Any Way The Wind Blows
King’s make it five successive wins as they prevail in the face of all that Storm Brian and Eastleigh combined can throw at them.
A fortnight after overcoming Gosport & Fareham, visitors King’s faced another of the Hampshire sides in L2SW, this time in the form of newly promoted Eastleigh. ‘Es’ or ‘Leigh’ to their supporters have had a challenging start to their Level 7 campaign, a win over Effingham & Leatherhead (9-3) on the first weekend has thus far been their only one to date, although they did manage two BPs in defeat against G&F in game week 2. It’s not just league points that have proved elusive, scoring generally has been problematic with just 14 points ‘for’ in three home fixtures versus 84 conceded. That said, they made Twickenham work hard for their 26-5 win last time out and King’s stepped from the bus knowing their hosts would surely be out to right a few wrongs.
Selection was a welcome headache this week with availability, injuries notwithstanding, perhaps as good as it has been all season. The pack showed just two changes, Dan Staunton was not risked, his more than capable replacement was Sam Young; and at No.8 Greig Blackie moved to the bench to accommodate returning Barry Williams. The backline was similarly stable, just two alterations were made with Max Morgan retaking his place on the left wing whilst Calum Williams came in at 12. Matthew Scott and Neil Williams made up the travelling 18. With the referee content all was in order, as the clock struck three it was King’s who kicked things off.
With weather overhead initially fairly benign given what had been threatened, some of the ambivalence in the conditions was reflected in a rather insipid start to the proceedings. Whilst King’s were, as ever, keen to run the ball they made little headway in trying. By contrast Eastleigh decided that they would not attempt such adventure and instead use the prevailing wind to kick to the corner. The home side’s first driven lineout was a thing of forceful beauty as they made plentiful ground and were eventually, inevitably, awarded a penalty. They immediately tried to repeat the trick however for the first but by no means the last time, Peter Januszewski saw to it that their lineout ball was spoiled. Eastleigh didn’t have to wait much longer though as a penalty for a ruck infringement allowed them to kick themselves into the lead; 3-0. They could have been further ahead 5mins later but a second penalty attempt drifted harmlessly wide.
With 30mins played and having spent most of the half defending, King’s slowly started to string some phases together and a subtle but perceptible change the momentum ensued. Sure enough the penalties came and with 36 on the clock a kickable opportunity presented itself, but the normally reliable Gareth Stoppani scuffed his strike. King’s stayed on the offensive and after Peter Januszewski stole another throw, King’s won two successive penalties, both kicked to the corner. For the second time in succession David Lawson rose imperiously at the tail of the lineout to grasp Thomas Cobb’s accurate throw, and the customary drive followed. Although Eastleigh succeeded in collapsing the maul on their line, they could not deny Thomas Cobb who was steering the King’s chariot from the rear and he duly touched down. The conversion was missed, so at the break King’s held a slender two point lead; 3-5.
Whilst Eastleigh retreated out of the Autumnal squall into the shelter of the changing rooms, King’s stayed out to analyse a challenging first half. Whilst possession had been fairly evenly shared, Eastleigh had certainly had the better of the territory but with the wind this was no great shock and King’s would have the benefit of the gusting breeze in the second forty. As it transpired the visitors were to waste no time in pressing home this advantage, as a series of attacking lineouts inside the opposition 22 set the tone. Whilst Eastleigh countered for all they were worth the pressure was mounting and with King’s playing a penalty advantage, the hosts’ tighthead pulled another maul to ground less than 5m from the line. The referee did not produce a yellow card but did award another penalty and from the next surge Eastleigh could do no more as Barry Williams broke though. Whilst the Hampshire boys appealed, presumably more in hope than expectation, for a double movement the referee adjusted his position and took a close look before confirming the score; 3-10. The conversion looked good, but only one linesman raised his flag and so the referee felt unable to award the extras.
The energy which the hosts were now having to invest in defence appeared, perhaps unsurprisingly, to have a sapping effect as the home side grew noticeably slower to their feet each time they emerged from contact. King’s were not in the mood for mercy however and soon after Gareth Stoppani got his first points from the tee; 3-13. The visitors’ tails were firmly up and it came as little surprise that they were the next to score, a proficient sequence of phases provided Tom Smith with space on the right and as he did last Saturday the winger cut inside the first man, rode the tackle of a second and outstripped the remaining defenders. Gareth Stoppani did the necessary to push King’s into a 17pt lead; 3-20.
There remained over a quarter of the match left to play during which Eastleigh sought to shorten and tighten their approach getting their big men on the ball, whilst King’s searched for a fourth try. In reality little of note happened for much of the time until with 7mins to play Eastleigh’s direct tactics finally paid dividend as their amply proportioned tighthead prop was able to stretch out and inch the ball onto the leading edge of the whitewash. An easy conversion added two more; 10-20. The hosts were not done though and in the last play were awarded a penalty. With no other credible option they pointed to the posts and the best kick of the day gave them the losing bonus point they sought; 13-20.
Whilst King’s were ultimately frustrated in their pursuit of a try BP to put the cherry on an away win cake, they can reflect with legitimate pride at least on certain aspects of the performance. The scrum, against significantly heftier opponents, more than held its own; the lineout, both attacking and defensive, was superb; and to leak just three points with the wind in their faces was testament to the quality of the rear-guard action they mustered. The pack (and subs) can look back on a job well done in a game when they were powerful in attack, Barry Williams at his abrasive best, and combative in defence, Joe Mason and David Lawson prominent throughout. The backs hassled and harried but found their chances limited, although Joseff Edwards defended well and Tom Smith took his try confidently. As ever there remains room to improve, for a second week in a row they have leaked points to a team who were essentially beaten, 14 to G&F and 10 to Eastleigh – such loss of focus will cost them dear when the margins are slimmer.
Having overcome five sides in the lower half of the league, now King’s must prepare for their arguably toughest challenge to date as undefeated table-toppers Old Reigatian visit Motspur Park. OR got the better of King’s twice last season and this campaign they have achieved 29pts from a maximum 30, their solitary point dropped in overcoming Twickenham 12-0 this weekend. That said, King’s, who now sit third, go into the clash as the second place team on form so a true top of the table clash awaits – not one to miss!
Tries: Thomas Cobb, Barry Williams, Tom Smith
Conversions: Gareth Stoppani
Penalties: Gareth Stoppani