King’s Come To The BP Party
A free-scoring second half of 45 points sees King’s secure their fourth league win and with it a first bonus point of the season.
Back at Motspur Park on a Saturday for the first time since the opening weekend of the season, the 1XV’s visitors today were Gosport & Fareham. ‘Gos’ have not travelled to the Old Boys’ ground for some years now, most recently the sides met in 2010-11 when Gos won both games and King’s were relegated. Before that it was 2006-07 when King’s were the victors home and away and it was Gos who finished bottom. Of late the south coast side have been playing their rugby in London 1 South, but after a near miss with relegation in 2015-16, a difficult 2016-17 saw Gos drop down to Level 7. Their campaign started brightly with two wins, over Winchester and Eastleigh, but has been tempered slightly by two subsequent losses to Old Reigatian and Twickenham.
Even though the season is just five weeks old, already the injuries are starting to mount. As a consequence the King’s side showed a series of alterations. Thomas Cobb returned to hook after a week away, as did Peter Januszewski in the second row in place of Sam Young. The back-row consisted of an untried combination featuring David Lawson (first game of the season), Nicky Rawlinson (1XV debut) and Greig Blackie (promoted from the bench with Harry Wakefield pulling out). Will Slater came back in for James Sharpe (now departed to university) at 9, former club captain Patrick Smith took the No.11 shirt and there was another debut for ex-Manchester Uni 1XV centre Joseff Edwards. Alistair Cooper, Matthew Scott and Chris Moore (called up from the 2XV) made up the bench. With the pitch slick from a dusting of light rain, at 3pm Gosport lined up facing into the wind such as there was and prepared to receive the ball.
From the whistle King’s were on the offensive and were inside the Gosport 22, Will Nelson came closest to creating a genuine scoring opportunity but his chip just ran dead before anyone could pounce. On six minutes King’s had an even better chance as some quick phase play created an overlap but Gareth Stoppani chose not to use it and instead backed himself to finish, but the Gos defence had other ideas and stopped him just inches short. Moments later he had an opportunity from the tee to open his account, but it was not to be. Early on Brett Williams, Daniel Staunton, Greig Blackie and Peter Januszewski all carried strongly and it was a penalty following a tip-tackle on the latter which elicited King’s next scoring chance. This time Gareth Stoppani was successful; 3-0. The lead was to last just 8mins as a somewhat dubious penalty was awarded against David Lawson for hands in a ruck, the kick was good; 3-3.
Whilst King’s had enjoyed the lion share or territory and possession, Gos had dealt capably with most of the Old Boys’ incursions. That changed soon after though as a clearing kick was dexterously caught by Patrick Smith on half-way, he offloaded to Gareth Stoppani and the full-back promptly slalomed his way all the way to whitewash; 8-3. Gosport proceeded to excerpt a period of pressure of their own which culminated in the award of a penalty which they duly kicked; 8-6. With the watch now showing 40mins things deteriorated rather for the visitors, as first a heavy collision with a marauding Greig Blackie saw a defender knocked out (although pleasingly he soon came round and walked from the pitch) and in the 9mins of injury time eventually played they conceded a further two penalties, the second of which Gareth Stoppani was successful with; 11-6.
G&F’s travails on the road are well documented, but just 5pts adrift they must surely have felt that there was a credible opportunity to break a hoodoo of 28 away losses. King’s may well have thought they had created enough opportunities to be further ahead, but would presumably have been consoled by the prospect of a half in which to make the necessary amends. As it transpired the home side needed just 6 minutes to extend their lead, a break from Gareth Stoppani was supported by Tom Smith and as the ball was swung wide David Lawson did well to ride a tackle before offloading to Thomas Cobb who rounded things off with a powerful carry to the line. Gareth Stoppani added two more; 18-6. Just as they had in the first period, Gosport were quick to hit back as they steadily progressed into the King’s 22 and several phases later an inside flick from their captain and scrum-half saw one of his heavy operators crash over for a converted try; 18-13. With just the margin between the sides as narrow as it was, both teams would have known the next score was likely to be crucial, as much psychologically as physically.
Fortunately for supporters of the home side it was their turn to cheer as having stolen the ball on halfway, much to the chagrin of the visitors who were unconvinced about the legality of the turnover, David Lawson broke free, his pass set Nicky Rawlinson away and suddenly King’s were in the shadow of the Gosport posts. Thomas Cobb tried his luck, as did Luke Minors, then Will Slater, before Thomas Cobb reappeared for a second time in the move to double his tally for the day, Gareth Stoppani with the extras; 25-13. King’s continued to press and with an hour played they achieved what they have managed only once at home in 2017, a try bonus point, the reward for a fine team move which was finished by Tom Smith who having collected the ball on the right wing 30 metres out, cut back in and arrowed his run past three would-be tacklers to dot down under the posts from where Gareth Stoppani (Gosport’s MOM nomination) could not miss; 32-13.
With just ten minutes to go (eighteen were eventually played) and a home win looking increasingly likely Gosport showed they had no intention of going quietly as they upped the physicality and directness of their play and their reward came as they forced a way over from close range for a second converted try; 32-20. In time added on both teams scored again, King’s from a penalty which saw the visitors’ blindside sin-binned (35-20), and Gosport in the last play as their No.8 got his second try from a tap penalty move; 35-27.
Ultimately King’s can look back with satisfaction on another win, a bonus point and some incisive attacking rugby. From 1-18 everyone contributed conspicuously so it is perhaps a little unfair to single players out but there were good debuts from both Nicky Rawlinson and Joseff Edwards, David Lawson was a nuisance and Brett Williams was strong in the loose and tight work. That said, there remains room for significant improvement in terms of defensive discipline, closing games out and adapting to referees and their inevitable idiosyncrasies. For Gosport they will perhaps feel they deserved to go home with something to show for their efforts and doubtless missing out by a just one point on a LBP will rankle. When King’s go to the coast in January Gosport will surely be keen to avenge today’s result and Winter weather may mean it’s a very different game.
There is now a week off for some sore bodies to recover before the league resumes in a fortnight as King’s travel to Eastleigh. The last time they met, in 2013-14, the clubs were in London 3SW, and that season King’s ‘did the double’ over the Hampshire side winning 11-3 at home and 24-38 away in a campaign which saw the Old Boys finish second having lost just once. Eastleigh have remained at Level 8 since that time before being promoted up as runners-up to Farnham in 2016-17. After getting the better of Effingham on match-day one Eastleigh are yet to taste victory again but will be keen to get back to winning ways when King’s come calling.
Tries: Gareth Stoppani, Thomas Cobb x 2, Tom Smith
Conversions: Gareth Stoppani x 3
Penalties: Gareth Stoppani x 3