KENILWORTH RUGBY FOOTBALL CLUB
Kenilworth Rugby Club have crowned a truly memorable season by beating strong Gloucestershire side Matson by 32-26 to lift the RFU Intermediate Cup at Twickenham on Sunday, writes Bruce Doe.
Much to the delight of almost a thousand Kenilworth supporters who made the trip to RFU HQ, Kenilworth came out on top in a pulsating nine-try match to secure the trophy and, with it, an historic treble.
Kenilworth made an initial nervy start with Matson retaining the ball in the middle of the park and moving Kenilworth left and right across the pitch. While looking lively with the ball, Kenilworth prevented any real Matson forward progress until strong-running number eight Tom Porter started to impress. He was instrumental in driving at Kenilworth and making good ground before the ball was recycled to the right. With static ball won, the Matson scrum half hoisted a high kick in the air, between Kenilworth defending pair Ollie Burman and full back Neil Sutherland. Winger Burman tried to quickly make ground to catch the ball on the full but had to overstretch, resulting in the ball being knocked forwards. Matson seized upon the loose ball and moved it quickly wide to Porter who ran on the outside of Kenilworth centre Charlie Stevens to touch down in the left corner for Matson’s first score. With the try unconverted, Kenilworth found themselves, not for the first time this season, trailing early on by 5-0.
Also not for the first time this season, Kenilworth bounced immediately back by taking the game to Matson. From a Kenilworth lineout, scrum half Renowden spotted a gap in the Matson line and darted through to make good ground before being pulled down. His snipe helped to further increase Kenilworth’s intensity as did skipper Bobby Thompson’s drive towards the opposition posts. With the forwards very effectively picking and driving, second row Tondi Mpambawashe drove hard at the line and forced his way over for well-worked team try. Converted by Ed Hannam, Kenilworth took the lead, a lead they were to maintain throughout the game, at 7-5.
From the kick off, Kenilworth continued to increase the pressure on Matson, with great line speed, structure and tackling. It was from such pressure that Bobby Thompson charged down a clearance kick from the Matson fly half, from a lost Kenilworth line out, and the bouncing ball was comfortably collected by centre Charlie Stevens to canter over between the posts to score. In reality it could have been any one of Kenilworth's players to take the opportunity, such was the extent of their pressure and chase. From finding themselves behind early on, Kenilworth were now 14-5 up with Hannam’s successful conversion.
The two quick scores seem to settle Kenilworth who started to grow in confidence by securing good line out ball which drove Matson back. They also employed a good mix of play between both forwards and backs with both Hannam and Stevens making powerful runs. From a penalty against Matson for playing scrum half Renowden at the back of a ruck, Hannam kicked successfully at goal to give Kenilworth a 17-5 lead.
Kenilworth continued to press up on Matson forcing knock on errors and turn over ball. Matson were increasingly giving penalties away and from one such indiscretion for failing to roll away, Ed Hannam took, but missed with his attempt at goal from near to the 22. However, from yet another penalty for a scrum offence, skipper Thompson took a quick tap penalty, making good ground before feeding scrum half who, despite being high tackled, managed to retain the ball and go to ground. With the penalty advantage, Kenilworth spun the ball to the right where Ed Hannam made good ground, succeeding in committing two Matson defenders before off loading to a fast approaching Neil Sutherland who dummied the Matson centre and colleague Rhys Jones to step inside and sprint to the line for a great try to take Kenilworth even further ahead. Unfortunately the conversion was missed but Kenilworth now lead by a seemingly comfortable 22-5 lead.
Kenilworth continued to work hard, but you could sense that Matson had decided they needed to step up their game. For the first time, the Gloucestershire side started to put a few phases together but Kenilworth still were able to press with Renowden and Thompson prominent. Matson continued with their habit of giving penalties away and as a consequence, with Kenilworth pressing, Matson prop Shay O’Malley, was shown a yellow card for offside. The last few minutes of the half saw Kenilworth pressing, but unable to take advantage of their field position.
Recognising their reprieve, 14-man Matson worked their way back up the pitch, retaining the ball well. From another strong run by number eight Porter, the ball was shifted left and one miss pass and one short quick pass later, back row Matt Read found himself in space and heading for the corner flag to score Matson’s second try. With the conversion good and the half time score standing at 22-12, Matson had edged their way back into the game. Usually, Kenilworth may be content with a 10-point half time lead but to concede a very early try, a very late try (the latter of which was when Matson had a man in the bin) and miss five kickable points with the boot was disappointing.
I’m sure that after the half time break Kenilworth supporters expected their team to come out of the blocks quickly. However, their seemed an edginess and nervousness in their play. By comparison, and given their history of strong fight backs, Matson took Kenilworth on successfully seeing out the remaining five minutes of sin bin time. Back at full strength, Matson simply grew in confidence and were going through the phases well, driving Kenilworth back. Following a good drive by the replacement prop, his subsequent offload off the ground to the fast-approaching Porter saw him continue on a great line to touch down to the left of the posts. With the relatively easy conversion secured, Kenilworth continued to lead but now by only three points at 22-19.
And so Matson continued, taking the game forcefully to Kenilworth, with Porter leading the charge with a great drive down the middle of the park. However, the subsequent recycled ball was turned over by Kenilworth second row Josh Fox to relieve the pressure. From the subsequent penalty and secured line out ball, Kenilworth moved infield and started to move Matson back. A quickly recycled ball then found it’s way to impressive flanker Sam Harrison who showed a great turn of speed to glide between two Matson defenders and outside the full back to touch down in the corner. The conversion from out was missed by Hannam but Kenilworth had managed to move themselves a score away at 27-19.
With their tails back up, Kenilworth started to play again with the same assuredness they had played with in the middle part of the first half. They moved the ball left and right confident in their ball retention with both forwards and backs making good ground towards the Matson line. With Matson under real pressure Kenilworth moved the ball towards the post and a variance in play saw Charlie Stevens come strongly back in on the switch only to be tackled by the Matson prop who lay prone on the ground following the collision. The referee immediately and appropriately stopped the game but it resulted in a break to the impetus Kenilworth had created.
The game restarted and Kenilworth resumed where they left off but only a couple of minutes later the game was once again stopped by the referee when Matson's Tom Collier, involved in the previous incident received another knock. Yet again Kenilworth’s impetus was compromised. From the scrum restart, Kenilworth were pushed off the ball resulting in Matson number eight picking up and driving forward, a kick ahead was fielded by winger Ollie Burman but unfortunately his foot strayed into touch, giving Matson the line out on the half way line. All the Kenilworth pressure was to no avail and it was felt an opportunity by the nervous Kenilworth fans an opportunity missed.
The momentum changed again in what was proving to be a pulsating game of rugby with Matson putting Kenilworth under pressure which was fortunately relieved when Matson missed an easy kick at goal. From the drop out Matson tried to run back at Kenilworth but were penalised for crossing. While Kenilworth cleared and won the line out, they too were penalised for going to ground at the subsequent ruck. Matson used this as a springboard to get back deep into the Kenilworth 22. From a line out Matson flanker Liam Hazleton drove over to touch down. With the conversion made, Kenilworth retained their lead but by now it was very slender with just one point in it at 27-26.
Not unexpectedly, Kenilworth went straight back at Matson edging them closer and closer to their line. A line out catch and drive pushed Matson even further back and it looked as though Kenilworth were going to push them the 20 metres all the way to the line but the maul went down with Matson conceding a penalty by doing so. Skipper Bobby Thompson took a quick tap and went himself only to be halted just on the line. So did replacement Fin Gibson and so did others, only to be held up or stopped just short of the line. With the pressure at close quarters really building, Kenilworth saw the opportunity to move it wide when Renowden fed Stevens who in turn fed his fellow centre Hannam who powerfully stepped through two Matson defenders to touch down for a much needed score. A converted score at this point of the game, providing an eight-point cushion, would have calmed the nerves of all, but unfortunately it was not to be with the conversion missed, but at least Kenilworth’s lead had increased to 6 points with the score at 32-26.
With only four minutes left Kenilworth saw out the remaining time relatively comfortably. A penalty immediately prior to full time was greeted by the unbridled joy of both players and supporters alike. With the Kenilworth fans roaring their heads off singing "Come on you Kens", skipper Thompson tapped the penalty and kicked the ball dead for a well deserved victory.
The season that kept on giving therefore gave one more time to provide the most memorable experience in the club's history. With the league secured, the Midlands Cup won and the Intermediate Cup, Kenilworth have achieved a remarkable and richly deserved treble. With the season now over, everyone can relax, well, until Coach Dave Ellis gets them back for pre-season training in June!
The boys running onto the pitch can be viewed HERE.
The full video of the game can be viewed HERE.