Kings Norton 2's V Old Yardleians 3's
Early Halloween fright for Kings Norton 2s before they bury Old Yards 3s
On a sunny October afternoon at Hopwood Park, Kings Norton 2nd XV put in an ultimately satisfying performance to overcome a muscular Old Yards outfit.
For the first half hour of the game, Kings were not so much half asleep, but more the walking dead. Their handling both in the tight phases and out wide lacked life, whilst their defence was perhaps functional, but lacking any bite. Against an outfit with the heavyweight forward power of this Old Yards team, anything other than a full blooded defensive effort was not going to be enough. The unsurprising result of this was an early unconverted try for Yards, who inexorably rumbled their way to and over the try line. A second try, this time converted, followed shorty after. The Yards again forwards did the hard graft, before their scrum half touched down his own grubber kick through. Kings were 0-12 down with only ten minutes on the clock, and looked to be heading to an early grave in their own back yard.
The hosts were able to tighten up their defence, but their attack still lacked fluency. Too many poor passes and poor decisions, but at least no more points were being leaked. Kings’ first real attack came on the half hour mark, after strong running took them into the opposition 22. A series of close drives all fell agonisingly short: TK, Sam Hunt and Connor Canney each having a go. Finally, Jay Rawlings had a go, and took his inspiration from the animal kingdom. Firstly he burrowed like a mole to dig the ball out of the pile-up, and then leapt like a trout over the mass of bodies for the score. What name should we give to this man-beast, this combination of man, mole and trout? A man-mout? Or how about a man-trole? I think we can all agree that man-trole is a far more fitting name for Jay’s curious half-breed.
Whilst Paul Crocker’s conversion went both wide and low - so pretty much nothing that a good conversion should be - the man-trole’s try seemed to be the boost that the men from Hopwood needed to get them out of a previously very sluggish first gear. More hard running took Kings into the Yards 22 again, but this time it was a combination of slick hands and Chris Hands that would inflict the damage. Thomas to Crocker to Beesley to Ford, and finally Hands touching down in the corner for Kings’ second unconverted try. Now back in the game at 10-12 , the men in red, black and gold were back from the dead and hungry to take a big Kings Norton shaped bite out of the opposition.
The Kings transformation had more than a hint of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde about it: Dr Dithering had rapidly transformed into Mr Dangerous. The Kings attack now had real fangs to it, with the centre pairing of Joe Beesley and Karl Ford growing stronger with each phase of play. It was Ford’s break that led to the man-trole, Jay Rawlings, going in for his second try under the posts, giving fly-half Paul Crocker as easy shot at goal. This gave the hosts the lead for the first time in the game: 17-10. Half-time wasn’t far away, but Kings wanted to more points on the scoreboard. From the Old Yards restart, Sam Hunt drove hard into the oncoming Yards ranks, with Jamie Thomas and Tony Smollett hot on his heels to keep the forward momentum going. Dan Thomas was marshalling the red, black and gold hordes, with both Bully and TK rumbling ever onwards. With the visitors’ defence in tatters, Paul Crocker darted blind and suddenly Kings were streaming through in numbers. Crocker’s concentration was almost thrown by a small dog that had run loose on the pitch – one of those small yappy types that thinks it is a rottweiler, but isn’t. As Crocker’s run took him up to the last line of defence he realised that the apparent small dog was in fact Kris Fenn, and his yapping was “pass to me, I’m on your left, pass to me, please pass to me, I’m still on your left”.
Crocker did indeed pass to Kris Fenn, who was indeed on his left, still, and off Fenn scampered towards the try line, as fast as his little legs would carry him. Fenn’s try and the ensuing conversion took the score to a respectable 24-12 at the death of the first half. The half-time team talk was full of optimism, with Kings confident that their newly-found up-tempo game would soon tire out the larger Yards pack.
The visitors had other ideas though. Rather than Kings’ four-try splurge having killed Yards off, it had brought about their own resurgence. The Yards game-plan was simple: use the wind to kick to the corners, and let the big lads do the rest. And it so nearly worked. Where the Kings’ Dr Jekyll defence from the first half would most likely not have held, this second half Mr Hyde defence was imbued with a do-or-die attitude. Whether on the 22 yard line, or 22mm from their own try line, Kings were making sure their tryline was untouchable, despite one heavyweight Yards drive after another. All the Kings men were laying their bodies on the line for the cause: forwards and backs, young and old, bald and hairy. Just when it felt like there was no more pressure that they could soak up, they got their hands on the ball and were suddenly on the attack. The casual observer could have thought it was now a game of 7s, such was the quality of the running and the deft hands in the wide open spaces. It fell to Karl Ford to score under the posts for a converted try, but this was the product of Kings own brand of uncompromising fifteen man rugby; the dog in defence and in the blink of an eye, the devil in attack. Kings 31, Old Yards 12.
The outcome of the game was now not in doubt, but Yards were like the zombie that could not be completely killed off – and Kings couldn’t quite get the head-shot to drop them for good. Again, the Yards men used their pack to get hard yards, and as the minutes ticked away, they kept going for the Kings line. Having stayed impermeable for the last hour, that cast iron Kings defence wasn’t about to give out now, so when they got a penalty and the referee called last play, they Kings Men knew it was now job done. The final scoreline of 31-12 didn’t do justice to the tenacity that Old Yards showed throughout, but was nevertheless testament to the blood, sweat and tears from Kings that it took to stop them.
Post-match hydration of the nutty brown ale variety came courtesy of a very tasty Greene King IPA. No ales at the British Oak later on for me though; instead I had a selection of bottled ale at home, the pick of the bunch being the Wychwood brewery’s Hobgoblin Gold, 4.5% ABV. In the humble opinion of this ale aficionado, that is one of the finest bottled ales you’ll find.
Next week, Kings Norton 1st XV are back to league action, away to Rugby Welsh.