By Liam Moakes 29/03 Updated: 03/04 10:30
KINGS NORTON won a thrilling encounter 24-22 against Old Leamingtonians at Hopwood Park on Saturday in what was a great advert for Midlands Three West (South) rugby.
However, in a match which ebbed and flowed throughout, the visitors spurned two golden chances to win the game in the final 15 minutes in their desire to score a fourth and bonus point try rather than take the necessary three points from either of the two kickable penalty opportunities that Kings had conceded as the visitors' more powerful forwards piled on the pressure.
From the kick-off it was clear Kings were going to have to use their faster counter-attacking abilities to thwart the strong and heavier forwards from Leamington who generally dominated the set pieces.
The visitors might have scored after seven minutes but for a knock-on with the line begging and, despite some excellent home defending, they eventually converted a pushover try after 13 minutes.
Kings came straight back and a fine move down the left wing saw Louis Stelling ghosting through for a similar score to that which he had made in the away game at OLs in December, but Ken Whitehouse narrowly missed the conversion with his touchline effort.
As the game developed into attack and counter-attack OLs went further ahead when they scored out wide after 19 minutes, only to succumb six minutes later to Kings' best try of the match.
Having won turnover ball on the halfway line, Whitehouse set his backs away. Yassin Ayachi made the first break and when held he cleverly released the supporting Chris Carlin, the latter's sublime feint opened up a wide gap which he exploited to the full, allowing Jack Fairhust to gather his well placed pass to outpace the despairing defence and touch down under the posts. Carlin converted to make it 12-12.
It was then the opposition's turn to pressurise the home defence and, after missing a penalty, their forwards gained a lucky break as the ball went loose at a lineout and was gathered by their back row who simply ran through to score an unconverted try.
However, as the clock ticked down, Kings Norton came back strongly to gain a narrow half time lead from a situation created by another lightning Fairhurst break taken on by Carlin and it was Gareth Johnson whose drive for the line was held up.
However, OLs eventually conceded a penalty try with illegal hands in the ruck which Carlin converted to move the hosts into a 19-17 interval lead.
The second period was a tense but exciting affair and the visitors regained the lead after 55 minutes when a great forward drive pushed the home pack over their line for an easy No 8 touchdown to gain their third try.
Earlier James Kidd had replaced the injured Graham Morrison in the hosts' front row which did nothing towards increasing the weight of the home pack but added a new dimension with Kidd's speed and mobility.
Ben Boyce replaced the hardworking Sam Westwood and then at the halfway mark of the second period Kings regained the lead with some powerful forward drives, as Tom Hatfield and Tom Kendrick in support of Gareth Johnson's drive took the pack forward to the line where Marcus Bender finally powered over.
The conversion was missed, leaving Kings to defend a two-point lead for the final 20 minutes.
Stelling came off with an ankle injury to be replaced by the dependable Rob Neighbour and for the next five minutes Kings held their opponents on the halfway line, with neither side gaining any advantage until OLs finally gained a penalty, from which they kicked for position and from that moment until the final whistle Kings defended magnificently against both lineouts and scrums.
In one bizarre moment Kidd gathered a loose ball and attempted to race out of defence and kick ahead, only to slice a wild kick across the field which winger Gareth Westwater gathered to clear, gaining some respite from the OLs onslaught.
As the visitors ignored their chances of a victory by going for the line through forward play, Kings eventually gained a penalty and were able to make ground from where OLs made their final attack, winning a long range penalty kick opportunity which went wide.
Kings gained satisfaction of a positive result and a four-try bonus point for their considerable efforts on what was a fine day for the club as all three sides enjoyed victories on home soil.
Kings 2nds won a rearranged Merit Table match against Ledbury and their 3rd team had a satisfactory victory against rivals Woodrush.
Tomorrow fifth placed Kings travel to bottom side Old Yardleians.
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