KENILWORTH RUGBY FOOTBALL CLUB
Twickenham awaits for Kenilworth after they overcame powerful North East side South Shields Westoe by 39-34 on Saturday to reach the final of the RFU Intermediate Cup, writes Bruce Doe.
Kenilworth’s 2018/19 campaign has been described as "the season that keeps on giving", however, it is this current Kenilworth side that keeps on giving by continually achieving new heights of commitment, power and skill. All of these attributes were needed to beat a very strong South Shields Westoe side on Saturday, with the 600-strong crowded treated to a thrilling game of rugby.
Despite the hot and dry conditions, both sides started the game with huge intensity, testing their opposition in all areas of the field. Both sides drove hard at eachother but both sides displayed strong defensive structures. For the first few minutes the game was played out in the middle of the park until such time that Kenilworth, bit by bit, moved their way up towards the Westoe 22. Pressure at the breakdown resulted in a penalty for the home side which was successfully kicked by full back Neil Sutherland for a 3-0 lead.
After a further period of play followed where honours were even but as was to be the theme of the day, with "no prisoners taken", Westoe started to increase the pressure on Kenilworth. From a scrum close to the Kenilworth 22, Westoe efforts were rewarded with a penalty. This was successfully kicked by their tall fly half, to leave honours even at 3-3.
Just short of the 15 minute mark, Westoe worked their way deep into the Kenilworth half. An untidy Kenilworth lineout ball was secured by the away side, who, sensing an unexpected opportunity, spun the ball wide to find full back McCauley who took the ball at speed on a great running line to pierce the Kenilworth defence for their first try to the left of the posts. With the try converted, Westoe now led by 10-3.
Kenilworth however, stepped up their intensity even more at the restart by putting Westoe under considerable pressure, making headway through the forwards but also making ground by playing strong 15-man rugby. While initially repelled by the Westoe defence, Kenilworth persevered and after a period of great play involving both forwards and backs, skipper Bobby Thompson picked up close to the line to touch down after centre Charlie Stevens had been halted just short of the line. Unfortunately the try went unconverted so Kenilworth remained behind but now only two points adrift at 8-10.
Westoe, as was to be expected, went hard at Kenilworth who defended fiercely, but bit by bit the visitors found themselves within a few yards of the Kenilworth line. From a Westoe line out, the catch and drive was initially held by the Kenilworth forwards but a series of pick and gos saw Westoe’s Elliot drive over. With the try again converted, the away side now led by 17-8.
If the Kenilworth players were starting to be concerned, they didn’t show it as they immediately took the game to Westoe. From the kick off, replacement winger Josh O’Brien, on for the injured Rhys Jones, leapt high to secure the ball and subsequent play between forwards and backs moved the ball across the park. There, centre Ed Hannam crossed the line only to lose the ball forward in contact with a Westoe defender. However, Kenilworth went back to a penalty award and kicked to the corner. With the lineout ball secured, Kenilworth drove over the Westoe line with hooker Harry Abell touching down for Kenilworth’s second try. Although unconverted, Kenilworth had again quickly trimmed Westoe’s lead going into the break to 13-17.
After spending half time in the cool of the changing room, Kenilworth started the second half in determined fashion playing some really powerful rugby and moving the Westoe defence further and further back. Before long, Kenilworth pressure at the breakdown forced a Westoe infringement. Kenilworth scrum half Gareth Renowden, never one to miss an opportunity, took a quick tapped penalty and forced himself over for an early second half unconverted score to put Kenilworth 18-17 ahead; a great start to the second half.
It was not long before Kenilworth scored again. From the re-start, Kenilworth went hard at Westoe, playing really strong and aggressive rugby in attack but also defending strongly to keep Westoe pegged down in their own half. The next try to Kenilworth came as a direct result of a quick turnover by impressive flanker Sam Harrison who quickly shifted the ball left to reach winger Ollie Burman who set off at speed down the wing. As he sensed the retreating Westoe defence tracking across to halt his progress, Burman stepped inside the onrushing defenders to create a clear route to the try line, eventually touching down under the posts. This time the straightforward conversion was achieved providing Kenilworth with a small amount of day light through a 25-17 lead.
Westoe responded with a successful long range penalty, moving the score along to 25-20 and started to work their way back into the game by driving hard at Kenilworth. But, as was the nature of this game, while both sides at times attacked with real intent when needing to do so, they also defended very impressively too. Such was the level of intensity that, with about a quarter of the game left to play, both sides were making full use of their replacement benches.
Westoe worked hard to make progress but while retaining the ball were put under significant pressure by the Kenilworth defence forcing the visitors into mistakes. It was from one such mistake that a hurried and loose pass was snapped up by Hannam who fed his centre partner Stevens who shrugged off tacklers to cover 25 metres to touch down for another Kenilworth try. This time converted by Sutherland, Kenilworth increased their lead to 32-20.
Kenilworth knew only too well though that Westoe were still in the game and that proved to be the case when they edged their way deep into the Kenilworth 22. With Kenilworth finding themselves under increasing pressure at the scrum, Westoe pushed the home side off the ball. A quickly fed ball found flanker turned centre McKenzie who darted over for a try near to the posts. With the conversion good, Westoe closed the gap to a worrying 32-27.
With only a few minutes left, Kenilworth supporters were becoming very anxious. Their fears became somewhat allayed, however, when Kenilworth, again pressurising Westoe’s possession of the ball, saw Mikkel Andreson rip the ball out of the hands of a Westoe player and run 60 metres. The openside outstripped the away side's chasing defenders to touch down, exhausted, to the left of the posts for a great individual score. Sutherland's successful conversion gave Kenilworth a 39-27 lead with only a handful of minutes to go.
Westoe heads refused to drop, though, and the visitors managed to force Kenilworth back towards their own try line. Kenilworth defended with passion but from a subsequent Westoe put in at the scrum, just five yards out, Kenilworth found themselves retreating. With the ball at the feet of Westoe's number eight, the home side's scrum went down and the Merseyside referee awarded a penalty try for intentionally collapsing it. With no kick needed, Westoe set the nerves jangling by clawing their way back to 39-34.
Thankfully, much to the relief of all Kenilworth players and supporters, the referee blew the final whistle just a couple of minutes later, to bring an end to a pulsating game full of skill, passion and commitment from both of the excellent teams. For many, it is perhaps the most exciting and memorable game to ever be played at Glasshouse Lane.
A ‘once in a lifetime' trip therefore awaits Kenilworth Rugby Club as the players and many supporters will descend upon RFU headquarters where they will meet Gloucestershire side Matson in the final on Sunday 5th May. Kick off is at 3pm.
However, the team that keeps on giving first need to quickly re-focus as they seek their third trophy of the season when they meet Earlsdon in the final of the Warwickshire Shield at Old Leamingtonians tomorrow evening. Kick off is at 7.30pm; your support would be most welcome!