Sunshine After The Rain
It was a day of stark contrast on the pitch and in the skies above, a dreary first half played out in increasingly heavy rain juxtaposed with a significantly brighter second forty as the clouds parted.
In the last home game of 2018 King’s were to welcome Old Cranleighan who made the short trip from their Thames Ditton base to face their hosts for the first time at Level 7. OCs were the winners of L3SW in 2017-18 gaining promotion with an impressive record of 20 wins in 22 games including 19 try bonus points and a healthy 989 in the points for column. Life in L2SW has proved rather more challenging with just three wins to date, but two of those have come in the last three weeks with Eastleigh and Twickenham downed 25-22 and 33-0 respectively. With a by and large settled side many of whom were in the class of 2006 at Cranleigh school there was plenty of reason to be wary of the of the visitors.
King’s squad had a broadly familiar look to it with only four changes to the starting XV who took to the field at Old Reigatian seven days earlier. In came Brett Williams, Brodie Wilson, Rob Parker and James Radcliff whilst Barry Williams, Matt Young, Will Nelson, Gareth Stoppani and Ed Forshaw all lined up in a different position. With the BBC weather app having made ill-founded assurances of a dry and mild afternoon, it was to the disappointment of all gathered as the rain started falling just as referee Dewald Swart put the whistle to his lips, but rugby is a game for all conditions as the afternoon was to evidence, more or less.
Put bluntly, the less said about the first half the better. Suffice to say notes were brief and centred on two yellow cards for King’s, one for a high tackle – from which OCs kicked a penalty to lead 0-3 – and the other following a penalty awarded for holding-on by King’s on one their rare forays into the OC’s 22. Once King’s were eventually restored to their full compliment the home side strung together perhaps their only genuinely cohesive passage of play which culminated in openside Brodie Wilson arriving at an unstoppable angle to reach the whitewash. Close to the posts the kick was an easy one for Gareth Stoppani; 7-3. King’s could, and probably should, have doubled their try tally just before the interval but some determined defence and wily breakdown tactics close to their line from OCs meant nothing had changed when a long, physical, half finally ended.
With the rain by now lashing down many of the spectators had seen enough from the touchline and retreated to the clubhouse to secure a spot by the windows to watch the remainder of the action. There was little to suggest that the second period would be any better than the first as the wind swirled and the precipitation intensified, but the teams had no choice but to retake the pitch as all gathered hoped for better things. Those hopes looked to be in vain during the opening exchanges but then a penalty was awarded to King’s and as Gareth Stoppani’s kick bisected the posts, so the downpour at last relented; 10-3.
On a sudden it were as if the first glimmer of sunshine had sparked the solar panels on the backs of the King’s players and things began to improve. Chris du Toit picked up where he had left off a week previous barrelling into contact knocking defenders to the floor on every occasion; Ed Forshaw ran hard in the heart of midfield; Barry Williams, Ali Cooper, Brett Williams and Joe Mason were getting through a mountain of work at the breakdown; locks Sam Young and Rob Parker were carrying aggressively in the loose and were pinching ball in the lineout; whilst Matt Young (OC’s MOM) tackled relentlessly all day. It was very much a day for the forwards and so it was fitting that that a low number should score next, Rob Parker claiming the touchdown from a powerful driven maul. Two more from Gareth Stoppani and the scoreline looked began to look a little healthier; 17-3.
A sprinkling of changes followed with Ali Cooper having to be withdrawn, Jonny Kiddle coming on in his place whilst Pete Januszewski joined the fray in the back row in place of Barry Williams. Soon after Will Kibblewhite also took to the field for an indirect swap with Rob Parker, his arrival prompting a further reshuffle with the versatile Ed Forshaw switching to No.8 to make space in the threequarters. Whether it was serendipity or coincidence, at the very next scrum the King’s pack promptly managed a seismic shunt towards and then over the OC’s line leaving Ed Forshaw to do the honours. Gareth Stoppani was again on target; 24-3. With the outcome now all but certain the question for the team and supporters was whether a bonus point was attainable in the time remaining? The answer was yes, but not before some very smart play specifically from Brodie Wilson who made an incisive break down the left flank and seeing defenders closing in calmly elected to chip ahead, the ball weighted perfectly allowing James Radcliff to steam past those around him to record the all important fourth try. For once the extras were missed; 29-3. There was to be no more scoring for either side before time was called and hot showers eagerly sought out.
This was a victory which tested King’s in a way that they had arguably not yet been examined in monsoon rain facing an opposition who ran unrelenting hard lines. The weather was atrocious at times, King’s played a quarter of the game with 14 men and the OCs were not just stubborn but had more than a handful of moments of their own and on the day were only let down by a lack of accuracy to finish what they often started. King’s dominated the tight phases in conditions where winning the collisions and securing first phase ball arguably proved the difference. OC’s more than played their part and were very gracious in defeat and whilst week on week results never cease to surprise in the L2SW, they should have enough to ensure they will be around again next year. Off the pitch they stuck around for hours after the game whilst joining in with the Christmas party hijinks and nonsense; their company was very much enjoyed, and we hope the feeling was mutual.
Full-time marked the half-way point of the season for the league and King’s could not have done any better with 55pts from their eleven games. Some of those matches have been incredibly tight, not least London Exiles who could prevailed over their hosts with a kick in the last play which would have won them a game they lost 24-22. This will doubtless not have been forgotten and although they may be bottom of the league currently analogies about wounded animals spring to mind. King’s have to go back to 2013-14 for their last victory (20-22) over the same opposition at their notoriously difficult Barnes home, that result coming in L3SW and indeed King’s have never won away at Barn Elms at Level 7. Next weekend will be hard and if the record is to remain unblemished the team will have to dig deep once more before the festive break.
Tries: Brodie Wilson, Rob Parker, Ed Forshaw, James Radcliff
Conversions: Gareth Stoppani x 3
Penalties: Gareth Stoppani