RUGBY: Old Laurentians so close to second spot and play-offs

Ben Roach scored OLs' first try
Ben Roach scored OLs' first try

Four tries, but narrow defeat by champions Kenilworth in final game

Midlands 2 West (South)

Jordan Bunn scored a try for OLs against Kenilworth

Jordan Bunn scored a try for OLs against Kenilworth

Kenilworth 27 Old Laurentians 24

So near – yet so far! OLs needed to win this match, with a try bonus point, to hang on to second spot in the league and a tilt at promotion via a play-off, writes Bill Wallis.

It was a tall order against the league champions with just one loss against their name this season; and the other contender for second place, Kidderminster, were playing relegated Old Coventrians and they duly claimed the bonus point win they needed with a crushing 74-5 success.

OLs came so close to an upset, earning the bonus point with four tries but just failing in the frantic final minutes to score the try that would have won the game.

Final try scorer Luke Townsend

Final try scorer Luke Townsend

It didn’t start well for OLs. A statuesque defence politely waved Kenilworth through for two tries, and a 14-0 lead by the ten-minute mark. The damage was done that ultimately proved terminal, but it served to jolt OLs into action and for the next 70 minutes the action was intense.

After the early setback, OLs took the game to their opponents and camped in their half for long periods. But Kenilworth broke out twice, first to kick a penalty for 17-0; then an OLs pass was intercepted giving an unopposed run in from 50 metres out to lift Kenilworth’s lead to 22-0.

But OLs’ pack were now winning the close quarter exchanges and twice heaved Kenilworth back at scrums 5 metres from their line. The home side could only stop the drive by illegal means and on the second occasion conceded a penalty try and OLs had their first score on the board at 22-7 after 35 minutes.

OLs kept the pressure up, the game now being played almost exclusively in Kenilworth’s half, and a penalty attempt by Jon Bean bounced back off the post into the arms of a defender rather than the onrushing OL attackers.

But the next score soon followed. A penalty in midfield was taken quickly and the ball reached centre Ben Roach who carved through the defence from 30 metres out to score, Jon Bean adding the goal points for 22-14.

But Kenilworth lifted the siege and reminded OLs how dangerous they were on the counter by breaking out to post a 27-14 lead at half time.

That proved to be the home side’s final score as the second half belonged largely to OLs. They made a great start when some excellent handling and continuity created half a chance for wing Jordan Bunn and he got over in the corner. Dan Price’s conversion attempt from the touch line just faded wide but the deficit was reduced to 27-19.

Soon after, Bunn almost repeated the trick, but Kenilworth’s scrambling defence just got across to force him into touch. The pressure continued, and Dan Price made a superb break and, sensing that the last defender was getting close, kicked ahead, only for the ball to roll, frustratingly, into touch in goal as he chased it down.

After Kenilworth threatened briefly OLs were soon back on the attack. Quick hands saw the ball moved left to Luke Townsend where the wing appeared to be covered. But his pace and dazzling foot work took him clean through the defence to score a fine try from 40 metres out. Again, the conversion from near touch fell short leaving OLs just three points adrift at 27-24.

As the clock ran down OLs went after the winning try, but time and the Kenilworth defence held them out. A commanding second half performance perhaps deserved more, but the early defensive lapses cost OLs dearly, leaving too tough a task against a side of Kenilworth’s quality.

A superb game with both sides giving their all to thrill a large crowd. OLs slipped to third in the league, three points behind Kidderminster, so it’s another season of Midlands 2 rugby to contemplate, and after several near misses, another drive for promotion.

With a number of highly promising young players coming through and a 2nd XV who have proved themselves to be the best in Warwickshire, that ambition has to be realistic.