Kenilworth’s promotion challenge faltered at struggling Stoke on Saturday as they suffered their first league defeat in almost two months, writes Sophie Freestone.
Kenilworth started the stronger side amid the drizzle, with a great pick up and kick through from flanker Ollie Burnham forcing a Stoke lineout five metres from their own line inside the opening two minutes.
The hosts cleared their lines before a penalty attempt from Josh Hickman - the result of Stoke collapsing the scrum - drifted wide of the uprights.
Kenilworth continued to apply pressure and when Stoke knocked on following a kick downfield from fly-half Alex Selby, they had a great attacking platform within the home side’s 22. Winger Joe Jepps made the most of the field position, collecting a well-placed kick from Burnham to score on the right-hand side. The conversion was missed.
The game was evenly matched during the next 15 minutes before Stoke made the most of some sloppy defending to take a two-point lead. A kick downfield caused problems for full-back Jamie Mapletoft deep inside his own 22 and Stoke retrieved possession and spun the ball left for a converted try.
Ks’ influential scrum-half Gaz Renowden then suffered a nasty knock to the head which saw him sit out the remainder of the first half and forced a reshuffle of the 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 they turned over Kenilworth inside their 22 and took advantage of a five-metre penalty to cross for an unconverted try.
The first half came to a close with Kenilworth missing two opportunities to narrow the gap.
A penalty was kicked to touch by Hickman, only for Stoke to steal the lineout, while a penalty from the same player was off target on the stroke of half-time.
Kenilworth were again the brighter side on the resumption, boosted by the return of Renowden, who quickly took play right up to the Stoke 22 with a great run. However, he had no support and Stoke regained possession.
A length-of-the-field run almost extended the home side’s advantage before they did cross on the left wing to make it 17-5 in the 50th minute.
Renowden then made another superb run, with Bobby Thompson and Burnham in support but, with a try beckoning, Mikkel Andressen could not quite make the catch.
Stoke extended their lead with a fourth try but Kenilworth responded immediately.
In a well-worked play, the ball was switched to the left with Hickman running the ball in and touching down under the posts to simplify his conversion. The extras made the score 22-12 with just over ten minutes to play.
Kenilworth saw a couple of promising positions fizzle out and, with the tension mounting, players from both sides became embroiled in a large scuffle which saw replacement lock Tom Lane and a Stoke player sent to the sin-bin.
Hickman then had a long-range penalty attempt to secure a losing bonus point with the final action of the match but his attempt dipped just under the crossbar.