South Shields Westoe travelled to Midlands’ side Kenilworth, for their Semi-final match in the National Intermediate Cup. With the sun blazing and a firm playing surface, conditions were perfect for the supporters but difficult for the two sides.
Westoe suffered their first obstacle prior to kick-off when influential centre Sam Hughes aggravated a leg-injury picked up during training and was forced to pull out, meaning last minute disruption to the side, with Ross Macauley coming in at full-back and Luke Moffett switching to the centre.
Westoe started strong with some early trademark forward drives, churning up huge dust-storms on the dry surface, coupled with a simple passing display that would usually see them over the line; however from the start it was clear that Kenilworth would not be an easy defence to crack.
The first period of the game saw the two sides play at a ferocious pace, making huge hits in defence and showing threats in attack. Kenilworth opened the scoring with a penalty after six minutes, with Westoe equalising after twelve. 3-3
The first try came after fifteen minutes when Westoe pressured Kenilworth’s line-out forcing scrappy ball. Joe McKenzie secured loose ball and spun wide finding Ross Macauley who took a great line through the slightest of gaps to score out wide for the lead. Converted 3-10
Kenilworth showed their resilience with an immediate passage of attacking play, showing patience and control; with Westoe’s defence initially
a match for their threats, winning turnover ball and clearing their lines. Following dangerous runs from both Kenilworth wingers, centre Stevens was stopped short of the line, but Bobby Thompson picked quickly from the ruck to dart over for an unconverted try. 8-10
Westoe suffered further disruption when Macauley received a head injury meaning more switching in the back-line, Joe McKenzie moving from the flank to centre to counter Kenilworth’s Hannan.
Westoe forced the tempo again, but were thwarted by a powerful defence who quickly adapted to the referee’s offside interpretation and were adept at slowing down ruck ball and closing any space in the back-line.
With the temperature rising and ten minutes left in the half, Westoe went to the line-out and after the ensuing maul was collapsed, a series of drives found talisman, Raymie Elliott powering over to increase the lead. Converted 8-17
Kenilworth were back in attack and crossed the line with Hannon, only to have the ball stripped as he went to ground; however the referee was playing advantage and came back for the penalty. The home side kicked to the corner and their driving maul took them over again, this time grounded by hooker, Abell to keep the game tight at half time. 13-17 HT
The second half early plaudits belonged to the home side who came out firing and put pressure on Westoe. After blowing for a penalty, Westoe were caught napping as Renowden took a quick tap to cross and take the lead. 18-17
It was a double whammy for Westoe as continuing pressure from Kenilworth’s Harrison forced a stripped ball, leading to an easy run-in for the pacey Burman. 25-17
Westoe narrowed the score straight from the restart with a long-range penalty from Sutherland. 25-20
With twenty left to play and the pitch at times looking like a battle-field with players suffering the heat, hits and hard playing surface, Westoe were back in control; keeping possession and fighting for territory against the well-drilled Kenilworth defence. This is where they needed to remain calm and trust in their abilities; however the team started to become somewhat erratic, trying too hard at times, forcing the play.
Offloads and moves that had worked well in recent games were unlikely to come off against such a well-organised side and after a wild reverse pass, loose ball was snatched by Kenilworth’s Hannon who fed his centre partner Stevens for the score. Converted 32-20
With only fifteen left to play, Westoe’s pack, which had edged the scrums all day, attacked Kenilworth, driving them off the ball for Sam Gaff to pick and feed Joe McKenzie for the score, setting up a thrilling last period of play. Converted 32-27
Westoe went straight back into attack, pressurising Kenilworth’s line, but another stripped ball allowed the flanker, Andreson to go 80 metres, winning the footrace taking his side five minutes closer to Twickenham. 39-27
Westoe powered straight back into the attack, not ready to concede defeat. After forcing a knock-on they were awarded a scrum five. A humongous drive forced Kenilworth back and as they collapsed the scrum the referee took to the posts for a penalty try, taking the gap to five points and a last gasp chance for the visitors. Converted 39-34
Despite some fabulous play and commitment, today was not the day for Westoe as the fairy-tale finish wasn’t to be and the deserving home side saw out the remaining minutes for a close victory and trip to Twickenham in two weeks.
A fantastic match, that would be worthy of a final, saw Kenilworth take the victory; however both sides should be proud of their performances in a well-contested eighty minutes which was decided by small margins and close calls.
Even though the final score was relatively high, both teams showed some wonderful defence and the commitment was off the scale. Played in good spirit, but with uncompromising hits, the teams put on a great spectacle for the crowd in the sweltering heat and dust.
In the end Kenilworth’s ability to remain calm and controlled made the difference. Westoe may have suffered from some easy recent wins, playing a little too loose at times in a game where control was everything.
That said the side performed exceptionally and the close score demonstrated that they are well capable of a return to Twickenham and that the future is looking good for the home-grown talent. A long journey and last minute disruptions also added to their task and the whole squad and coaching team should hold their heads high after an admirable performance against a quality opposition.
It would be unfair to highlight any standout performances as every player gave their all, including sterling work from the bench, in a tight game that could have easily gone their way.
As stated by Vice-Chair Stu Ashman, “I am personally very proud indeed to be associated with a team that honours the game in that way. You are all a credit to the club, yourselves, your families, your friends and the town.”
We wish Kenilworth well in their Final and hope they come away with a deserved trophy.
Westoe now need to dust themselves off and recuperate for a County Cup Semi-final against North 1 side Consett next Saturday. They will be pleased to have home advantage this week and the match will be played at Harton School’s 3G pitch, kick-off, 3.00pm