Guildford Trump King’s With Their Ace In The Pack
After racing into a 0-19 first half lead, King’s are pegged back to parity at full time and ultimately overcome by a ‘golden score’ in extra time.
The build up to the showpiece occasion on Surrey Rugby Finals Day was nothing if not confusing. Until Thursday King’s and Guildford had thought they were to contest the Surrey Trophy, however a late change of heart from Cup finalists Esher and Dorking instead saw the Old Boys and Guildford battling it out for the top prize themselves. This alteration must have caused something of a stir at Surrey RFU HQ as in its haste to get a match programme published they succeeded in seeing to it that all reference to the history of Guildford RFC was expunged and in its place a summary of the formative years of Guildfordians RFC appeared instead.
On the subject of the history of the clubs, it was not the first time they had met at this stage of the competition, the last encounter in 1983 when King’s emerged winners against Guildford & Godalming as today’s opponents were then. Today Guildford are an established London One South club who finished in a very creditable 5th place this season, just as King’s did in London Two South West, a league below them. If looking for pedigree in the final, King’s last appearance came in 1984 whereas their opponents finished runners-up in 2005 and 2006. King’s seemingly had it all to do.
With both teams having overcome the hindrance of variable squad availability on a Bank Holiday and rallied a full compliment of players and substitutes, replete in the now obligatory bibs, under watery sunshine referee James Davies (Chobham RFC) blew his whistle shortly after 2.30pm.
It was far from an ideal start for King’s as little more than 5mins in the first of their subs was freeing himself of his aforementioned bib as Harrison Scowsill was called upon to replace an injured George Taylor in the centres. If the Old Boys were disrupted by the early change it didn’t show as the backline appeared to be finding space at will and having raced into the Guildford 22 the ball was fizzed wide into the grateful hands of Joseph Sherlock who duly sped round his man and into the right hand corner; 5-0. Buoyed by their early success King’s went back on the attack with Will Nelson and Luke Minors both carving though defence conspicuous by its absence, alas both forays came to naught as the final pass went begging. The respite was shortlived for Guildford though and soon after Will Nelson did cross the whitewash with Rory Jones this time able to add the extras; 12-0.
Judging by the reaction of their coaches and supporters, this was not in the script for the men from Broadwater Park and with the exception of the scrum, there was little to encourage them with a malfunctioning lineout and a kicking game that was at best haphazard. With the interval looming Guildford made a hash of fielding a clearance kick on the King’s 10m line knocking in on into the arms of hooker Harry Wakefield who needed no invitation to put the throttle down before releasing winger Tom Smith who coasted home gifting Rory Jones simple extras; 19-0.
For King’s the half could barely have gone better, for their opponents barely worse. If had been a boxing match the first period was an up and coming fighter who had got inside his bigger, heavier and slower opponent’s defence and picked up plenty of scoring shots. Guildford needed to re-think and presumably their pep-talk, albeit in more robust language, in boxing parlance went something along the lines of “keep them at the end of a jab and away from our body”. With their misfiring fly-half shunted into the centres a more metronomic out-half was introduced seemingly with instructions to spread the ball on pain of death and instead to allow his forwards to gain the traction required to give effect to Plan B.
The new man wasted no time in declining three kickable penalties instead putting the ball to the corners from where his forwards began to show a renewed zest for grinding their way to the line. After winning themselves a series of set-scrums referee Davies stepped forward for his first, but not his last, cameo of the day flourishing a yellow at King’s prop Brett Williams for a technical offence meaning Captain and No.8 Alex Humphries had to be sacrificed for replacement prop Ben Welham. Playing advantage at the resulting scrum the Gs half-back attempted a snipe which saw him unceremoniously dispatched into touch by the King’s defence. From the next engagement no such adventure was entertained and instead it was the No.8 who flopped over for his sides first score; 19-5.
Whereas in the first forty King’s had enjoyed a ready supply of opportunities to release their pacy backs, in the second such ball was a rare commodity. When they did get to within sight of the opposition line the whistler deemed a lineout throw not straight allowing a grateful Guildford to kick clear. Restored to their full compliment King’s were soon regrettably back playing Guildford at their own game as having navigated their way into the King’s 22 the boys in blue elected for the first of an interminable series of re-set scrums. After four, or was it five, incarnations and having previously sent the King’s tighthead to the sin-bin referee Davies instead elected to this time dispatch the loosehead. Your correspondent would be curious to understand better what the IRB approved method is for how a prop should bind on an opponent who has popped and is standing upright. Guildford inevitably continued in their quest for a pushover try and their No.8 was again rewarded moments later; 19-12.
Make no mistake, King’s were struggling and so it was blessed relief when they did get deep into Guildford territory courtesy of a clever Will Slater kick. The respite was short-lived though as Guildford contrived an exit-strategy to get them to half-way and when an attempted interception went to ground King’s were dumfounded to see a penalty awarded for a deliberate knock-on. It’s a pretty reliable rule of thumb that when the ball goes up the player was trying to catch it, but never mind that. Predictably, but quite sensibly, Gs kicked for the corner in a bid to muscle over once more. Having being denied at the lineout they switched to scrums where they were, apparently, technically faultless. Unable to get across under their own steam Mr Davies saw fit to intervene with the award of penalty try in the last play to Guildford's audible relief. The conversion could not be missed and so the scores finished level; 19-19.
Many of those gathered asked earnestly what happened now? Extra time? According to Surrey’s own Knockout Competition Rules 2014-15 on drawn games (9(b) if you’re interested) what should have occurred were two periods of ten minutes with a one minute interval. Instead this was bypassed as was the tries and goals count and Chairman of Senior Competitions Tony Price advised the teams were to advance straight to a ‘sudden death’ phase, ten minutes each way, where the next score wins.
Guildford were the first to move a piece in this game of high-stakes chess although their endeavour was thwarted when a speculative kick through rolled over the dead-ball line. From the 22 restart King’s advanced as far as their 10m line before Guildford were awarded their umpteenth penalty. Having spurned all previous opportunities to bisect the posts, this time they were not to do so and their skipper calmly did what was necessary to secure a famous win; 19-22.
Congratulations go to Guildford who used plenty of tactical nous to get past the winning post and King’s would do well to heed their example in terms of game management and playing to your strengths, or more specifically negating those of your opponent. For King’s there is no disgrace, just disappointment. The Old Boys were the better side for 40mins, Guilford better for 42mins. With a new season comes new opportunities, but for this year Coach Richards and Captain Kiddle can rightly look back with some pride on a job well done.