Blood and Thunder at the Racecourse
Kettering snatch victory in the final minute after the most brutal game of the season so far.
There is no place to hide in East Midlands League 1 this season. We may all be friends before and after but that all goes out the window come game time.
East Midlands League 1, round 2, Huntingdon v Kettering. With only 4 games each in the league every game is key should you be aiming for the top. Huntingdon newly promoted came into the game having beaten last year's 2nd place team Towcester whilst Kettering rued missed opportunities that handed an on form Olney a welcome league win.
Kettering desperately needed the win to keep their league hopes alive and Huntingdon were in no mood to relinquish their unbeaten form this season. What unfolded was a treat for all to behold. A massively brutal game, yes a few handbags came out but at such a high intensity with so many players on the limit it was always a possibility that no one was going to back away.
Kettering took an early lead up the hill stretching the Stags backs until they ran out of cover tackles to allow James Smith the few inches of space to squeeze over in the corner but just made enough ground behind the try line to allow Tommy Sims a decent angle to put us 0-7 up.
A serious of pick and drives by the Blues pinned Huntingdon on the line but their forwards kept us just inches short of the line time after time. All needed a breather so once a penalty under the posts was fore coming, Blues took the option to push on to a 0-10 lead courtesy of Tommy Sims boot.
Whilst stags had their opportunities the Blues defence was holding firm causing Stags to throw some loose throws which allowed Kettering to take the game back into the Stags half. However it was only a matter of time before the home side kept the ball in hand and Lewis broke the Kettering defensive wall and sprinted away just making the try line as the Blues brought him down to get Stags on the score board 5-10.
With the Kettering line out finding form despite some seriously tall Huntingdon jumpers, the Blues set up a line out 5m out from the Stags try line. The box of tricks was opened and as several players seemed to go different ways with the ball, out popped Henri from the line to put Kettering 5-17 up at half time.
Coming down the slope in the 2nd half should have been the opportunity for Kettering to make this fixture safe, however Stags rallied and changed their game plan. Getting little change in the backs they utilised their big strong forwards to great effect crossing the gain line constantly whilst still managing to offload the ball to yet another and another big support runner. 3 tries and 2 conversions from Stags had Kettering on the ropes. It wasn't that the Blues defence was poor just Stags had found their mojo at 24-17.
Kettering needed a lucky break and just as Huntingdon came looking for the kill, Adam Mclean pulled an interception out of the air and just had the legs to outpace the chasing Stags. Tommy Sims made sure of the extras 24-24 each with not long left on the clock.
Stags were given the first opportunity to take glory with a penalty under the posts and promptly noised ahead at 27-24 with even less time to play.
Could the battered Kettering players make one last push and snatch victory at the very end? This was now a game of nerves who could keep calm when others around them didn't. Kettering's attack was relentless on the Stags 22 but frustration got the better of the home side with a player sent to the sidelines. The Blues pressed again stretching the Stags to the absolute limit before a moment of madness put a further Huntingdon player in the bin.
Surely if Kettering could keep hold of the ball the space would come. Out wide it went but Stags somehow managed to stop a certain try, the ball came back across the pitch with just a single opposition player to beat, Keelen Mills crashed through the tackle and reached for the line and the final score of the day. 27-29 with just a minute left to play.
The Blues composure compared to Stags in the last few minutes ultimately decided the game. Relief for Kettering but a bitter pill for Huntingdon after how well they had played. They won't make the same mistake again and are now a real force in East Midlands rugby.
Whilst we'll always look forward to playing each other, both sides will need some time to take stock and recover from today. Next time I suspect we meet, the game may well raise to yet another level of intensity and excitement for all players, coaches and parents alike.