Saturday 29 November 2014 – 2.00pm
Mint Bridge, Kendal
North One West #12
If you follow amateur rugby, you don’t need to be told when the clocks change – you just look at the fixture list and see when the kick-off times become earlier or later. Today’s South Lakeland derby at Mint Bridge began at 2pm as Kendal only have floodlights on their training pitch, and a bumper crowd turned out to see the local grudge match and promotion battle against Kirkby Lonsdale.
It was a chilly start to the day in southern Cumbrialand, but come early afternoon the sun had brought about balmy conditions at Mint Bridge and the clubhouse was full for this clash between what are at the moment Cumbria’s top two clubs, with Kirkby Lonsdale second in North One West and Kendal just one place and five points behind.
A perusal of the programme informed that last time out at home, Kendal defeated Widnes in controversial fashion with a late penalty that led to alleged unsporting behaviour from the Cheshire club, with a visiting player sent off after the final whistle.
Fortunately there was no such nonsense today.
Kirkby Lonsdale started off the better, pressing Kendal back into their 22, and getting an early chance through David Bird on the right but the winger was put into touch on five metres.
Kirkby took the lead though in bizarre fashion. Scrum-half Ben Walker kicked a penalty from 25 metres that fell well short, but a Kendal defender knocked on and Northumbrian referee Jack Pellew gave another penalty at that point. One fan pointed out to me and others around him that a Kendal player had blocked Kirkby’s advantage from an offside position, giving Walker the chance to atone and knock over the first points of the game with eight minutes gone.
The game became gritty for a while, as the teams worked each other out around halfway, before Bird again made a good run but was tackled in the 22.
Kendal winger Dini Noyo took a long kick in his own 22 and went to run the ball back at Kirkby before dropping it, the visitors spread quickly to the left but Kendal covered well.
More points finally came on the half-hour. Kendal were penalised for knocking on at a scrum in their 22 and Stuart Storey drove for the line on the left. Kirkby recycled and found Matt Hughes in the corner, and the giant captain touched down for a try that Walker was unable to convert.
Kendal probed for a response but mis-passes and ill-executed kicks squandered possession too easily. Offside at an attacking lineout with two minutes of the first half left seemed to sum up their afternoon so far.
0-8 down after the break and facing falling further behind their neighbours in the promotion race, Kendal came out of the huddle fighting, but Nathan Woof missed a penalty after Tom Pickthall failed to release in the tackle.
After a quarter of an hour of effort, the Hornets finally managed to put a really good spell of attacking possession together. The home pack bashed away at the Kirkby line, with Noyo screaming for the ball on the far side as Kendal had developed a six-on-three option. As the ball was brought out of the pack, Woof moved back inside and the forwards took over again, finally getting the try under a pile of bodies.
Woof again missed the conversion but Kendal had their tails up.
The hosts continued to hold possession, and with fifteen minutes left, the referee sent lock Richard Bainbridge to the bin for an offside in the left of Kirkby’s 22. Kendal tapped and big replacement prop Richard Harryman finished off a forwards move to put his team ahead for the first time on the day. The crucial conversion hit the post, no doubt to the delight of a couple of away fans who were adamant the kick should have been taken from wider out.
Just a few minutes later, Kendal’s backs got in on the action. The ball was spread left quickly and Leo Mercer fed Noyo out wide, and the South African winger fought through a tackle to touch down.
A seven-point difference meant that Kirkby still had a bonus point, but the visitors were not content with that. On the attack for the first time in ages however, they conceded possession at a penalty lineout.
With the Lake District Business Park’s clock showing forty minutes to be up, Kendal threw the ball deep from a scrum in the Kirkby half and Woof kicked for touch, sending the home players wild with delight after a hard-fought but crucial win in the fight for promotion from North One West.
In a week’s time Kendal head down to the Manchester suburb of Eccles before hosting Wilmslow in their final game of the year, and will be looking to overhaul Kirkby Lonsdale and perhaps Birkenhead Park too to start the year back on top of the table.
(Follow The South Stand Choir on Twitter: @SouthStandChoir)