5th. December 2015
North 1 West
Wilmslow 12 – 32 Kendal
Wilmslow's bubble was well and truly burst by a Kendal side, which was by far the best opposition that the Wolves had come up against all season. From the outset, everyone had known that this top of the table clash would provide insight into how far the Wolves had progressed this season. In the event, they came up short. It wasn't that they played badly. They scored two sparkling tries, went close on several other occasions but with the game finally balanced just after half time, it was the bigger and more powerful Kendal pack that seized control.
They mauled and rolled their way down the field and aided and abetted by the full force of storm Desmond at his back, their No.10, Glenn Weightman was pin point accurate with his kicks to the left hand car park end corner. Scrap and fight as hard as they might, there was no escape for the Wolves as the visitors added fifteen points from two tries, a conversion and penalty to their three first half tries to have this game won long before the end. They have clearly developed during the autumn into the foremost Cumbrian team, recruiting from near and far across the region, and now that they're clear at the top of the league, it's hard to see who will be strong enough to prevent them returning to National 3 North after an absence of three seasons.
Both the other two challengers, Kirkby Lonsdale and Warrington lost away from home so all is not lost for the Wolves. Their short tenure at the top may be over but they're still in the hunt in second place for at least the play off position.
The Wolves had started this game with their normal elan. Spreading the play from the off, winning a lineout on the Kendal twenty two, spreading play to the far side, sucking in the defence, recycling several times before crisp passing moved the ball right to Harry Patch, who with sight of the line needed no second bidding. It was a perfect start for the home side.
A scrappy knee high restart cannoned into a Wilmslow player's leg and rebounded for Kendal to somewhat fortuitously gain possession from which they put in a decent phase of play. Both their wingers, Zane Butler and Dini Noyo, had the chance to stretch their legs and Wilmslow's defence was fully stretched to keep them out. On the quarter hour though a midfield penalty gave them a corner position from which they worked an inevitable catch and drive, second row Liam Hayton being accredited with the score. Lady Luck continued to smile upon them as Nathan Wooff converted via the cross bar and upright.
The Wolves continued to attack, Sam Cutts was brought down with a high tackle close to the Kendal line and referee Taylor quickly awarded the Wolves a penalty, when a bit of advantage may have suited them better. The ensuing lineout was lost and the chance was gone as Kendal cleared. The Wolves then dropped the ball in midfield and it was seized upon by a Kendal marauder and quick passing put Noyo in for their second try.
In the run up to half time, Kendal defended several attacking lineouts well but the Wolves still managed to create two opportunities, one ending when Patch was hauled down a couple of yards short and the other when they got penalised for crossing just as No. 8 Alex Taylor looked set to score. Kendal cleared and then broke through their No. 8 Chris Downham, who got to half way before releasing scrum half James Gough who touched down for their third try. It was probably the pivotal moment as they went in 17-5 to the good at half time.
Within a minute of the restart, Kendal lock Phil Murphy obligingly dropped the ball in the lineout, the last mistake he made all afternoon. The Wolves snaffled the loose ball, moved it briskly to the left, recycled and put Patch, who had come off his wing, through the middle. Quite how Patch managed to break through is something of a mystery but he pinned his ears back and was well clear by the time he scored.
At 12-17, the game was now on but not for long. Kendal kicked dead and there was a brief bit of excitement as Taylor made a telling run from the scrum before losing the ball and from there on, Kendal hardly put a foot wrong as they dominated possession and territory for the remainder of the game. The Wolves didn't help themselves with the number of lineouts and turnovers they conceded but they were under pressure and chasing the game whenever they could.
Wolves flanker Ben Stern got a Yellow Card for a 'technical' offence and whilst he was off the field, Weightman kicked a penalty to put Kendal two scores ahead. This was followed by a second catch and drive try, this time going to Phil Murphy. Back they came again and this time, Downham, now playing in the backs, took a pass on the burst and scored under the posts. At 12-32, the game was now won and lost, there was a break from Ben Day, which nearly produced a consolation. Patch went close again but another five yard lineout was driven back and the game ended with Kendal back in the Wolves twenty two.
It had been the tightest defence in the league against the most prolific scorers and the defence had come out on top. Coach Rick Jones was both disappointed and defiant: 'Kendal are a good side but shouldn't have been twenty points better', he said afterwards, 'we didn't defend as well as we have been doing and nor did we always retain possession of the ball, when we should have done. The season though is only just coming up to its halfway point, so don't write off this side yet.' Maybe, if the Wolves had won some of the critical lineouts that they lost and had held on to the ball in crucial moments, it might have been different but on a stormy windy day, there was no denying the power of the Kendal pack as they kept the Wolves pinned down in their own twenty two and deservedly took the honours.
Photo: Harry Patch scores an early try.
Match report by David Pike.