The Power And The Glory
A performance of controlled aggression from King’s is enough to subdue a below par Farnham side overwhelmed by King’s close-quarter dominance.
Fresh from a narrow 29-22 victory against third place Eastleigh seven days previous King’s embarked on a short foray to Surrey’s westernmost club, Farnham RUFC. Founded in 1975 when they parted company with near neighbours Alton, marking the end of Alton & Farnham RFC, the boys in black and white have gone from strength to strength and their clubhouse (opened in 2012) is surely the finest in the league. As regular readers will know, the clubs have gone toe-to-toe for several seasons now and the aggregate score of the last six fixtures is 104-107 in favour of King’s with four wins to the hosts’ two. Without a triumph at Wilkinson Way against King’s since January 2014 the home team were determined to make life uncomfortable for their visitors and break that particular hoodoo.
With the addition of Matt Young’s name, the 2018-19 1XV player clicker counter ticked over to 40 coming into the fixture, a couple of compelling performances for the 2XV good enough to see his name listed amongst the substitutes. Elsewhere Joe Mason returned to the front row with Dan Staunton reinstated in at lock after recovering from the illness that ruled him out last week. At scrum-half it was a first start of the season for Will Slater, George Jones dropping to full-back with Gareth Stoppani sliding out to the wing to accommodate the changes. Under clear skies and with a Wintery chill in the air, a minute before 3pm referee Michael Essam signalled his assent to begin.
Things started somewhat ominously for King’s as at very nearly if not very actually the first breakdown Joe Mason found himself penalised for what looked to be a perfectly legal attempt to contest the ball. Away supporters wondered if it was a portent of things to come. Those nerves were steadied slightly though as King’s were able to engineer a quick escape from their 22 having turned the ball over from a disrupted lineout. Regrettably, events were soon to take a sour turn for the hosts as Toby Salmon came off much the worse after going into a tackle on Brodie Wilson too upright, the awkward collision marking the last action for the fly-half with his brother Mike stepping in from 13 for the remainder of the day (with a MOM performance having done so). Whilst still adjusting to the new arrangement of personnel it was that man Brodie Wilson who was to ghost in under the posts for a try, his first for King’s, which Gareth Stoppani improved; 0-7.
The lead was to be held only briefly though as Farnham promptly worked their way to the other end, winning a penalty which was kicked to the corner. The hosts’ lineout worked as it should and a break from Salmon created sufficient disruption to allow centre James Corlett to force a way over with the extras duly added; 7-7. The next 10 minutes was well contested with a little ‘edge’ to matters evidence that neither side was in the market for taking a backward step, albeit with the exception of the scrum where Farnham were given little choice with the King’s eight flexing their collective muscle to make life uncomfortable for their counterparts – Brett Williams to the fore. It was to be another of the King’s tight five who was next to make headlines as the first of several successful driven lineouts elicited a score for Dan Staunton, the conversion striking the post; 7-12. Five minutes later and King’s repeated the trick, this time Joe Mason the man in possession as the whitewash was reached, and on this occasion Gareth Stoppani made no mistake; 7-19.
With the end of the half looming the hosts would surely have been keen to retreat to the changing sheds and give some thought about how they might adapt their game. King’s were not in the mood for mercy however and a strong carry from Chris du Toit pushed the visitors into the Farnham 22. The ball was recycled and King’s poured forward, Joe Mason breaking the line before offloading to his ABC club comrade Ali Cooper who saw to it that King’s would be leave with a try bonus point as a bare minimum; 7-24. Now playing time added on, George Jones who had spent the half largely idle at full-back joined the line and some adroit footwork proved too much for a bamboozled defence, Gareth Stoppani making no mistake from the tee.
It had been a near perfect half for the Old Boys, aside from one obvious blemish they had been in control of most facets of the game and were well placed to push on in the second forty. Farnham were plainly struggling, their long injury list hampering their usual flair and their largely untried pack unable to give their backs the platform their craved. The good news for the home side was that the early part of the second period was a significant improvement on the closing minutes of the first as the teams jostled for field position with Farnham having the thin end of the wedge. From a retreating scrum 5m out No.8 Rob Mitchell was able to scoop the ball clear, his pass to scrum-half Ollie Brown who in turn found winger Joe Wigmore who gleefully dived over for the opening score on the half. A fine strike as clean as a kicker could wish for from Salmon added two more; 14-31.
With half an hour left to play, another score for Farnham and it really would have been game on. As it was the truth of the matter was that for the next twenty minutes very little of substance happened at all. King’s rung the changes with Jonny Kiddle, Matt Young and Barry Williams on in place of Brett Williams, Rob Parker and Duncan Bucknell respectively – all of whom had enjoyed productive afternoons, not least Brett Williams who was to be awarded MOM for a powerful performance in the tight and loose phases of play. Whilst King’s had total dominance in the scrum with a steady stream of penalties forthcoming, field position was often squandered or attacks snuffed out by belligerent defence. Just once were the visitors able to convert pressure to points as Dan Staunton rose to secure lineout ball close to the Farnham line, Ed Forshaw claiming the try from the ensuing drive. The wind saw to it that the kick was to veer wide; 14-36.
With the proceedings looking destined to fizzle out like a damp sparkler, and many spectators’ more interested in warming up than watching on, King’s did manage to rouse themselves once more as a thunderous driven maul saw them assert their dominance in that aspect of the game for a final time, Joe Mason the beneficiary as he got his second, and a sixth for the forwards – no mean feat given the pack had managed only seven tries in six games to date; 14-41. Gareth Stoppani was unable to add any further gloss to the winning margin and there was no time for another chance to do so.
Both sides appeared deflated at the end albeit for different reasons perhaps, but the 7-10 score was indicative of a rather pedestrian and anticlimactic second half. Whilst of course King’s were pleased to achieve another 5pt win, especially away from home, the truth was that Farnham were under strength on the day and so whilst their threequarters showed flashes of what they were capable of, they were not able to put King’s under sustained pressure. When their off-games list eases they will no doubt be back mixing it with the best, and until then they may take solace that blooding their wider squad will surely stand them in good stead in the medium term.
Third and last in this tricky ‘mini-block’ of fixtures are Twickenham, victors over Farnham last week, this time out they succumbed at Old Emanuel 38-15. Last season the Parkfields side got the better of King’s twice, 20-15 then 33-36, and indeed in 2016-17 King’s won just once 18-30 before Twickenham redressed the balance with a 13-16 win in Motspur Park. Whilst the Middlesex side have stuttered this season they will want to consolidate their position and King’s will expect to be asked plenty of questions. In fairness thus far the side have come up with answers, and supporters will hope that continues for a little longer.
Tries: Brodie Wilson, Dan Staunton, Joe Mason x 2, Ali Cooper, George Jones, Ed Forshaw
Conversions: Gareth Stoppani x 3