Tryfest At The O.K. Corral
The gunfight may only have lasted 30 seconds but it left 3 men dead, Old King’s suffered a far slower more painful demise as a disabling mix of injuries and cards saw them eventually overwhelmed.
After having twice been postponed owing to snow covered pitches, at last Twickenham were able to make the short journey to Motspur Park for the final fixture of the season for both sides. After 21 games the clubs playing records were all but identical, King’s having W14 L7 and their visitors W13 D1 L7. For most of the season King’s had trailed ‘Ts’ who looked all but assured to finish third, but an end of season wobble which has seen them win just one of their last four games meant that the teams had swapped places last weekend as King’s inflicted a first home defeat on Camberley. Whilst there was no prize money or higher accolade at stake both teams were eager to sign off 2017-18 with a win and secure a podium finish.
The personnel selection from last week’s victorious outing showed three alterations in the pack as Joe Mason missed his first game since round 2, replaced by Jonny Kiddle, Sam Young absence saw Rory Buckingham at lock, and in the back row James Shaw returned in place of Greig Blackie. There were an equal number of changes amongst the three-quarters as Luke Minors went back to 12 from the left wing where Gareth Stoppani, recently returned from the Commonwealth Games, made a welcome appearance. Joseff Edwards place at 13 was taken by Guy TYLER and on the right wing Josh Dhillon came back into the starting XV for an injured Will Kibblewhite. With a good crowd gathered and hopes for some entertaining rugby high, at 1458 the lights turned green.
The game began at a pace worthy of a ‘classic’ Le Mans start as the players dashed across the turf, but it appeared King’s brains were still in neutral as with their very first attack Twickenham’s left wing popped up on the right and from 40m out barrelled a way through three tackles to power his way to line; 0-5. To their credit King’s did not allow this early setback to derail them too badly, and it was they who struck next as a period of pressure saw them close on the T’s line before a trademark Kristian Cook miss-pass found Josh Dhillon who dotted down, Gareth Stoppani converting; 7-5. Regrettably the first of King’s various misfortunes on the day befell them moments later as Nicky Rawlinson suffered a serious knee ligament injury was forced to withdraw, James Radcliff into the fray.
Perhaps a little distracted by the unpleasant sight of a team mate obviously in distress, it was no great surprise that it was Twickenham who scored next, as a lineout was driven over from close range; 7-10. The period that followed was in many ways a portent of what was to come as King’s pressed their visitors and sought to keep the tempo high. Increasingly King’s were to be frustrated though as the referee took growing exception to the hosts’ attempts to turn ball over, and adjudged time and again that the Old Boys were at the only ones transgressing in contact and issued a team warning. Alas his words were not heeded, and soon after Brett Williams was saw yellow for a ruck infringement. With a prop in the bin and their front-row substitute on his way to A&E King’s could have legitimately opted for temporarily uncontested scrums, but instead flanker Barry Williams graciously agreed to step forward to hook with Thomas Cobb taking a step out of his comfort zone and going to loosehead, as Jonny Kiddle moved to tighthead.
Somewhat inevitably the disruption and diminution of numbers was punished by Twickenham as their inside centre cut a smart angle for his side’s third try; 7-15. Once restored to their full compliment however things took a turn for the better as far as the home side were concerned as the usually unmistakable silhouette of Guy TYLER was able to ghost his way past his doppelgänger to the line under the posts from where Gareth Stoppani added the extras; 14-15. A busy half was not done though as in the last play of the first forty King’s exerted more pressure and Twickenham were ultimately outflanked allowing Gareth Stoppani to add a try to his personal tally.
Whilst at the culmination of the Andover match report a fortnight ago your correspondent had anticipated an ‘end to end’ game against Camberley, it seems that prediction was out by a power of 7 days, as evidently this encounter was quickly shaping up to be far more of a basketball match than that one was. Both teams were well on their way to a try bonus point, the sun was shining and aside from a couple of slightly mischievous, and unpunished, episodes of foul play – a trip from King’s and two tip-tackles from Twickenham – the game was being played in the spirit one would hope of a last day clash. Sadly it seemed that the only person not in the mood for a party was the arbiter as with just two minutes on the second half clock and play innocuously rooted in midfield, he was satisfied he has seen a slap-down and packed off Robert Parker to the naughty step. Undeterred by the second reduction in their numbers it was to be King’s who were next to strike, centre Luke Minors matching the exploits of his opposite man as he hit an aggressive line to secure the TBP. Gareth Stoppani stretched the lead to 11pts; 26-15.
At this stage, as Twickenham were later to acknowledge, there was little doubt that King’s were firmly in the driving seat. The visitors had had their end of season dinner the previous evening and it seemed that just maybe they had enjoyed the occasion too much as the energy of some of their larger operators seemed to be waning. Their fortunes were soon to change though. A break from Josh Dhillon had the men in black and red scrambling in defence but as the diminutive winger was bundled rather unceremoniously into touch the referee determined King’s had prevented a quick lineout and awarded a penalty. Suddenly it was the hosts’ turn to defend and before anyone knew it Mr Constant was in his pocket for a third time, on this occasion issuing Brett Williams with a second yellow, which of course meant red, and so King’s were temporarily down to 13.
The home side took a moment to draw breath, and once Robert Parker was back on the pitch, went on the offensive once more, Tom Dugarin, Kristian Cook, Gareth Stoppani and Josh Dhillon linking well from a Will Slater quick lineout and almost going the length of the pitch for what would have been a magnificent score. King’s saw to it that there were not to leave the Twickenham half empty handed though and from a short lineout Thomas Cobb found James Shaw who carried play into the visitors’ 22. Before T’s defence had chance to realign Kristian Cook shimmied and stepped his way to the whitewash. Gareth Stoppani ensured the maximum return; 33-15.
With less than a quarter of the allotted time to play, an 18pt lead, and down to 14 men, King’s could have opted for some pragmatic play to wind the clock down. This is, however, not the King’s way and instead, now with John Walton and Neil Williams on in the place of James Shaw and Josh Dhillon respectively, they continued to keep the pace unrelenting with sporadic attempts at the extravagant. This high stakes strategy immediately came at a cost as Twickenham secured their own TBP and added their first conversion of the day; 33-22. Still King’s pressed, but they were about to encounter an adversity even they cannot have anticipated as a fourth ‘technical’ yellow card was produced by the referee, this one waved at flanker turned hooker Barry Williams. King’s now had just two front row left and had no choice but to go uncontested, and because this had come to pass because of a card, as opposed to an injury, King’s were obliged to remove a further player for the duration of the sin-bin which was to exceed the remainder of the game, Neil Williams the unfortunate sacrificial lamb.
Regrettably, it was now simply a case of how many points Twickenham would score as the 15 v 12 was essentially a training game – one which is really only fun if you’re on the attacking team. Not that they needed any favours, Twickenham got one, as Luke Minors, who has enjoyed an excellent season, saw a kick squirt off the side of his boot with the ball landing squarely in the grateful arms of the Twickenham left wing who steamed down the channel where Neil Williams would have been to score. The conversion was good; 33-29. The question was could the hosts possibly cling on to their slender lead for just a few minutes more? The answer was no, as once again King’s simply ran out of numbers on the right and one of the visitors’ substitutes sauntered in for the coup de grâce, which his scrum-half improved. One restart and, fittingly, one more ruck penalty later, Twickenham thumped the ball dead to bring down the curtain on the game and the season.
A 34 point first half, a 35 point second half, on the face of it the game had everything supporters of either side, or for that matter the neutrals in the crowd, could have wanted. It is only a shame that the last ten minutes degenerated if not quite into farce, certainly into a rather lopsided contest. Still that was no fault of Twickenham’s they did well to take their chances and showed plenty of heart to record a win which must have felt improbable with an hour played. We shall look forward to locking horns with them once again in 2018-19 and both teams seek to match or ideally improve their 3rd and 4th place league standings.
So, after 22 games the dust has finally settled and King’s can reflect on a more than satisfactory season. Their fourth place finish is the highest they have recorded in the league since bonus points were introduced, surpassing their 5th place in 2014-15. The last time they came 4th was 2006-07 when 11 wins were set against 1 draw and 10 losses, so this campaign in terms of victories has been even better again. A full review will follow in due course, so in the meantime we say thank you to the 45 players who have pulled on 1XV shirts, the coaches, support staff, those who have travelled home and away to cheer the team on, and to you the readers. We look forward to seeing you on the 16th June at the King’s Rugby Summer Party to celebrate what has been an enjoyable year from the 1XV right down to the U6s.
Tries: Josh Dhillon, Guy TYLER, Gareth Stoppani, Luke Minors, Kristian Cook
Conversions: Gareth Stoppani x 4