by Paul Cocker
Match report: Kings Norton 2nd XV versus Claverdon 2nd XV.
It's an age old truism that winners' beer tastes sweet, and the harder you have to work for it, the sweeter it tastes.
On a delightfully sunny February afternoon, the Kings Men started with a boom that could be heard all the way over in that there Birminghamshire. Rampaging forwards and hard running backs had the visitors in sixes and sevens, and it was all they could do to weather that early storm. Hurricane Norton was tearing into the opposition like, well, like a hurricane, and at the eye of the storm the half-back pairing of Paul Cacker and Ed Foggette were calming orchestrating proceedings. Claverdon were just about able to batten down the hatches and find some composure to their game, but they were very much on the back foot.
From the forward platform the Kings' backs were looking to go wide, but that crucial last pass was tantalisingly out of reach. It took a thundering 40 yard run from Nick Vest to set up the field position Kings needed. A series of tight drives kept momentum going and eventually it was young Jordan Jones who nipped round the fringe to score the game's opening try.
The visitors were able to shake off their early shock and found their way back into the game via strong running from their outside backs. The sustained pressure on the Kings 22 told, and finally a cheeky blind side break from the Claverdon scum half and a deft offload gave them the response they were looking for. The conversion was good and Kings suddenly found themselves trailing 5-7.
The reminder of the second half saw neither side manage to get on top of the other. The likes of Sam Backwards and Oli la Frope were trying to get Kings in he front foot, but a number of smart Claverdon turnovers then had Kings scrambling back, and only brave defence from the back three of Fin Ikea, Karl Douglas and Chris Handsome kept them out. With a narrow Claverdon lead at half time, the Kings Men knew they had to up their game come the second half.
Kings had the wind in the second half so resolved to use it to good effect. Foggette's hoof set up the field position for an early assault into the Claverdon 22. Centre Mick Fahey was defying both the years and the defence as he danced through tackle after tackle like Anton du Beke in tight fitting shorts. As glorious a sight as any you'll see on a rugby field. Once he was finally stopped, Fahey's midfield partner, Connor Can, was on hand to secure possession - the young centre doing a passable impression of a wing forward. With the line in sight, Mousse and George Elsbells both went close, before young Jordan Jones hurled himself over the line for his second try of the day, duly converted by Cacker.
The visitors weren't going to take the loss of the leading lying down. Through clever use of the boot they gained the territory and possession. A penalty was their reward which was slotted over to take them up to 12-10. There was no let up for Kings as Claverdon had some of their most fluent rugby of the game. Mixing up both hard driving round the fringes and running the ball wide, things were looking difficult for Kings. Jack Nosh was at the heart of the defence, tackling anything that came his way, but the waves of attackers kept coming, and finally they bundled their way over for an unconverted try. 12-15 down and Kings were at risk of letting this one slip away.
The rallying point for Kings was Samuel "Bully" Woodward. On one hand he is only getting better with age, much like a fine wine, but he played with such fizz and sparkle that champagne is the better comparison: Bully was more like Bolly on that field. When Champagne Bolly popped his cork, Claverdon split open as he thrust hard and deep. The reward was a five yard scrum for Kings. All game, the hosts' pack had been on top, with the veteran front rowers Buzz Jones and Bill Bendon grinding their opponents down. Now it was time to turn that dominance into points. From the first unstoppable five yard scrum, number 8 Sam Backwards failed to score. From the second unstoppable five yard scrum, number 8 Sam Backwards failed to score. From the third unstoppable five yard scrum, number 8 Sam Backwards failed to score. From the fourth unstoppable five yard scrum, number 8 Sam Backwards finally scored. Even Claverdon breathed a sign of relief that Backwards finally got the try. Cacker stepped up to slot the conversion and Kings were now 19-15 up with only ten minutes left on the clock.
The visitors knew it was do or die time and they threw everything into their final attacks. This was a nervy time for both sides; Claverdon's jitters hindered them, but then for Kings, having got the turnovers, they failed to make the clearances they so desperately needed. As the visitors went achingly close out wide, Handsome was on hand to both make the tackle and get the turnover that finally allowed Kings some breathing space. Claverdon weren't quite done as they launched one final attack, but again it was Handsome who took the wind out of their sails. Having just used his brawn, he then used his head to knock Claverdon out of their stride. Kings cleared and the referee blew for full time. It was a close run thing which could have gone either way, but the narrow win for the Kings Men was thoroughly deserved. As the sun started to set, the whole Kings team were beaming like little rays of sunshine.
League action is back next week: Pershore at home.