STOKE 22 KENILWORTH 12
Kenilworth suffered their first defeat in almost two months on Saturday, as they lost away to struggling Stoke by 22-12 on a drizzly Staffordshire afternoon, writes Sophie Freestone.
Kenilworth started the match the stronger side, with a great pick up and kick through from flanker Ollie Burnham to give Stoke a 5m line out inside their own half with just two minutes played. The home side were able to clear their lines, but only to half way, before a penalty attempt from Josh Hickman, as a result of Stoke collapsing the scrum, just drifted wide of the uprights.
Kenilworth continued to apply pressure to the hosts as the opening ten minutes came to a close. A poor line out throw from Stoke was deemed not straight to give Kenilworth a scrum, which resulted in a penalty that Hickman duly kicked to touch. From here, Stoke knocked the ball on after a kick down field from fly half Alex Selby to give the visitors a great attacking platform with a scrum inside the Stoke 22. Winger Joe Jepps made the most of the superb field position as he collected a well placed kick, once again from flanker Burnham, to score on the right hand side. The conversion was missed leaving the score at 5-0 to Kenilworth.
The game was evenly matched during the next 15 minutes, before Stoke made the most of some sloppy defending to cross under the posts. A kick downfield caused problems for full back Jamie Mapletoft deep inside his own 22, before the ball was spun left allowing Stoke to score an easily converted try for a two point lead after 25 minutes.
This was just the start of a difficult afternoon for Kenilworth as influential scrum half Gaz Renowden suffered a nasty knock to the head. This saw him leave the pitch for the remainder of the first half, forcing Kenilworth to reshuffle their back line with the returning Rhys Jones coming in on the wing.
As the half hour mark approached Stoke continued to apply the pressure and their efforts were rewarded soon after with a second try on the right wing. The score came after they turned over Kenilworth in the opposition 22, resulting in a penalty 5m from the try line, from which they scored to extend their lead to 12-5.
The first half came to a close with Kenilworth missing the opportunity to narrow the gap on the score board. A penalty after Stoke pulled a man down was kicked to touch by Hickman, only for Stoke to steal the line out, before a penalty for Kenilworth was just wide from Hickman on the stroke of half time.
As the second half began, Kenilworth once again started the brightest, boosted by the return of Renowden, who quickly took play right up to the Stoke 22 with a great run, but there was no support and Stoke regained possession. A length of the field run almost added to the home side's tally before they eventually crossed on the left wing after 50 minutes to make the score 17-5.
Renowden then made another superb run up the field as the third quarter came to a close, with Bobby Thompson and Burnham in support before Mikkel Andreson couldn't quite make the catch.
Stoke then extended their lead and secured a bonus point, scoring their fourth try, but Kenilworth responded immediately. In a well worked play which moved from left to right, the ball was nicely worked back to the left with Hickman being the man over on the wing. He touched down under the posts to simplify his conversion, which was successful, and close the gap to 22-12 with just over 10 minutes to play.
Kenilworth continued to have opportunities to score again only for them to lose a line out and be penalised for holding on. Tempers then flared up, as players from both sides became embroiled in a large scuffle, which saw Kenilworth's replacement lock Tom Lane and a Stoke player both sent to the sin bin.
Hickman then had a long range penalty attempt to secure a losing bonus point but his attempt fell agonisingly short, dipping just under the cross bar in the final kick of the match.
The result is a disappointing start to 2016 for Kenilworth and leaves them in seventh place in the league, but still with a game in hand following the abandonment of last weekend's match against Hereford. Next up for Kenilworth is Stratford at home.