It would have been misleading to say that Glenwood played the perfect game of rugby to beat UK school Kirkham 33-5 on Dixons field but in many respects it was the perfect way to get their third term rugby program underway. The reason being, without stretching Glenwood too much, Kirkham proved to be worthy adversaries and tested Glenwood well in many departments.
Right from the start it was evident that Glenwood were a bit rusty. A good number of their moves were ended by handling errors or misdirected passes as the understanding amongst the players just wasn’t quite there yet. The home team’s setpiece work was also not altogether satisfactory. Yet the score-line says that against reasonable difficult opponents they did extremely well. It was mainly in unstructured open play that Glenwood found their touring opponents wanting and did most of the damage.
Kirkham had a decent sized pack and offered a useful challenge in scrums, lineouts, rolling mauls and any form of tight loose exchanges. They were however weaker than anticipated in a few areas. Firstly there was a lot of room for improvement in their backline play. Handling was good but the backs did not show enough enthusiasm and as a result did not do enough to threaten the advantage line. Kirkham forwards seemed content to give hard earned ball to their backs a measurable distance behind the breakdown point and were seldom rewarded for this unselfishness. With some big lads in the back division, one would have anticipated more straight hard running with pace injected or even old school crashball tactics by the Englishmen. Instead the line tended to operate at three-quarter speed and lacked x-factor. Perhaps the forwards should have reconsidered their generosity as the midfield did not look like they had the ability to take the game to Glenwood, whereas the pack often did.
Kirkham did move the ball nicely through the hands a few times but in the second half this just served to highlight a second weakness, their inability to identify and exploit overlap opportunities out wide. Several obvious chances to put their outside backs away went amiss either because players inexplicably chose to hold onto the ball or kick it away. And thirdly their tactical kicking game was not good at all. More often than not poorly placed kicks did little to put Glenwood under pressure and with no real challenge presented by kick chasers, Kirkham should have focused more intently on reorganising their defensive structures to negate counterattacks but didn’t do a wonderful job of this either. Glenwood fullback Makazi had a few good punt return runs but it was Stopforth’s superb 60-metre solo effort try at the end of the match, manufactured from an aimless kick, that provided the best example of the poor kicking and subsequent defending of Kirkham.
Finally there was a period in the first half when Kirkham conceded penalty after penalty in quick succession. Many of these were for ruck infringements and were possibly intentionally done to slow down play or perhaps the result of the interpretation of the laws here in South Africa.
However as mentioned the Kirkham team had size, skills and looked to have plenty of potential as well. With room for improvement they would be any coach’s dream to take control of. Certainly with a bit of work, this same team could do very well against KwaZulu-Natal Tier 1 teams including Glenwood. To their credit they also kept Glenwood scoreless for the first 24 minutes of play.
Whenever Glenwood lifted the tempo, they saw results in the form of healthy go-forward. It was however more a case of individualistic skills than teamwork that got them over the gain-line. The Grasshoppers also had numerous kickable penalties but turned these down in order to attack with the ball in hand. The first two tries came from the unlikeliest of sources. Lock Viljoen was able to dive over after Makazi had done some very good tidy up work to save the offensive in the red zone. Viljoen’s next try six minutes later was simply outstanding. The lanky lock collected a ball that had initially been gifted to Glenwood by a poor kick and took off on a long run from inside his own half. The half-time score of 12-0 was respectable.
Kirkham may have been guilty of not making better use of their wings but Glenwood’s Ncgobo had to do the most apologising on the day when he failed to release two players lined up on the overlap outside him. Instead of passing he held on and died with the ball. The attacking continued and Captain Marne Coetzee was prominent in the driving play that led to Glenwood’s third try shortly thereafter. From a ruck near the line poor handling once again resulted in the ball going to ground before an alert Mazibuko picked it up and carried it over. This took the score up to 19-0.
Kirkham responded with their only points of the game which stemmed from two of their strong points on the day. A simple yet effective lineout and the well co-ordinated rolling maul that followed. The unconverted try temporarily narrowed the deficit to 19-5.
Although Glenwood enjoyed a good deal of the territory and possession, they struggled to convert the advantage into points. A final forward pass denied Kay, who’d come on as a substitute for Viljoen, a try in the left corner. The replacement was rewarded for his persistence a few minutes later when flyhalf Potgieter offloaded a perfect and well-disguised pop pass to the charging flanker, who’s run from deep had gone unnoticed by the Kirkham defence. Kay crossed the line without any resistance. It was the umpteenth Glenwood opportunity that had come about as a result of a poor kick and subsequent failure by Kirkham to halt the advancing kick returner before he had put his team back on to the front foot. The score climbed to 26-5 once Potgieter succeeded with the conversion as part of 80% strike rate on the day. The flyhalf’s kicking out of hand in the second half was also of very high standard in terms of distance and accuracy.
Winger Derwent Stopforth had made useful contributions in the build up to several tries and deserved his dues at the end. The wing used of his speed but also kept his thinking cap on as he beat a few defenders along the way to scoring under the sticks. The game ended at 33-5 once Potgieter had slotted the conversion.
Glenwood has three tough encounters coming up in the form of Affies, Grey Bloem and College. This game was ideal preparation for those matches. For Kirkham there was some good things to learn from this game. Certainly if they had kept the ball in hand, focused more intently on getting over the gain-line, made better use of the wings and employed a wiser kicking strategy, they definitely had the personnel on their team to push Glenwood a lot harder. Their good win against SACS is a good indication that they are probably a better team than their performance on the day in Durban suggested.