Great Fightback not Quite Enough
Fifteen points down five minutes into the second half, the team then fought back to score three tries and came close to snatching an unlikely victory.
For a second year the club had ideal weather for a big final game of the season, to attract a big crowd.
Duncan Green and Chris Downham were back from injury, but Chris Park was out, so the back division was re-organised, with Mark Carruthers slotting in at fullback.
Billingham had the better of the opening exchanges, and as in the away game before Christmas, indicated their intent to move the ball quickly at every opportunity. They opened the scoring after five minutes when Kendal were caught offside at a ruck, and their scrum half slotted home a penalty. 0v3
Billingham won the kick off ball back and immediately put Kendal under pressure again, but the Kendal defence proved equal to everything Billingham threw at it. When Kendal had the ball, the Billingham defence made sure they could not make any ground upfield , to relieve the pressure.
Billingham finally added to their score after twenty five minutes. From a penalty, they chose to take a scrum, having had the better of the encounters there. Their burley No.8 picked up and powered through some tackles to score, the scrum half again converted. 0v10.
Kendal were playing towards the clubhouse, and the big crowd on the “Bank” had had to watch the game at a distance, but shortly after the Billingham score, they were (almost) to get what they had come for.
Glenn Weightman put a long penalty kick to touch near the line. Ben Leacock gathered the throw and the forwards drove to the line, and the “Bank” roar went up. Billingham were however able to hold the drive up. The referee decided illegally, and Kendal were awarded a penalty. James Gough took it quickly only to be immediately tackled by a Billingham player, which earned him ten minutes on the side lines.
Kendal took a scrum, but when the ball was moved left, it when stopped when a Billingham hand get to the ball. The referee decided it was a deliberate knock on, and awarded Kendal a penalty, so the perpetrator seemed lucky to have not joined his colleague on the touchlines.
This time the ball was put to touch, and when the lineout was won, the ball was moved wide, with Chris Downham made a powerful run through the defence, but he was stopped before the line, and although the ball was re-cycled, it was knocked on, and the chance was gone.
A couple of penalties meant, when restored to fifteen men, it was Billingham again on the attack on Kendal’s line, and the Kendal defence again did well to hold out, until half time.
The slender 0v10 half time lead seemed poor reward for the Billingham dominance, and Kendal were still in the game, but Billingham again started the half well. When after five minutes, a Kendal player was penalised for a high tackle, the ball was moved quickly for the Billingham centre to go over for an unconverted try, and it was beginning to look as if was not going to be the end to life at Mint Bridge that everyone wanted.
However something we should have learnt in recent seasons, is not to write this Kendal team off, as they came straight back into the game.
After good build up work, the ball seemed to have been moved in the wrong direction, to Zane Butler who was isolated on the right wing, but he did very well to make ground, then the ball was taken on by the only player in support, Duncan Green, who was showing no ill effects of his recent layoff. Although he was stopped, when the ball was moved wide, Glenn Wightman, who as ever had been looking for openings, finally found one, and scythed through for a try under the posts, and then added the conversion. 7v15 with half an hour to play.
Billingham then showed why they are pushing for a top four finish. The ball was first moved right, then back left, and despite the Kendal defence somehow managing to get across to stop what looked a certain try, the ball was then moved back right again, and resistance finally ran out, for a third Billingham try, which was converted by their scrum half to restore their lead. 7v22.
Kendal made their first substitution with Will Montgomery coming on for Dom Musetti.
The scoring spree continued, and this time it was Kendal’s turn. From a lineout in midfield, Chris Downham, again demonstrated his speed powering through, then just when it looked as he could go all the way, delivering an excellent pass to Damian Armstrong, who had done well to be in support. Whilst he was stopped near the line, he managed to dive over for the score. 12v22
Dom Musetti returned in place of Ben Leacock, and then Mark Carruthers, who had had another good game playing at fullback, was replaced by Nathan Wooff.
Kendal were upping their game, with the old heads of Duncan Green, Liam Hayton and James Gough, continually making ground, but the Billingham defence was as well organised as their attack, and there were few try scoring opportunities.
With ten minutes to play, when Kendal were awarded a penalty in midfield, the ball was give to Glenn Weightman to try to reduce the gap to a single score with a long range kick, and he delivered. 15v22.
Josh Coyle came off the bench to replace Matty Houghton in the back row.
Kendal continued to push for the important next score, but when a forward was isolated a penalty was conceded to allow Billingham to relieve the pressure.
Looking for a fourth try to extend the lead, but also to gain an important bonus point, Billingham tried to run the ball out of defence. This appeared to be working well, but the gamble then backfired as a pass went loose, and Zane Butler gathered and did not need Nathan Wooff who was in close support, to get to the line for the try, The Billingham defence had however got back to force the ball to be grounded near the corner flag, giving Glenn Weightman a difficult kick to level the scores. It was a good effort, but drifted wide.
With five minutes still to play, both teams went looking for another score.
Dini Noyo was forced off with an injury, and Mark Carruthers returned to the field
Glenn Weightman appeared to have broken through again, but when he was stopped, the referee quickly blew for failing to release the ball. Billingham put the ball to touch, and played a simple game, keeping the ball tight and inducing Kendal penalties, which ran the clock down, and allowed Billingham to hold on for victory.
So not the result we all hoped for, but Billingham again looked a really good side, with a strong defence, and excellent handling skills. So to fight back from fifteen points down, to within two points at the final whistle, seems a fitting end, to sign off life at the old Mint Bridge.
Probably many more exciting encounters to come at the New Mint Bridge from September, although hopefully with a different outcome.
There is still one more game to come, with a daunting trip to third place Hull in a fortnight, but as proved this afternoon, the team tend to raise its game for the best, so who knows what will happen.
FOOTNOTE : A Morley win against Lymm means Kendal are guaranteed a seventh place finish.
WEBSITE KENDAL MAN OF THE MATCH : Chris Downham
Chris just edged out Ben Leacock, with eleven of the starting lineout getting at least a vote, but Chris and Ben were well ahead of the rest.
A typical all action performance from Chris, with the run, then perfectly timed pass for Damian Armstrong's try just one of the highlights.
Referee : Peter Stentiford (RFU North)