One For Uncle Sam
Whilst the headlines on Saturday belonged to a Scottish horse at Aintree, in SW London it was a convocation of Eagles from the Surrey Hills with reason to celebrate.
So it was after seven months and twenty one league games that the 1XV found themselves rounding the last bend of their second lap of fixtures, all that stood between them was a final fence in the form of Effingham and Leatherhead. The ‘Eagles’ were King’s first opposition way back when in September and on that day King’s won out 18-15, a springboard to the Old Boys’ good early season form as they won five of their first six fixtures. By contrast the Eagles got off to an inauspicious beginning, winning just one of their first eight, although they did secure one draw; more of that to come later. Since the turn of the year matters have been rather different, whilst King’s have laboured to two wins in their last eight; the Eagles however – apparently conscious of their perilous league position – having lost to their relegation rivals Portsmouth then Andover, subsequently kicked on to record five wins in six. Still, going into the last day the boys from the Mole Valley were in 11th place and needed not just to win but for results elsewhere to go their way if they were to avoid bringing to an end their 13 season stay at Level 7 of the RFU league pyramid.
The King’s XV which crossed the white line showed strength in parts, but a measure of vulnerability in others. Certainly the backline was not lacking in attacking threat with U21s Ed Forshaw and George Taylor lining up at 11 and 15 respectively and the in-form Ben Woollams pulling on the 13 shirt, albeit not his first choice position. In the front row Thomas Cobb returned to hook with Joe Mason and Brett Williams either side of him, this meant Jonny Kiddle moved back a row where together with John Walton they formed King’s fifteenth different lock partnership of the season and the seventh alteration in as many matches. Duncan Bucknell, Harry Wakefield and Robert Clarke formed an all new back-row, behind them Will Slater made his first home start since 22nd October. The bench contained the fresh legs of Brook Wannop, and those of Neil Williams and Ryan Getley, anything but fresh both having come straight off the 2XV pitch.
King’s performances are habitually characterised by several things, as this encounter was to be, but a fast start is not often one. Today though was to be different and within 3 minutes Ed Forshaw found himself the last man on a sizeable overlap and crossed to ease King’s into a lead; 5-0. So surprised were the home side to be ahead barely two minutes later they sportingly gave the visitors a chance to strike back conceding a penalty for offside. With a kicker of the quality of Brian Collins this is not advisable and the Eagles were on the board; 5-3. King’s quickly snatched the initiative back and won a penalty of their own, but in true King’s style they declined a kickable opportunity and instead preferred a Barbarians’ approach running the ball but their adventure went unrewarded.
As it transpired it was to be the Eagles who were next to trouble the scorers as exactly mid-way through the half their uncomplicated, but effective, left wing smashed through two tackles to cross close to the flag; 5-8. Whilst King’s were fortunate the score was not improved they were decidedly unlucky to lose Ben Woollams who was injured in the try-scoring play and had to be replaced, Brook Wannop on at openside, Harry Wakefield to No.8 and Robert Clarke moving to the centre. The Eagles sensed an opportunity to exploit the disruption and four minutes and one speedy midfield break later they had their second try, this one was converted; 5-15.
Now ten points down King’s kicked down a gear and began to play, George Taylor accelerating from the back-field with a searing break before he offloaded to Harry Wakefield, and with the line beckoning his pass to Jonny Kiddle looked certain to be the pre-cursor to a try but alas the ball was knocked on. To compound their frustration George Taylor had been injured and his day too was over, Neil Williams taking his place on the wing with Harrison David going to fullback. King’s continued to press and five minutes Brett Williams unfortunately was the next to see a try scoring opportunity come and go as a ball that looked easier to catch than to drop was also knocked on.
With just a minute of regulation time left to play King’s would have hoped to close the gap, but they were to be disappointed as it was the visitors who scored a third try all but identical to their second and from the tee Collins showed no mercy; 5-22. There was still injury time left and in it some adventurous play starting with a quick lineout saw runs from Ed Forshaw then John Walton before a chip ahead from Kristian Cook culminated with the ball being carried over. From a scruffy scrum Eagles somehow contrived to turn the ball over then kick it dead to precipitate the whistle.
From an Effingham point of view things could barely have gone better, three scores clear and 75% of their way to a try bonus-point. For King’s matters were looking less optimistic, no less than ten points had gone begging and two of their most dangerous broken field runners were laid up in the physio room. Still, there was nothing to be gained from being despondent and King’s to their credit started the second forty at a good tempo. With seven minutes gone a Kristian Cook kick very nearly put Ed Forshaw in and although he was denied a penalty ensued. King’s opted for the corner but from the lineout drive they were adjudged to have blocked the defending team and the ball was meekly turned over. The game was getting faster and looser, something which normally favours King’s but today was not their day and it was the visitors who found space out wide and despite Neil Williams manfully bringing down the ball carrier the Eagles simply had too many spare bodies and they struck for their, crucial, fourth try; 5-29.
If it was a challenge King’s wanted they certainly now had one, Effingham on the other hand breathed a huge sigh of relief and began to take on the look of a side with one eye on their celebrations. Robert Clarke clearly had not got the memo and a trademark forceful run nearly score him on the scoresheet. Ed Forshaw, a threat all day, then tried his arm wide left, then John Walton wide right. Closer than any of them came Thomas Cobb who hit a fine line off Tom Dugarin and plunged toward the line beneath the posts with two tacklers on his back. A try? Not so according to the whistler who, perhaps harshly, adjudged him held-up. The respite was short though and two minutes on it was Will Slater sniping for a try; 10-29.
Whilst King’s were pressing they found Eagles resolute in defence, but they were tiring from their exertions and ten minutes later a Will Slater break and canny inside pass saw Kristian Cook over the whitewash, Tom Dugarin adding a well struck conversion; 17-29. If Eagles weren’t yet worried, then soon were when at the line-out John Walton rose quickly to steal, Will Slater seized on the loose ball and was away, he found an onrushing Thomas Cobb and one sumptuous no-look pass later it was his front-row colleague Joe Mason crossing for King’s own bonus point try; 22-29.
With forty minutes already gone, the referee signalled that six more were to be added. All the momentum was with the home side and Effingham were all too aware that even a draw could spell disaster for them. It was therefore to their credit that did not panic in the time that remained, and in fact they went one better as their left winger doubled his tally for the day when from a period of broken play King’s found themselves out-flanked; 22-34. Eagles celebrated as if they had won the league, and their jubilation was understandable. The excitement even got to the usually unflappable Collins who scuffed the conversion, but it didn’t matter as the final whistle followed minutes later.
Even with five points in the bag Effingham were left nervously refreshing phones and making calls to those who might now better as to the fate of Andover and Portsmouth. It emerged that Andover had won 34-24 at Old Reigatian and gained a TBP in the process, so were safe, but what of Portsmouth? They had the misfortune of going to Camberley on the last day who showed no mercy beating their visitors 90-24, again though the relegation threatened team had a TBP. This all meant that the Eagles and Pompey finished on 43pts both with 8 wins, Effingham however had held Camberley to a 29-29 draw in game-week three and by virtue of that result alone were saved from the trapdoor.
On the day the game had a classic end of season feel to it, nine tries scored under warm sunshine with plenty of entertaining running rugby on display from both sides all with the relegation sub-plot bubbling away in background. King’s left no less than three scores on the pitch and from that point of view might reasonably be disappointed to have lost. That said, all 18 that took the pitch gave a good account of themselves and found their opposition to be a highly motivated side who must be congratulated for successfully converting just about every chance they got. We shall look forward to seeing them again in the Autumn.
A full 2016-17 wrap will follow so we shall end here by saying well done to all those who have pulled on the shirt this campaign, new faces and established ones. We hope the players have enjoyed taking part, the supporters have enjoyed the action and readers have enjoyed the reports. Until next season……
Tries: Forshaw, Mason, Cook, Slater