Can I Kick It?
On a day when tries proved to be at a premium it came down to a battle of the boots, and it was the visitors' place kicking which eventually won the war.
For King’s the concept of playing rugby on a Saturday was something of a novelty, the last two 1XV outings having taken place under floodlights on Friday nights. Both those games yielded narrow wins for King’s and the visitors travelled to Browns Lane for their first away game of the season in search of a third success. Effingham & Leatherhead, having dodged the relegation bullet with a last day bonus point win over King’s in April, have had a somewhat underwhelming start to this campaign with just one losing bonus point to show from their three outings. That said, on their narrow and undulating 2XV pitch they are never less than tenacious and challenging opposition and today was to be no exception.
There were a sprinkling of changes to the King’s starting XV – amongst the forwards with Thomas Cobb absent Alistair Cooper started at hooker, Sam Young moving forward into the second row as Barry Williams took his place at blindside, and Robert Clarke at No.8 with Harry Wakefield on the bench. In the backs James Sharpe made his first start at 9 with William Slater unavailable (Joe Mason taking over the captaincy), Will Nelson was at fly-half, Luke Minors in to 12 from the wing, Max Morgan filling the No.11 shirt. Under leaden skies with more than hint of Autumnal cool in the air the referee wafted his arm at 3pm.
The early exchanges were by and large unremarkable, both teams poking and prodding but without either really giving the other cause for concern. King’s were soon forced into a reshuffle as Daniel Staunton was withdrawn as a precautionary measure, Harry Wakefield on at No.8 with Robert Clarke into the second row. When it came the first score, it transpired, was a portent of things to come as King’s conceded a kickable penalty which on a small pitch with a boot as unerringly accurate as Brian Collins possesses is inadvisable; 3-0. To King’s credit they proceeded to galvanise themselves with a fluency which, as it proved, was unmatched by either side in the rest of the match. The first points for the visitors came as a result of sustained pressure when the usually unflappable Collins had a clearing kick charged down inside his 22 by Will Nelson who chased the bobbling ball to the in-goal area to dot down. Gareth Stoppani, uncharacteristically, missed the easy conversion, undone by a gust of swirling wind; 3-5.
With King's in the ascendancy it was no great surprise that they were the next to score, as multi-phase pressure yielded a series of penalties each one closer than the last to the Eagles’ line. Ultimately a tap was taken quickly by Sam Young and whilst he was stopped short, Barry Williams was not to be denied and neither was Gareth Stoppani who added the extras; 3-12. The hosts were unfortunate to lose a lock to injury in the build-up to the try but despite this set-back Effingham had the better of the last ten minutes of the half, and two penalties awarded for technical offences were punished by Collins to narrow the gap to 3pts at the break; 9-12.
Having conceded 9 points from three all but identical offences, one might reasonably have hoped King’s might have exercised a little more care in and around the ruck where the referee had expressed his intention to blow for any indiscretion however slight. They did not, and Effingham were soon given a chance to draw themselves level, which they duly took; 12-12. With fifteen minutes gone in the second period King’s were similarly punished for a fifth time as the Eagles re-took the lead; 15-12. Things could have got worse with another attempt at goal two minutes later, but on this occasion King’s were reprieved.
Any hope the visitors may have had of taking advantage of the following wind which had assisted Effingham in the first forty was in vain as conditions proved almost uniformly tranquil in the second half. However, undeterred when King’s were given a penalty of their own, this one inside their own half, Gareth Stoppani indicated his intention to kick and a fine booming strike was good enough; 15-15. By comparison his next kick from straight in front was the rugby equivalent of a ‘gimme’ and he made no mistake; 15-18. Back came Effingham and following yet another ruck penalty, this one against Barry Williams, seemingly for having the temerity to turn a ball over after making a tackle, Collins made it 6 from 7; 18-18. Three minutes later Gareth Stoppani was again calling for the tee from inside King’s territory, but this one flew (just) wide.
The physicality of the proceedings was beginning to take its toll as both teams had emptied or cycled their benches and Effingham were further weakened, and somewhat aggrieved, as their blindside saw yellow for a tackle deemed dangerous or high, or both, by the whistler. From the ensuing penalty, Gareth Stoppani put King’s ahead once more; 18-21. With the game now well into an apparently interminable period of time added on Effingham were pressing hard and low, in the last play, they were awarded their umpteenth breakdown penalty. As all gathered watched on Collins, who was by now struggling with a hamstring tweak, pulled his kick to the left of the posts and it was left to a relieved James Sharpe to touch down and bring an end to proceedings.
Whilst the game ultimately failed to deliver in terms of tries, in truth this should not have come a great surprise as the pitch didn't lend itself to expansive play and given King’s never fully came to terms with the referee, coming out of top in a game of punch and counter-punch should not be denigrated. On the day, despite several determined carries by Luke Minors and some probing runs from Calum Williams and Tom Smith, the backline never managed to achieve the continuity required to punish Effingham, for which credit must go to the defence and but for a couple of errant passes Effingham’s backs might have had one or more tries of their own. In the end they will probably feel they were worth more than the losing BP they had to settle for. King’s forwards performed manfully in the end not least Sam Young who was omnipresent at set-piece and in the loose, Alistair Cooper and James Shaw who both carried well and Barry Williams who tackled tenaciously, scored a try and was designated MOM.
There is no let-up in this unrelenting start to the league campaign as next week King’s will host Gosport & Fareham. Followers of King’s with a good memory might recall that in 2006-07 they achieved a commendable double over the side from the South coast, winning 0-15 away and 18-5 at home in a season which saw the sea-siders relegated. After some years apart the clubs came together again in 2010-11 when ‘Gos’ returned the favour beating King’s 30-17 at home and 24-44 away, two results in a season to forget for the Old Boys as they themselves finished bottom of the pile. Having lost two on the spin to Old Reigatian and more recently Twickenham the visitors will doubtless be out to stop the rot when they come to Motspur Park.
Tries: Nelson, Barry Williams
Penalties: Stoppani x 3