Don’t Stop Me Now
In a week when Queen were once again box office news at the cinema, in a quiet corner of SW London King’s were busy breaking records of their own.
The season could not have started any better for King’s in London 2SW in 2018 with a maximum 35pts achieved and with some notable scalps already having been taken home and away. Not since 2013-14 have the club enjoyed such a rich vein of form when 14 successive wins were recorded on the way to promotion from London 3SW. Hoping to prevent King’s getting closer to approaching anything like that tally were visitors Twickenham who started their season strongly with three wins and a draw, but have found the last three rounds a little more challenging with two away defeats divided by a high scoring home win. Notwithstanding this recent hiccough, with three wins in four over their hosts King’s had every reason to wary of the team from Parkfields.
Changes to the side which prevailed at Farnham were restricted almost exclusively to the three-quarters. Out went Kristian Cook, Tom Dugarin, Chris du Toit and Luke Minors and in their place came George Jones who moved up from full-back to fly-half, George Taylor and Will Nelson were the new centre paring and on the right wing former skipper Patrick Smith made his second appearance. Elsewhere Matt Young made the step-up from the bench for his first 1XV start, Ed Forshaw making space for him at No.8 by moving to the other wing and in so doing allowed Gareth Stoppani to reclaim the No.15 shirt he favours. On the bench Tom Cobb was back for the first time since Effingham and Jack Griffin since Gosport. The man in the middle was Will Foster and satisfied all was in order he waved proceedings under way at the earlier time of 1430 on a glorious afternoon.
The early exchanges set the tone for the first half at least as the teams vied for possession and territory, neither lacking for ambition. With just five minutes on the watch King’s won a penalty for not releasing which Will Slater took quickly, his pass to Gareth Stoppani who was halted by a high tackle. Another penalty, again tapped swiftly this time by the fouled player and Twickenham could only look on as he opened the scoring although he was unable to improve his own try; 5-0. If the visitors were disappointed to be behind they didn’t dwell on it and had much the better of the ensuing period and were duly rewarded with a try following a break and a couple of smart offloads. Their kicker didn’t miss; 5-7.
Whether they realised it or not, King’s had not trailed in a game since 15th September when London Exiles led 7-17 before they were reeled in. On this occasion King’s were back in the lead within ten minutes, but not before being made to work for it as a period of sustained pressure was manfully resisted by Twickenham, but eventually they were outflanked and Patrick Smith claimed the unconverted score; 10-7. Not ones for resting on their laurels, or at least not recently, King’s kept pushing and when Will Slater then Matt Young (Twickenham's MOM choice) carried the ball to within feet of the line it seemed easier to score than not, but somehow the Old Boys contrived to make the easy difficult and the chance looked to have passed. However, home supporters need not have been too despondent as on a sudden Twickenham made life harder for themselves as an act of retaliation, or so the openside claimed, saw him confined to the sin-bin for a strike to the head of a King’s player. King’s opted for the scrum and Matt Young barged over for a try on his debut which Gareth Stoppani improved; 17-7.
The visitors endured the reduction in their numbers adeptly, playing sensibly whilst they awaited the miscreant’s return and suffered no more hardship. Just as it looked like perhaps the scoring was concluded for the half King’s launched a lineout drive some 30m out. The Twickenham eight does not want for ballast but the drive was irresistible and Joe Mason emerged last from the pile of bodies when the maul crossed the line. Gareth Stoppani was on target once more in the last action of the first period.
For the fifth time this campaign King’s had secured a first half try-bonus point and aside from a sprinkling of individual errors and a slightly wayward lineout, albeit both sides were affected on a gusty day, the game was by and large going to plan. As Twickenham would later concede the fourth try had been something of a blow to the solar plexus, but they would presumably have been reminded that they had come back from a 33-15 deficit just 7mths earlier to win 33-36 so a reversal in fortunes was not unheard of. Perhaps having had their fingers burned in such spectacular fashion on the final day of last season King’s were determined not to allow a repeat, and with ten minutes played they were the next to score, replacement hooker Tom Cobb hitting his jumper with his first touch, Joe Mason claiming another try as the pack powered over; 29-7.
It seemed now that there was little doubt about the outcome of the game, but their remained plenty about how the scoreline might stand when all was said and done. As it transpired things once more became harder for Twickenham when their left winger, perhaps harshly, was to see yellow for a tackle before retreating 10m from another speedily taken penalty. King’s nearly punished their visitors further but a handling error saw a reprieve granted. Alas for Twickenham if it’s not your day, it really isn’t your day, and when their fly-half attempted to punt clear from inside his 22 he did so too close to George Jones whose quick reactions saw the ball plucked from the air, and two passes later Will Nelson strolled over for try number six. This time Gareth Stoppani was back on target - as indeed he was with each and every remaining kick; 36-7. By now the blood was very much in the water and King’s began to feed like sharks in need of a good meal and next to the feast was Joe Mason who, from another relentless maul, completed his hat-trick; 43-7.
The contest then briefly degenerated into a looser phase with Twickenham frustrated and becoming somewhat preoccupied with trying to impose their brawn to the detriment of their rugby, and King’s overcomplicating matters with increasingly intricate running lines and ambitious passes. It took a piece of brilliant skill to interrupt this pattern, Brodie Wilson winning a turnover then flicking a sumptuous reverse pass whilst taking contact to set Matt Young free, the No.8 outstripping the defence from 35m out to bring up the half-century; 50-7. Having set his team-mate up it was Brodie Wilson’s turn next, another speedy attack seeing him score his second in as many weeks; 57-7. The last try of the day started from a scrum inside the King’s half, as from first phase ball the King’s backs were too illusive for a by now dispirited opposition but George Taylor was not in the mood for mercy; 64-7. Just two minutes remained but they were of little consequence, before Mr Foster called time on a 47min half.
For Kings this was performance proved something of statement of intent, falling behind but then putting 59 unanswered points on against a team that does not lack for ability or physicality. Twickenham were not at their best today and will perhaps be grateful for the upcoming rest week to recalibrate and revitalise before they go again. There is little doubt that once they do so they will once more be pushing teams in the top half and King’s are under no illusions that their opposition today will be out to redress the balance when the rematch comes round in March.
So a blank league weekend now as attention turns to Twickenham stadium rather than Twickenham RFC and those clubs involved in the RFU cup competitions do battle on the 10th. Seven days later King’s will make their shortest away trip of the season as they go all of a mile to Old Emanuel, a club whose 2XVs know each other well but who have not played a competitive 1XV fixture since 2004-05. Having been promoted last season OEs took a while to find their feet at level 7 with just one win from their first five games, but three victories since then suggest they have now most definitely done so. With King’s playing such expansive rugby – 52 tries in 8 games – and with the playing surface at Blagdons reportedly excellent it would seem another exhilarating clash may well await.
Tries: Gareth Stoppani, Patrick Smith, Matt Young x 2, Joe Mason x 3, Will Nelson, Brodie Wilson, George Taylor
Conversions: Gareth Stoppani x 7