All Things Being Even
56 points in the first half, 38 in the second, 14 tries, 12 conversions, 10 different scorers; the only anomaly was the 5pts win, but this season that has become anything but odd.
The trip to Level 7 stalwarts Effingham & Leatherhead in round fourteen marked the end of a series of five away fixtures in the last six weekends for King’s. The visitors’ record at Brown’s Lane has been decent in recent years with four wins in the last five visits, albeit an aggregate score of 92-109 and no game decided by more 8pts proof that historically matches between the clubs at the Eagles’ home ground were tight. In 2018-19 there is no escaping the reality that things have been difficult for the Surrey side as they find themselves shorn of several first XV regulars, relying heavily on a core of previously 2XV personnel, blooding a number of younger players whilst simultaneously seeking to adapt to a new gameplan. As a consequence this campaign has elicited only two wins to date, neither at home where seven matches have produced just three bonus points.
Despite the troubles of their opponents, King’s were taking nothing for granted and afforded their hosts (and the league) nothing but respect in selecting their strongest available side. Into the second row came Dan Staunton and Pete Januszewski, Ali Cooper was restored to a starting berth whilst on the bench Theo Rhodes provided the front row cover. In the threequarters changes from last week saw Will Nelson returning at 13 with the adaptable Luke Minors sliding out to the left wing. With Constantijn Bakker calling the shots, at 1403 he determined it was time to go.
Any uninitiated onlooker would have done well to say which was the side at the top of the league and which was the one battling the drop as it was Effingham who had much the better of the opening exchanges. It quickly became clear they were going to strive to vary the point of attack and having won a penalty 5m out, when a quick tap was hindered Mr Bakker wasted no time in producing his yellow card with less than five minutes on a clock – certainly King’s ‘PB’ this season, and perhaps a King’s club record – George Taylor the one to be sent packing. With their man advantage scrum-half (and King’s MOM) Doug Chirnside nearly squirmed his way over but dropped the ball in the act of seeking to ground it. The resulting scrum proved an unlikely catalyst for the visitors as Chris du Toit thundered his way out of the 22, George Jones threw a huge mis-pass to Gareth Stoppani, Will Nelson carried the play on before the ball found its way to hooker Ali Cooper who went one better than his fly-half launching an extraordinary Hail Mary to Ed Forshaw who cantered home before Gareth Stoppani proceeded to kick the first of ten consecutive conversions; 0-7.
In many ways this counter-attacking try was a microcosm of what was to follow in the first period with the Eagles finding their every mistake being punished mercilessly by their visitors. Sure enough only four minutes later it was Ali Cooper, Ed Forshaw and Will Nelson who all contributed in various ways to the ball landing in the hands of winger Chris du Toit whose power was too much for Eagles to handle and having crashed though two would-be tacklers he offloaded to Joe Mason to score; 0-14. Three minutes later and a tap-and-go out wide left defenders grasping at shadows as Gareth Stoppani crossed for his first; 0-21. With King’s having been restored to 15 men, within a matter of seconds Will Nelson seized an interception, his pass putting Luke Minors, one hitch-kick later, in the clear; 0-28. Fifteen minutes gone and the try bonus point was secure.
A mere four minutes on and with King’s stripping the ball from the hosts at the maul Will Slater set Chris du Toit away, he passed to Joe Mason who came close to a brace of his own, but it was ultimately left to Dan Staunton to crash over; 0-35. Perhaps Joe Mason had been watching clips of Keith Wood on his way to the game, as there was no other explanation for why a front-row should ever think they might kick, but that is exactly what he did when King’s next broke free in midfield – but his punt was too heavy for the chasers. Showing him how it’s done, George Jones soon after dinked a carefully weighted ball over the top for George Taylor to collect and go under the posts; 0-42. Number seven went to full-back Gareth Stoppani whose strong, swerving run proved irresistible as the lead was extended further; 0-49.
The ten minutes of the half that remained were, relatively, quieter. First Matt Young incurred the wrath of the official, a slightly clumsy looking but far from dangerous tackle seeing him off to the naughty step. If Eagles had hoped their luck was changing, George Taylor quashed that optimism, another interception seeing him run in from inside his own half; 0-56. It was not to be the last score though as using their numerical advantage up front the hosts were able to batter their way though, flanker Jamie Thompson coming up with the ball with the kick that followed good.
Back in September King’s had put 54pts on today’s opposition in the second period – a forty minutes unlike any seen for several seasons by followers of the Old Boys. Today they had matched that achievement, and more, with some at times brilliant attacking play. At the interval the visitors took the opportunity to withdraw Dan Staunton and Ed Forshaw, Sam Young and Barry Williams their more than capable replacements and with the half just a few minutes old Theo Rhodes also joined the fray at hooker for Ali Cooper who had tackled and carried himself to a standstill. With seven minutes played the scoring sequence resumed, Chris du Toit doing much of the damage before he put George Taylor in for the centre’s hat-trick; 7-63. Eagles were not for lying down though, and following the award of a offside penalty inside the King’s 22 the boys in (mostly) green took full advantage as fly-half Joel Stroud doubled their points for the day; 14-63.
When it looked like perhaps the breathless end to end rugby was beginning to take its toll on the combatants, on a sudden an overthrown lineout from Eagles found its way into the hands of Matt Young who promptly swatted aside three tacklers before assisting George Taylor for a fourth of the afternoon; 14-70. As improbable as the scoreline may suggest Eagles still had their fair share of possession and they continued to press, full-back Robert Ellis looking lively throughout, but once more a turnover proved their undoing as George Taylor (E&L’s MOM) streaked clear, Luke Minors in close support before one winger passed to the other, Chris du Toit steamrollering his opposite man on his way to his first try of the season; 14-75.
Fewer than ten minutes were due to play and in that time still King’s came at their hosts, Luke Minors once more the provider as Will Nelson dotted down and with Gareth Stoppani off the pitch George Jones landed the extras; 14-82. Whilst the pack had nabbed three of the first five tries, they had been forced to watch on as the backs helped themselves to the next seven, so Barry Williams set about trying to redress the balance as an energetic and combative burst saw him over the whitewash; 14-89. Having had to wait until his ninth appearance to get his first try, Chris du Toit soon had a pair to his name as a forlorn defence could do nothing prevent him sweeping home once more. The conversion went astray and as so whilst the flags stayed down, the arm of the official came up and his whistle meant that there was to be no more.
The scoreline was tough on Eagles who more than played their part, never let their heads drop and with a bit more luck here and there might even have salvaged a bonus point. They are well aware of the precarious position in which they find themselves and for our part we wish them well in their remaining fixtures and beyond to next season whether that’s in L2SW or not. King’s can only be well satisfied with the return on their day’s work, another five point win extending their advantage over the chasing pack to 24pts. Whilst Eagles were a shadow of themselves in years gone by, King’s were ruthless and slick, running the ball with vigour and playing with panache right from their own line at times. Like the proper rugby people they are, several Effingham supporters graciously acknowledged that whilst painful, it was impressive to watch King’s flair with ball in hand.
Whilst most of the league has the week off, Gosport and Eastleigh must face one another in a rescheduled fixture this Saturday, the first one having been abandoned before Christmas. Fresh from that game Gosport & Fareham will travel up to Motspur Park seeking their first away win of the campaign whilst their hosts will hope to secure their seventh home success. Week on week it is all but certain that sullying King’s until now perfect record will become a greater motivating factor for every side and so nothing will be assumed about the visitors who would doubtless relish the chance to rain on the King’s parade.
Tries: Ed Forshaw, Joe Mason, Gareth Stoppani x 2, Luke Minors, Dan Staunton, George Taylor x 4, Chris du Toit x 2, Will Nelson, Barry Williams
Conversions: Gareth Stoppani x 10 George Jones x 2