KENILWORTH 20 WALSALL 41
Walsall arrived at Glasshouse Lane for Kenilworth's first home fixture of the New Year with 4th place in the league up for grabs, so a full-on contest was expected. Considering the maritime conditions at the ground just 7 days before, the pitch looked in remarkable good nick so full marks to the KRFC ground staff for their efforts, writes Ralph Murray.
As Walsall received the opening kick-off there was indecision among the receivers and the returning Flowers produced the first hit of the game in as Kenilworth won possession early. All for nought as Walsall turned the ball over at the ruck and with their first possession of the game, Walsall exhibited great continuity and ran the length of the field to score the opening try; a successful conversion made it 7-0 with only a few minutes played.
Kenilworth went back on the attack and were putting together some good phases when the visitors infringed in their own 22. Kendall successfully landed the penalty to get the Ks account up and running. Walsall responded with another multi-phase attack but the Ks defence was up to the challenge until a change of tactics by the outside half brought the visitors more reward. With no success in breaking the line the 10 chipped the ball cross-field and behind the K defence; the ball found the winger in stride and he scored in the corner. This signalled the start of a prolonged spell where play took place exclusively in the Kenilworth half and Walsall reaped further rewards as the K defence became more and more stretched. After multiple phases the ball was spun out to the Walsall backs who had a 4 on 2 when the centre stepped his tackler and scored with worrying ease and the visitors had amassed 19 points in as many minutes.
This seemed to spur Kenilworth to a new determination with Wadey particularly impressive in his runs around the fringes. With gaps appearing, Beckett got his first real chance to have a run at the Walsall defence and, with his customary speed and skill, took play to within 15m of the Walsall line. Strangely the ball appeared on the Walsall side of the ruck and the chance was gone. It was now the home side's turn to enjoy a spell of attack but on too many occasions the chance ended with an infringement or error. The penalty count was mounting against the visitors as Kenilworth strived to reduce the deficit and from a 5m penalty a desperately needed try was scored in the corner by James Wadey (?).
With the normally flawless Kendall missing the conversion the arrears had been reduced to 11 points. Kenilworth resumed where they had left off and Sheehan, inside his own 22, spied a gap and darted for it. Having danced past 3 would-be tacklers the ball found its way out to Beckett on the wing and another scintillating break saw him tear down the left flank and looked certain to score but the cover tackle was effective and the chance looked to have gone begging. But some smart backing up from Selby saw him take the offload and score his first try of the season at a critical juncture for his side. Remarkably Kendall missed his second consecutive conversion – 'though they were extremely difficult kicks' – and the gap was now 13-19.
With the half winding down another red-zone penalty gave Kenilworth the chance to further reduce the deficit but they decided to run it. There was no reward for their endeavour but repeated infringements kept play within 10m of the Walsall line until the whistle finally sounded for the break and after a disastrous start the momentum appeared to have been wrested back by Kenilworth.
The second half resumed with Walsall back on the attack and they immediately looked sharper in their play; unusually the home side were not at the same tempo and seemed to be losing most of the collisions. Before long the visitors were extending their advantage with another score after a series of moves which stretched the K defence. This score seemed to kick-start the Ks again and they showed some fine skills in getting back on the attack but again small errors broke the continuity and the pressure was relieved. Walsall managed to break out from this period of defence and eventually won a lineout 5m out from the K line; they were now relentless but some heroic defence by Kenilworth limited the scoring to just another penalty. There then followed a real arm wrestle as Kenilworth desperately wanted the next score but Walsall again broke from deep and looked to have made a telling break down the left flank but Beckett closed to snuff out the threat. As the winger approached, the Walsall player kicked towards the posts and Kendall looked to have it covered but the bounce favoured the onrushing Walsall centre who touched down under the posts and the lead climbed to 13-34. From the restart Walsall looked to put the game beyond doubt and appeared to have found touch just 5m away from the K line; everyone assumed the ball had gone dead but Thompson, playing to the whistle, saw an opportunity to attack and off he charged. Having beating one defender he had reached the 22 before offloading to the impressive Sheehan who in turn took play into the Walsall half before being hauled down. From the ensuing ruck the ball was quickly moved to Cresswell standing at first receiver and he charged at the heart of the scrambling Walsall defence. Having broken the line the Captain looked for an outlet and there was Tyler on his left shoulder who gratefully accepted the offload to score a fine try and with Kendall back on target the score was now 20-34.
But, in what was to prove a microcosm of the game, all of Kenilworth's good work was undone by some basic failures. Instead of securing the restart they allowed Walsall to turn them over and the visitors ran down the field almost unhindered to score themselves and restore a healthy 3-score lead.
The final minutes were punctuated by some unsavoury incidents but these should not be allowed to taint the match which was, for the most part, played with full commitment and in the spirit of the game. Walsall came full of intent and were deserved winners but Kenilworth had shown enough to have promised a closer result; the reality is that this was a poor performance from the home side – an off-day in what otherwise has been an exemplary season. What is important now is to regain that hard-earned momentum and that starts with Saturday's fixture at Barkers Butts.