Both teams have plainly had an underwhelming 2018 to date, King’s more than OR, but both had lost their previous two games and were in danger of losing the momentum necessary to maintain their league positions. That said, coming into the game Old Reigatian had a formidable home record this season with seven wins set against a solitary loss to league winners in waiting Camberley, who sneaked a 30-34 victory back in late November. That result aside no team had come closer than 12pts adrift and just one had secured a try BP which Eastleigh managed in defeat (38-24) in the last home game for OR on 13th January. With King’s having won the previous encounter between the teams 18-17 in a titanic arm-wrestle, OR made no secret of their desire to redress the balance.
The stability and consistency of selection from September to December now feels like little more than a far off memory as injuries (including a season ending broken jaw for Peter Januszewski and broken thumb for Jon Vermont versus Eastleigh a fortnight ago), the obligatory skiing holidays, plus other assorted ailments and diary conflicts meant King’s had 29 senior players unavailable. At lock Will Brady made his debut for the Club, and into the back-row came Brook Wannop (his first 1XV game of 2017-18) and Alistair Cooper in just his second start of the season and first at blindside. Behind them Pete Wickham was selected at scrum-half with Luke Minors asked to play fly-half once again, out wide Will Kibblewhite and Neil Williams were on the wings and the back three was rounded off by Club Captain Tom Dugarin in his first start of the campaign. With a decent crowd assembled on a glorious Spring-like day and with a fine looking playing surface spread before them, at 1431 the entertainment commenced.
OR wasted no time in signalling their intent and within 2mins had unfurled their beloved rolling maul which culminated in the award of a penalty which their composed fly-half, brought back from university for the game, duly kicked; 3-0. Undeterred King’s were quickly on the offensive with the first of numerous strong carries from Daniel Staunton, although ultimately the attack was thwarted by a knock-on which the home No.8 capitalised on and he would have streaked clear but for an excellent covering tackle from prop Joe Mason. King’s kept the squeeze on in the tight, and the loose, and soon found themselves with a kickable penalty to the right of the posts as OR infringed offside. Instead King’s opted for the scrum (which had humbled OR at home and started well again today) but at the subsequent maul the defence successfully held it up and were able to effect an escape of sorts. From the ensuing lineout King’s swung the ball wide and Guy Tyler made a telling break before feeding Joseff Edwards who drew his man and when all that was left to do was to release Will Kibblewhite for a certain try the ball flew into touch and the chance was lost.
For a while that was as good as it got for King’s as in the spell that followed the referee saw fit to consign James Shaw to the bin for a generic ruck offence on or around half-way and Pete Wickham needed some attention following a nasty clash of heads. As it transpired whilst down to 14 things very nearly took a turn for the better as once again Guy Tyler made light work of his opposite man but alas having done the hard part when he had the chance to put Joseff Edwards clear his pass, like his centre partner’s had done earlier, went behind the supporting runner with the line begging. Having squandered the chance King’s suddenly found themselves defending and before they had a chance to adequately realign a powerful foray down the flank saw OR burst through for a score from nothing. An excellent kick compounded King’s woes; 10-0.
There was still plenty of time left in the half and most of the territory and possession belonged to King’s, just four minutes later Luke Minors twisted and turned his way though a congested midfield, only the attention of three tacklers dislodging the ball as he reached for the line. Once more King’s pressed, once again they were held up over the line in a classic Irish ‘choke tackle’ and at the resultant scrum OR contrived to pinch the ball and scamper clear. Ultimately their resistance was adjudged other than legal by the man no longer in confusing green shirt but by now in a white OR warm-up top, and as their No.8 went to the naughty step Neil Williams kicked the three in the last action of the half; 10-3.
It had been a good forty minutes of rugby, both sides had showed ambition and glimpses of skill and OR had exhibited why they are so hard to beat as their defence had been at its parsimonious best. King’s perhaps had unwittingly revealed their Achilles heal, lots of ball but three chances unconverted and behind on the scoreboard, turning pressure into points away from home seemingly more than a touch problematic, with just Eastleigh having recorded fewer on the road. Still, OR would have known they were in a game and with just a single score between the protagonists there was as the rather hackneyed adage goes ‘all to play for’. Just as the first period had ended, so the second began as OR were under the pump with King’s pressing hard for a breakthrough. When Will Kibblewhite was stopped by a rather unsubtle high tackle but the obvious penalty ignored King’s followers may have feared that it was all going to come to naught, but eventually the OR rear-guard action could do no more and Daniel Staunton got the try he, and the team, deserved. Neil Williams added the two; 10-10.
Twice last season King’s had led OR, twice OR rather than panic had simple recalibrated and gone about their business in an unfussy and efficient way to record wins. Today, as it transpired, they did not wait to fall behind to start their graft and within five minutes of having seen their visitors draw level a polished first-phase move from the scrum saw their debutante live-wire right wing work his magic from 40m out as his fast feet made him wholly elusive. The laser-guided boot of his fly-half did the rest; 17-10. King’s had been forced into changes at this time, Brook Wannop off with a shoulder injury, his replacement Greig Blackie and Luke Minors (OR’s MOM) suffering a dead-leg which necessitated a rearrangement in the back-line as Tom Dugarin stepped forward to 10, Will Kibblewhite going to full-back with Josh Dhillon onto the wing. OR perhaps sensed the disruption in the personnel and in a rare lapse No.8 Godwin slipped the shackles and his pass afforded the home hooker an uncontested route to the line for another seven pointer; 24-10.
The third try was effectively “game, set” to the Reigate Old Boys and ten minutes later King’s were to be the architects of their own downfall, as having rebuffed the hosts a loose pass put a blameless Guy Tyler under pressure and a scrum was conceded. With the threat out wide OR once again cleverly contrived to put their dangerous No.14 into space and he needed no encouragement to score his second with it add “and match”; 31-10. Ten minutes remained and most of it was to be played out in the OR half as King's continues to chance their arm, Joseff Edwards carried the ball strongly barrelling through the hosts’ very generously proportioned tighthead in the shadow of the posts and stopped just a few feet short. OR were desperate not to have their copybook further blotted and defended with increasingly desperation and regard for the rules. From a King’s scrum the hosts leaked a penalty, the visitors went for the corner and Thomas Cobb was at the back as the maul rumbled over; 31-15. King’s swiped a wild drop-goal attempt in the hope of saving what little time remained to score one more but it was not to be.
When the dust had settled the consensus seemed to be that the game had been in the best traditions of the clubs, fast, enjoyable and played in the Corinithian spirit with hard fair rugby but no nastiness on the pitch and certainly no hostility off it, which cannot always be said even at Level 7. OR are second in this league for a reason, they are composed, capable and above all ruthless in a way they were not even as recently as a couple of seasons ago. They scored almost every time they got into the King’s 22 and their kicker proved what an asset a specialist off the tee can be as he kicked 5/5. If they do go to a play-off versus the runner-up in L2SE then of course we wish them well, but also sort of hope they are still around next season. For King’s there was no shame in losing, and in fact the ‘scratch’ team can and should be proud of an energetic performance the likes of which on another day would surely have seen them if not victorious, certainly going home with something to show for their endeavour.
The Intermediate Cup takes precedence next weekend and with King’s not involved they shall have a week off to prepare for the visit of Twickenham on 3rd March. King’s were edged out 20-15 away at Parkfields earlier in the season but the visitors have, like all the top sides (Camberley apart) shown themselves to be fallible since Christmas having lost two of their five games, both defeats to the bottom clubs. It is sure to be another good game and will be preceded by the President’s Lunch which, if you have not already secured your place for, you are encouraged to join us for.
Tries: Daniel Staunton, Thomas Cobb
Conversions: Neil Williams
Penalties: Neil Williams