What’s The Soup Du Jour?
Turns out revenge served cold was the dish of the day in SW13 as London Exiles got ahead and never looked back as King’s struggled to find any sort of rhythm down by the Thames.
With 2017’s end of year festivities and accompanying excess firmly behind them, for the third season in succession King’s made their January pilgrimage to their nearest neighbours in L2SW, London Exiles. Formed in 1989 Exiles favour a Barbarian style of rugby and have steadily worked their way up to Level 7 where they have remained since 2015 finishing 3rd and 6th in the last two campaigns respectively. It’s fair to say that in Barnes at least they have been something a banana skin (or should that be a goose dropping) on which King’s have proved susceptible to slipping, going down 24-18 and 18-3 on their last two visits. Exiles came into the game with an impressive home record, P5 W4 L1 – that solitary loss coming against Farnham in September, but along the way the scalps of Twickenham and Camberley have been taken. King’s had beaten Exiles 24-22 in the reverse fixture, that game as close as the score suggests, and Exiles would surely not have forgotten this.
As has been the case for the majority of the season thus far King’s were able to field a broadly familiar XV with just two changes made since the last outing versus Old Tonbridgians. James Shaw made way for Jonathan Vermont in the back row, and James Brooks appeared for the first time in 2017-18 as scrum-half Will Slater continues to recover from injury. With referee Paul Clayton satisfied all was in order – his job made easier by virtue of the pitch (and posts) being about two-thirds the size of a full size one – at 2pm the action commenced.
The opening moments were remarkable only for a prolonged bout of kicking, some good, some indifferent, and King’s being awarded, then promptly losing, two line-outs on their own throw. More of that to come. In the first incursion of note, with just 4mins gone, one of the Exiles loose forwards sidled his way through some non-existent midfield defence and his team-mates were on hand when the offload came to crash up to the line. With the defence in disarray the home 10 ambled over for a score under the posts which was converted; 7-0. A far from ideal start, but the hope was that the ease with which the try had been ceded might shock the visitors into action. As it transpired two kickable penalties were won, the first for offside the second for not releasing, but neither strike was successful. Exiles had had a reprieve and were quick to capitalise as their scrum-half scampered up-field before his left winger carried the ball on, the latter releasing the fly-half to saunter in for his second of the day 14-0. King’s woe was compounded with concession of a three more points meaning the Exiles tally soon matched the minutes played; 17-0.
If it was a challenge they wanted then the old boys certainly had one. To their credit King’s did strike next, after pushing play deep into the Exiles 22, Will Nelson chipped over the top and successfully chased his own kick to open the visitors’ account. Gareth Stoppani was on target with the extras; 17-7. Whilst barely into the second quarter, in truth little else really happened. There was a moment of light relief as one of the Exiles amused all gathered trying to dummy a 22 drop-out but instead inadvertently connected with his own feigned kick, Rory Buckingham the grateful recipient stood about 3ft in front of the embarrassed protagonist. Alas it was almost his last act as a back injury curtailed his day, James Shaw on in his place.
Otherwise, the clock simply ran down, although Exiles were lucky (whether they realised it at the time or not) to get away with a dangerous charge on Brett Williams as he jumped to catch a Garryowen, the attacker clearing the prop out in the air with a tackle round the waist whilst the ball was not in the metaphorical frame. The referee extended his arm to indicate a penalty, then thought better of it and allowed play to continue. He should have trusted his instinct, but fortunately Brett was not badly hurt and was able to continue after a short break in play. Soon after oranges were called for (albeit conspicuous by their absence).
Whilst three tries had been scored in the first half neither team had truly hit their straps and the game exuded more than a whiff of vintage port and a quintet of British cheese being sweated out. King’s had arguably been sharper around the contact area, but Exiles were making plentiful headway in the loose, the scrums were even and accordingly the outcome of the game was far from clear. Urged to ramp up the intensity King’s answered the call, a fine kick from Gareth Stoppani earning huge yardage. Exiles were struggling to get out of their 22 and became increasing desperate and unsubtle in defence, Mr Clayton’s patience eventually running out with the award of a penalty, although his cards, somewhat generously it might be said, stayed in his pocket. King’s went for the corner, but a line-out that has largely been as good as any in the league to date was inaccurate and the danger passed. Two minutes later King’s were presented with an identical opportunity, but again, sadly, the set-piece malfunctioned.
Exiles had been under the pump since the whistle and remained so for another 15mins, Joseff Edwards doing well to put the Exiles full-back under pressure whilst attempting to kick clear, Peter Januszewski and Daniel Staunton carrying forcefully, Jonathan Vermont bristling with belligerence; but time and again King’s conspired to be their own worst enemies turning ball over with unforced errors putting pay to their hard work. Having soaked up the pressure, like a coiled spring Exiles suddenly hit back as a neat blindside move set free their replacement hooker for a unhindered run in; 22-7. This was something of a sucker punch as it proved, and things could have been worse when from the ensuing restart King’s were penalised for playing the catcher in the air, the irony not wasted on supporters of the away team. Exiles manoeuvred their way into the King’s half, winning another penalty for an imagined kick of the ball in a ruck, but for once the defence stood firm and the hosts were repelled.
With a shade over ten minutes to play there was still a hope, however modest, that King’s might salvage something from the game and Tom Smith did his best to find it, a meandering run seeing him evade several tacklers before he was snared. Exiles conceded a penalty at the ensuing breakdown and King’s opted for the line-out which was, inevitably given what had gone before, lost. Once again Exiles wasted no time in leap-frogging their way back up the pitch, their No.8 carrying strongly from the base of a scrum and with all eyes on the ensuing breakdown Exiles replacement 9 lofted a delightful kick across the pitch which his right winger collected before putting the pedal down to round his man and record a fine opportunist try; 27-7. A miserable day was not done alas, as five minutes later slick handling culminating in a mis-pass set free the Exiles outside centre who, after eluding his would-be tackler, had an otherwise untroubled route to the whitewash; 32-7.
Despite there being notionally only a minute left to play, in reality far longer was as King’s chanced their arm one more time attacking deep into Exiles’ territory. Once again Exiles infringed at the ruck and the referee duly indicated an advantage, so when King’s lost not less than 20m courtesy of a misplaced pass, and some aggressive defence, they awaited the whistle to sound. It never did of course as the advantage, together with any King’s hopes of a consolation score, inexplicably evaporated away. In the final play both teams threw the ball around as if it were a ‘golden score’ scenario but they were tired, it was messy, and eventually a King’s knock-on rather appropriately brought down the curtain.
So that was that. Frustration was prevalent throughout as King’s were let down by their own shortcomings as much as anything and on the day, crucially, they just couldn’t translate such pressure as they could muster into scores. That said if games versus King’s are anything to go by Exiles have seemingly cornered the market in L2SW for taking points out of their opponents’ half, irrespective of the frequency of their visits, which is a skill in itself and makes them formidable adversaries, especially at Barn Elms. They scored some cracking tries on the day and ran out deserving winners, we wish them well in their remaining games.
There is no rest weekend and efforts must be redoubled to ensure one loss does not become two - Effingham and Leatherhead the visitors this weekend. The Eagles recorded the upset of the round as they toppled 3rd place Twickenham 20-7, and gave their chances of avoiding relegation, and doubtless their morale generally, a welcome boost. E&L ran out 22-34 victors on their most recent trip to Motspur Park to dodge the trapdoor to Level 8 last time out, and King’s will have to raise their performance level significantly if they are to get themselves back to winning ways against a motivated side.
Tries: Will Nelson
Conversions: Gareth Stoppani