Saturday 10 January 2015 – 2.00pm
Mint Bridge, Kendal
North One West Round 16
Kendal overcame atrocious weather conditions and a dogged Penrith side to claim four precious points in today’s Cumbrian derby.
The temperature may not have been quite freezing at Mint Bridge but a howling north-easterly wind made it feel so, and the game was punctuated by spells of driving hail that would have made even the hardest forward think occasionally about a hot shower.
After a difficult first forty minutes that saw few scoring opportunities, Kendal took control with three tries in the second half with three tries to keep up the pressure on Birkenhead Park and Kirkby Lonsdale at the top of the table.
South Lakeland has been battered by the strong winds and heavy rain this week, and presumably that is why the minute hand is now missing from the Lake District Business Park’s big clock. After a bitterly cold and blowy morning, there were creepings of sun on the Mint Bridge pitch come the 2pm kick-off, though a menacing dark cloud hung above the nearby hills, as if to warn the few hundred hardy souls who had turned out for Kendal’s first home match of the new year.
Early on, both sides looked to test the wind and soon discovered that long kicks were likely to head onto the roof of the main stand on the east of the pitch, if not in the Ford dealership behind, and cost them the opportunity to make metres. Kendal had a decent spell after ten minutes and were held up twice, the second time when hooker Garry Holmes looked to have touched down.
The hail had arrived and battered those of us crazy enough to be standing on the east of the pitch, and probably the fans seated towards the front of the stand. But to their credit, both teams (and of course) the referee kept going unperturbed, though the game tended to be played in the middle of the park with neither side able to make much headway towards the 22s.
With a quarter gone, Glenn Weightman had the perfect opportunity to put Kendal ahead with a penalty on the left, but despite the assistance of the wind he his kick flew wide.
Penrith’s best chance of the opening half came just minutes before half-time as they spread the ball right but the scoring pass drifted forward. It was the first opportunity we’d had to see the away back three in full flow, and I recalled how destructive the Penrith backs were when I saw them at Wigton a month ago.
Just as we thought the first half would end scoreless, home captain James Gough made a break through the middle and Kendal almost made it to the line, but were eventually awarded a penalty just in front of goal and Weightman made no mistake.
For the poor players, half-time at this level does not mean them going into the changing rooms, and the interval seemed quite short, perhaps because the teams wanted to start running around again.
Weightman missed another penalty just a few minutes into the second half before Kendal made a big drive down the left but the ball was killed just in front of the tryline.
The Hornets were now in control and put real pressure on their neighbours from up the A6. The pressure finally became too much for Penrith and the referee, who sent flanker Mike Stephens to the bin for an offside in front of goal. Weightman doubled Kendal’s lead to 6-0.
The opening try finally came just after the hour, when I was happily approaching the end of my second pint and looking forward to being able to warm my hands up in my pockets (yes, I did have gloves on!). Holmes was the scorer, forcing his way over from close range on the far left, and Weightman made no mistake with his conversion into the wind.
Just five minutes later, after Kendal’s continued to forwards continued to knock on the door, led by cult hero prop Billy Coxon, Holmes was again driven over the line to all-but secure a home victory.
However, Penrith gave their hosts something to think about as Darren Lee raced in down the left to pull back a try, and James Spencer knocked over the conversion.
Kendal went straight back into the driving seat however. Gough spun a pass out to Matty Houghton in space on the left and only a heroic tackle into touch behind the line by Ged Key prevented a score.
With just a couple of minutes to go Key went down in the right corner and was unable to continue, leading to a bit of light entertainment when a Penrith coach shouted over to his bench “Sub! Anybody?!”. Finally, big prop Sanele Mtembu took off his jacket and returned to the pitch.
Kendal drove for the line and full-back Nathan Woof touched down the final score of the day, Weightman’s lax conversion attempt suggesting that either Kendal were desperate to crack on and go for a bonus point, or get back into the changing room. Maybe it was a bit of both.
Anyway, when referee Tyrone Castles finally blew the full-time whistle, one wag in the crowd suggested that it was the “Best decision he’s made all day!”. Both teams’ forwards were covered in mud and must have been colder than is healthy, and I for one was happy to head home for a hot shower!
Kendal remain in third place tonight with Birkenhead Park winning at Broughton Park and Kirkby Lonsdale sneaking a 21-22 victory away to Warrington, but perhaps the most interesting result of the day was at Wigton, where the north Cumbrians gave themselves a chance of getting off the foot of the table later in the season by beating second-bottom New Brighton with a 15-3 victory. The gap down there is six points now. With just under half the season to go, the promotion and relegation battles in North One West look likely to be interesting to watch over the coming months.
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