Qu'ils Mangent De La Brioche
As Twelfth Night arrived amidst the traditions of chalking the door, merrymaking, wassailing and King’s cake, the league leaders served up a helping of eight tries to record win number thirteen.
It had been three weeks away for the 1XV, the first one spent re-establishing circulation in the extremities after London Exiles away, and the other two eating, drinking and generally not worrying about rugby. In fairness Old Tonbridgians have a proud tradition of taking a pretty free and easy attitude to most facets of club life so there was no suggestion they were any better prepared than King’s for what was to come. After a 29-21 defeat at the hands of their visitors In September OT have enjoyed a rich vein of form in the meantime with six wins from eight elevating them to fourth in the league. King’s last visit to the Richmond Athletic Ground in December 2016 had not been a happy one as they succumbed 23-10 following an insipid performance, they knew they would need to be a good deal better if they wanted their first success at the RAG.
King’s squad was looking plump in more ways than one. Like all clubs the injuries are beginning to mount, but what has arguably set this season apart from others of late is the depth of the playing pool which has seen two, three or more accomplished players available in almost every position. Today was no exception and so whilst there was a sprinkling of absentees the team had a substantially familiar look to it. The versatile George Jones pulled on the 10 shirt, his half-back paring with Will Slater on display for only the second time all season and the first time since 3rd November. Elsewhere Ed Forshaw returned having missed the purgatory in Barnes before Christmas whilst Dan Staunton took his place on the bench after injury. A minute late for reasons we shall never know Christopher Baxter beckoned play to commence at 1401.
The opening period was surprisingly fluid given both sides were earnestly re-familiarising themselves with lineout calls, backs’ moves and the laws of the game. The contest was even with the packs to the fore as the heavy operators crashed into each other, Matt Young and Sam Young for King's and home No.8 Jamie Sims all barrelling forward at every opportunity. The balance of play favoured OT at least in respect of territory, the contest for possession was keenly fought all day with even the lost art of the counter-ruck making sporadic appearances although alas more often than not attempts to contest the ball in this way tended to incur the disapproval of the official. With fifteen minutes on the watch and on their first visit to the opposition 22, the hosts’ found their line threatened by a series of determined drives and despite some committed defence, eventually they could resist no more as Jonny Kiddle plunged over for the first points of 2019; 0-5.
Unfazed by going behind the erstwhile Kent boys were straight back to the task in hand as they made regular inroads, including one searing break from wing Jack Macklin, although to their consternation whilst they came close several times a combination of inaccuracy and resolute tackling meant they were not to breach the King’s line. Having resisted numerous OT surges, King’s pushed the attackers out as far as half-way whereupon the ubiquitous Matt Young lineout disrupted the opposition throw, his tap down landing in the hands of Jonny Kiddle who made good ground before lock Rob Parker launched from a maul like a coiled spring to race home from 30m out to double the lead; 0-10.
This second try marked something of a sea-change in the dynamic of the contest as the momentum began to shift in favour of the away side. Sure enough as the speed and dynamism of the contest increased – although still nothing on the scale of the first meeting between the sides this season – it was King’s who were beginning to find the gaps and in time OT eventually ran out of defenders on the left, Ed Forshaw throwing a dummy on his way to number three; 0-15. The clock was notionally well into the red, but King’s had time for one more as more a multi-phase attack culminated in George Taylor skipping over from close range, Gareth Stoppani adding his first points of the day.
Once more King’s had achieved a first half bonus-point and on the face of it the outcome of the game looked to be assured. That said, certain is nothing in L2SW and it would have been at best naïve, at worst haughty to think that OT were ready to roll over since if the idiom is to be believed a wounded animal is the most dangerous. That said, it did not stop King’s thrusting the knife a little deeper as the first passage of play saw Ed Forshaw cross for his second try, this one also improved by Gareth Stoppani; 0-29. This score really did stir the beast and as the OT’s skipper was later to describe it the fifteen minutes that followed were “more like WWE than rugby” complete with grappling, posturing, a body-slam and plenty of pantomime theatrics before the referee decided he had seen enough an issued a yellow card for each side.
With this break in play King’s took the opportunity to make some changes with Joe Mason making way for Ali Cooper, Barry Williams and Dan Staunton on for Duncan Bucknell and Rob Parker. With both teams shorn of a forward, King’s began to gain the ascendancy at the set-piece – albeit King’s nominated prop Freddie Johnson as their MOM – which, together with a by and large functioning lineout meant a steady supply of ball was forthcoming. That said King’s next try started with the visitors back-peddling as OT sought to open their account, but they were to be undone by an interception seized on by an alert Gareth Stoppani, his pass to Luke Minors who put his head down and raced for the line. It was not to be though as he was caught with a few feet remaining, but Will Slater was quickly on the scene and he was not to be denied; 0-34.
All gathered felt there can’t have been much time left in the game, but Mr Baxter disagreed and indicated there was to be ample opportunity remaining for both sides to go through their repertoire. King’s seventh score was a genuine team try, starting in the hands of Tom Cobb (OT’s MOM) who made a bustling run up the right before releasing Chris du Toit, who as ever drew several defences into his aura. As the ball was worked left Dan Staunton hit a hard line piercing the OT midfield before setting Will Kibblewhite free; 0-39. By now George Jones had withdrawn from the action, George Taylor into fly-half and Ed Forshaw slotting in at inside centre and it was with 12 notionally on his back that he was to complete his hat-trick; 0-44. Finally, after an afternoon which had promised intermittently but never quite delivered for OT they got some reward, a kick bouncing obligingly on the uneven surface into the grateful arms of replacement winger Rupert Harbig who finished well; 5-44. That proved to be the penultimate play of the game and thus the ninth and final score of the day.
OTs results have shown that they are a serious proposition, not least at home, and so to come away with a handsome win should not to be underrated. They were gracious in defeat and good hosts in the Sun Inn afterwards – perhaps today’s defeat will once more spur them on to another run as happened after round 3. For the first game back it was a job well done for King’s. Another eight tries today took their 'points for' tally in excess of 500, and in some ways more significantly they have wrestled the crown for the best defence – home (80), away (100) and overall – from Eastleigh. Still much remains to do between now and 6th April if the high standards set are to be maintained.
Next week it is a visit to the Surrey Hills to take on Effingham and Leatherhead who find themselves in trouble lying eleventh in the league without a home win in seven attempts. The Eagles have form for renaissances starting at about this time of year and King’s will be only too aware that theirs is a scalp that would mean much to the hosts and accordingly any complacency would be profoundly unwise.
Tries: Jonny Kiddle, Rob Parker, Ed Forshaw x 3, George Taylor, Will Slater, Will Kibblewhite
Conversions: Gareth Stoppani x 2