Close, But No Cigar
Despite a valiant second half effort, King’s are made to pay for an error-strewn performance which sees them suffer their first away league defeat of the season as a six match winning run come to an end.
Having got the better of Old Reigatian in what was a compelling albeit bruising game seven days ago, this week the 1XV made one the shorter journeys in L2SW as they visited Twickenham RFC. Third placed ‘Ts’ had lost just twice this season, away at London Exiles (27-33) and then to Old Reigatian (0-12), but at home they had an unblemished record having achieved a maximum 20pts from four games, scoring 146pts and leaking just 49. Both games between the clubs last season were well contested, King’s winning 18-30 at Parkfields before Twickenham got their revenge with a 16-13 victory at Motspur Park as they went on to finish 5th in their first season back at level 7 following relegation from London 1 South in 2015-16.
On the playing front adjustments were required across the team as last week’s exertions and unavailability bit. In the back row out went an injured David Lawson and an absent Sam Young, replaced by Rory Buckingham (first appearance since week 1) and James Shaw promoted to the openside, with Harry Wakefield moving across to No.8. The half-back pairing was an all-new combination of James Sharpe back for his first game since September, and centre Luke Minors pressed into action at fly-half. Outside them one further alteration was required, ex-captain Patrick Smith returning for the concussed Max Morgan. Another former club captain Jonny Kiddle, Alistair Cooper and Barry Williams made up the bench. With a good size and very vocal crowd assembled, and shorter days upon us, it was at 2.30pm that the whistle blew.
Kicking off with a modest breeze behind them King’s moved straight into the home 22, and were to remain there for much of the opening period although with just 5mins on the clock was stopped as an unfortunate but wholly innocent clash of knee-on-head saw a break in play as the dazed Twickenham No.8 had to be helped from the field. Once back under way Harry Wakefield caught the hosts cold as he scythed through the midfield before unselfishly offloading to James Shaw but alas his pass to Patrick Smith went to ground with the line begging. Twickenham’s resistance was robust but they continued to struggle to get out their half for any length of time and with 16 gone conceded a penalty for a high-tackle. The kick, although well struck, was to fly wide.
King’s luck was not to improve as in their first meaningful attack, Twickenham won a penalty, kicked for the corner and promptly drove the lineout over for a converted score; 7-0. Back came King’s and penalties began to flow against the men in red and black, but points remained elusive as time again often unforced mistakes undid them. Substitutions on both sides were to follow as King’s swapped on Alistair Cooper and Barry Williams for Thomas Cobb and James Shaw who needed to be patched up, whilst for Twickenham their tighthead’s day was over as he left clutching injured ribs. The disruption seemed to affect the hosts more than their visitors and soon after a determined surge from Daniel Staunton saw him crashing over, Gareth Stoppani adding the extras; 7-7
With forty minutes played took a turn for worse as skipper and loosehead Joe Mason was the recipient of a ‘team yellow’ and Twickenham duly kicked the ensuing penalty clear and sought to put the squeeze on a depleted King’s scrum close to the old boys’ line. In what transpired to be the last play Barry Williams was sacrificed in order to allow prop Brett Williams to re-join the fray, and the numerical advantage told as Twickenham unfurled a well-rehearsed backs’ move which saw their winger charge through a midfield gap for a score close to the posts which was improved; 14-7
The first half has been an unsatisfactory one for King’s, full of imprecision and during which normally dependable facets of their game, not least handling and the lineouts, had been found wanting. Despite having had the lion share of the play they found themselves behind in the only way that matters, scoring, and it was up to the team to rectify it in the second period. Whilst the intention may have been there, the execution was not as with just four minutes gone Twickenham were kicking a penalty to extend their lead; 17-7. King’s were becoming exasperated and that frustration was exemplified in the concession of further, often unnecessary, penalties two of which were compounded by pointless back-chat to the official resulting in the loss of an extra 10m a time. Even when King’s got things right, there was seemingly no pleasing the man with the whistle as with Harry Wakefield having executed a text-book turnover and strip, Joe Mason was penalised for playing a ball now very obviously in open play. A further talking-to ensued and King’s really were up against it when the hosts’ full-back added three more to his side’s score; 20-7.
With the Twickenham side-line in full voice and playing into the wind and up the slope against a side unbeaten at home the visitors seemingly had it all to do. Things did improve a little for King’s as soon after an offside penalty gave Gareth Stoppani the chance to narrow the gap which he took; 20-10. Slowly King’s began to find gaps in a previously almost impenetrable defence, Gareth Stoppani coming closest as an arcing run saw him cut down just 5m out. King’s continued to ramp up the pressure and soon the Twickenham substitute back-row found himself on the receiving end of a yellow card for persistent team infractions. King’s sensed the moment was now and within moments lock Peter Januszewski reached out to plant the ball on the line, the conversion striking the post; 20-15.
There remained a quarter of hour or more, during which King’s did almost all they could do muster a further score, pushing the hosts progressively deeper into their 22, each attack getting King’s closer to the promised land of the Twickenham in-goal area. The penalty count rose dramatically as did the physicality and before long the home team’s skipper found himself confined to the bin, his team-mate having returned not much earlier and the sub was perhaps fortunate not to have gone for good when he soon after lifted James Sharpe through 90 degrees and dropped him on his shoulder, the referee electing to award just a penalty. Alas, despite all their spirited exertions Twickenham were not to be bettered and, perhaps fittingly, the game ended with a King’s knock-on.
All good things must come to an end, and so it was today for King’s as they came up a team who were just too obdurate to be broken down and showed an unwavering determination to maintain their unspoilt home record, their celebrations disclosing exactly how much that meant to them. Just as King’s had done to Old Reigatian last week, Twickenham took their chances effectively and defended with their backs to the wall despite a deficit in possession and territory. The teams remain third and fourth respectively now with identical playing records having won six and lost two, and we shall look forward to renewing acquaintances when they visit in March.
Whilst King’s were of course disappointed to have been edged out, there was no shame in losing to a good team and did at least have the consolation of a losing BP. As ever with just a week off King’s will need to regroup quickly as familiar opposition in the shape of Winchester RFC are the next visitors. The Hampshire side are having a disappointing season by their high standards, and sit 9th having won just twice. That said, with almost two-thirds of the season remaining there remains ample time for that to change, and King’s will not underestimate the challenge.
Tries: Daniel Staunton, Peter Januszewski
Conversions: Gareth Stoppani
Penalties: Gareth Stoppani