanding and the young backs, in particular, acquitted themselves well. But such games demand the presence of the first choice players and with a testing series of games on the horizon, the legacy of this season will be defined in the next few weeks.