Pinch, Punch It’s The First Of The Month
Despite an often disjointed performance, and 30mins spent playing with 14 men, King’s find a way past their spirited hosts and record a tenth bonus-point win.
November had been a quiet month for rugby for both sides, just one game in the past three weekends with the Autumn Internationals and RFU Cup competitions taking precedence. Whilst the logic of having a break is sound, and there will have been no shortage of sore bodies across the league enjoying a rest, it does nothing for momentum and King’s were itching to get back into some sort of routine. For their part OR sat 2nd after round six with a healthy record of five wins, one loss and 24pts achieved. Regrettably for the Reigate GS alumni, the last three rounds have yielded just two more points as three loses to Eastleigh, Farnham and Twickenham had seen them slip to 6th. That said OR have certainly had the thin end of the wedge against King’s in recent meetings at Park Lane having won the last two encounters 30-17 and 31-15.
The team that made the trip to the foot of the North Downs was unusual in as far as the eighteen contained no new names for only the second time this campaign. That said, it was not all smooth sailing as the rail network conspired against prop Brett Williams meaning that he was not to arrive until 20mins after kick-off, King’s lucky to have former club captain Jonny Kiddle ready to step into the breach. Elsewhere Sam Young was listed for the first time since October whilst Ed Forshaw retuned to the pack after a month exiled in the threequarters. On the bench Luke Minors reappeared after a month away and was joined by the dynamic Greig Blackie who has enjoyed a stellar season in the 2XV to date. With many of majority of guests still finishing their excellent Christmas lunch, referee John Durkin wasted no time getting proceedings under way at promptly at 2pm.
Whilst supporters maybe have been slow exiting the clubhouse, the hosts were anything but lethargic in and within a few minutes of the start a grubber kick behind was hunted down by right winger Harrison Mitchell who opened the scoring; 5-0. Despite the setback King’s did not dwell on the early blow, Gareth Stoppani carrying the ball deep into OR territory, and a couple of deft offloads took play close to the line but scrambled defence was enough to snuff out the danger. Back came the home side and the pressure was beginning to mount as two penalties were conceded in quick succession and a warning issued. When a third penalty was awarded OR opted for a straightforward three points to extend their lead; 8-0.
With a quarter of the game gone King’s began to slowly find some of the tempo which has served them so well to date this season, albeit the greasy conditions were playing their part with neither side as slick as they would have wished. Eventually King’s were to make hay using a tactic which has served their hosts so well over the years, a lineout and driving maul splintering OR as Sam Young emerged clutching the ball; 8-5. From the restart the hosts once more began to manoeuvre themselves closer to the King’s line until a turnover stole the ball away from the hosts but when Kristian Cook went to kick clear, a green and blue arm got in the way as the ball ricocheted backwards. Eventually King’s did hack nearer touch but OR made a hash of what to do with the ball and ultimately conceded a lineout that should have been their own. One quick throw to George Taylor, a 60m burst from him and a couple of phases later and Gareth Stoppani plunged over in the corner; 8-10. Whether it was frustration, malice, or simply a brain fade OR’s Todd took the decision to drop his elbow onto the prone try scorer, his action prompting a retaliatory response from King’s Duncan Bucknell, both players duly sent to the bin. The conversion missed. In the time remaining the hosts had slightly the better of the proceedings but some unyielding defence, notably from Ali Cooper and Barry Williams amongst others, meant the King’s line stayed intact and in the last play when awarded a penalty OR decided to try their luck with what should have been an easy kick instead but alas for fly-half Floyd it wasn’t his day as the strike flew wide.
As the sides retreated from the mizzle into the changing rooms neither had much to celebrate, although King’s might have been marginally happier having leaked just one try, leading and knowing they would have the benefit if the wind such as it was in the second forty. Having succumbed to an injury niggle the interval proved the end for George Jones, Luke Minors coming on the wing with Gareth Stoppani slipping back to his natural habitat at fullback. The match was there for the taking, and as it transpired OR were to have the first chance of the half when they were awarded a penalty for the ruck offence, but the long-range attempt never came close to threatening the uprights and King’s were reprieved. Five minutes later Gareth Stoppani was given a chance to extended King’s lead and he made no mistake in doing so; 8-13.
From the restart Kristian Cook (OR’s MOM) sensibly twice nudged behind the OR defensive line and whilst King’s kick-chase was far from its best on the back of the second kick support for the full-back was slow arriving as King’s players outnumbered their hosts at the breakdown. With the ball clear of the ruck, No.8 Ed Forshaw stepped though, picked it up and outpaced the defence to cross under the posts from where Gareth Stoppani could not miss; 8-20. If those supporting the away side had thought OR might roll over they were to be disappointed as 'Rei' surged back and after mounting a threatening maul of their own Mr Durkin determined that Matt Young’s attempt to stop its progress was other than legal and once more produced his cards, this one essentially a ‘team’ yellow. With a man advantage OR attempted another shove the King’s pack could not resist the drive; 13-20.
The scoring was to continue its basketball cadence as, once resorted to fifteen, King’s were back in the ascendency, Chris du Toit carrying particularly strongly in this period on a day when every first-time tackler fell off the powerful winger. After a penalty kicked to the corner and a well-executed lineout, Kristian Cook used his boot to turn the OR defence around, but they were too slow in reacting and Will Nelson won the race to secure King’s bonus-point. Gareth Stoppani added a second conversion; 13-27. With ten left to play there was still more action, not all positive as far as King’s were concerned as for the third time the man with the whistle went to his pocket as Joe Mason was dispatched to the cooler. Down their third forward of the game OR once more took advantage of the diminution in numbers recording a try to close the gap; 18-27.
Play yo-yoed either side of the half-way in the time remaining, the most notable action taking place in what was to be the final play when despite OR apparently having gained the upper hand at a scrum were to concede a penalty, their frustration at the decision and presumably matters generally getting the better of them as they were marched back 20m for backchat. From the advanced position captain Will Slater pointed to the posts and Gareth Stoppani closed out proceedings; 18-30.
For a game with seven tries, nearly fifty points and which the outcome of which was far from certain it lacked any real spark and whilst there were some decent moments both sides will feel they could have done better. OR will point to some decisions which went against them and twelve points missed off the tee, but ultimately the visitors did to their hosts what in recent seasons OR have done so ruthlessly to King’s which is to take points efficiently when presented with the opportunity to do so. On reflection it was a job reasonably well done – once King’s got ahead they never relinquished the lead and spending nearly a half with 14 men will always make you easier to score against, and so it proved with two tries coming immediately after the issue of cards. When all is said and done any away win is a good one and especially when all five points are collected.
Next for King’s is the last of their ‘out-leg’ games as they welcome Old Cranleighans to Motspur Park. The sides have never met at Level 7, indeed 1XV fixtures between the clubs have been few and far between, the last ones coming in 2013-14 when King’s won narrowly twice, 15-8 at home and 10-13 away in L3SW. Like their fellow promoted side Old Emanuel, OCs had an uncertain start to life in L2SW with just one win (over OEs) recorded in their first seven games, but since then have won twice beating Eastleigh 25-22 before a convincing 33-0 victory over Twickenham at the weekend. Doubtless OCs will be wanting to continue their good form and King’s will have to find their rhythm quickly to avoid disappointment against the Thames Ditton side.
Tries: Sam Young, Gareth Stoppani, Ed Forshaw, Will Nelson
Conversions: Gareth Stoppani x 2
Penalties: Gareth Stoppani x 2