What a Performance !
By Mark Hodgkiss
A game of four yellow cards, some excellent attacking play at the end of the first half to establish a good lead then equally good defence to hold on for a vital victory.
With time, games, and points to gain, running out, with Lymm twelve points clear, this was a must win game, to repeat the unexpected victories in the last two seasons, but Wirral had only lost at home three times this season, two coming against the current top placed teams.
The team was little changed from the one who lost in the previous game against Rossendale, with Dan Wilson joining the backs in place of Mark Carruthers, Chris Evans replacing John Dervey in the second row, and Dan Shorrock and Ben Dixon coming onto the bench.
Wirral started well, but Kendal also had an early chance when Kris Bratton collected a Glen Weightman chip over the defence, only for support to arrive too slowly when he was stopped, with Kendal being penalised for failing to release the ball.
There was a long stoppage when a Wirral player was forced off with his leg in a splint.
Wirral were putting together waves of attacks, with excellent ball retention and offloading, but the Kendal defence managed to hold firm.
There was a blow for Kendal after a quarter of an hour, when Kris Bratton was injured when trying to make a tackle, and was forced off to be replaced by Dan Shorrock, with Myles Harrop moving into the centre and Shorrock taking his place on the wing.
After holding out through a long period of Wirral pressure, the Kendal defence was finally broken after twenty minutes. A penalty was taken quickly (although it seemed to be from nowhere near where it had been awarded), and a few quick passes saw Wirral in for the opening score. 5v0.
Three minutes later the Kendal defence was caught offside in front of the posts and Wirral fullback Daniel Harvey added a penalty 8v0.
Kendal were finally getting into the game, with Wayne Ngubane, frequently breaking the defence, but despite good work from Chris Downham, other support players were too slow to arrive, meaning the Wirral defence was able to re-group.
Dan Wilson had a good run down the wing, but at the crucial moment lost his footing,
Just after the half hour Kendal were back within a point. After just missing out from an earlier quick penalty, when he had a second chance Wayne Ngubane made no mistake, despite the Wirral defence for a second time seeming to make no attempt to retreat, he manged to power his way through for a touchdown. Glen Weightman added the conversion. 8v7.
Five minutes later, at what would normally have been the end of the half, Kendal were awarded a penalty, which would have given them the lead. However with the two long injury breaks there was still plenty of time to play, and rather than take the three points, they took a scrum. Wirral held out but were penalised again, the penalty was moved wide, and Glen Weightman was tackled high as he went for the line. The referee yellow carded Wirral flanker James Reeve (or would have done if he had his cards) and then trotted underneath the posts to award a penalty try, having decided the tackle prevented a score. 8v14.
Better was to follow, the kick off was gathered well and moved wide, where Danny Barker broke the defence and made good ground. Chris Downham was on hand to take a pass out of the tackle, then returned the ball to Barker who went through to score. Glen Weightman added the conversion. 8v21.
There was still time to play, and Kendal put themselves under pressure not clearly gathering the re-start kick. Wirral set up a number of attacks, but the half ended when Dan Wilson got in to force a penalty, when a Wirral player failed to release in the tackle.
Kendal started the second half well, but early momentum was disrupted when the game had to be stopped due to a second serious injury to a Wirral player, this time fullback Daniel Harvey was forced off.
When the game re-started Kendal put the Wirral defence under pressure on the right, and when they could not get over, the ball was moved left, and there was good interplay between the backs, with Dan Shorrock doing well to weave his way through the defence for a touchdown. Glen Wightman added the conversion. 8v28.
With Wirral restored to fifteen players, having conceded twenty one points, it was Kendal’s turn to be reduced to fourteen. Having been fortunate to avoid a card when getting involved in a disagreement with a Wirral player, when Kendal were penalised for having not retreated for a penalty, Chris Downham was carded for an infringement at the next breakdown.
Wirral set up a number of attacks, but the Kendal defence was holding firm, although they were conceding a number of penalties. From another penalty for failing to retreat, a Wirral player went over for a try. From a distance it appeared he lost the ball before grounding it, but the referee who was much closer was happy. With their kicker Daniel Harvey off the field, scrum half Joe Murray successfully converted. 15v28.
Kendal were then temporarily reduced to thirteen men. Jack Lashley had got in to try to steal Wirral ball at the tackle, but the referee decided illegally. Lashley then foolishly chose to question this and was given ten minutes on the touchline to consider his actions.
This forced Kendal into a further change, as for a scrum Robbie Collinson came on at hooker and Garry Holmes moved to prop, with Alistair Thompson being sacrificed.
The thirteen men managed to hold out, and when restored to fifteen with Lashley’s time on the side lines ending, Ben Dixon came on instead. However after being put under pressure in the next scrum, Lashley returned in place of Chris Evans. Ben Dixon had also come on for Matthew Charters.
With play almost all in the Kendal twenty two, with Wirral looking for score, with five minutes to play Mark Irving became the fourth player be yellow carded, (not a day to be without cards), but the fourteen man defence continued to hold firm.
With Wirral throwing the ball, around there were a number of handling errors and the Kendal back five were always looked to exploit the errors, to breakaway and get a further score, with the Development team wings seeming to add urgency that had rubbed off on the new centre partnership.
The clock seemed to tick down incredibly slowly, but when Kendal got the ball, Glen Weightman, captaining the team in the continued absence of Dom Musetti, played a simple game of putting the ball as far away from the line as possible, as the depleted Wirral backline never looked as if they could break the rampaging Kendal defensive wall from distance.
After eight minutes of added time, due to the earlier injuries, the referee decided he had seen enough and Kendal were able to celebrate only their second five point game of the season.
The result was made even greater, as for over thirty minutes of the second half Kendal were a man down, and without one of their key backs. Wirral would also have been affected by the two injuries, and earlier in the season may have chosen to take the points to narrow the gap rather than throw the ball around, when Kendal were under pressure.
A repeat performance is needed next weekend at Mintbridge, to try to get something out of the difficult game against Blaydon, then more importantly for the away game at Wilmslow and in the final game against Ilkley at Mintbridge, whether the team are just playing for pride, or with a real chance of escape.
Your KENDAL MAN OF THE MATCH : Danny Barker
Plenty of choice this week (the bigger suprise is those who did not pick up a vote) but a clear winner in Danny who set up then scored the third try, and had an excellent afternoon as part of the wall of defence that held out for so long in the second half, whilst a man down.