The drive down to Winchester was in torrential rain so it was no great surprise to find a very muddy pitch on arrival. In parts it could have been termed unplayable but it is to great credit of both sides that they played an entertaining, if at times dour, game which King’s just about deserved to win.
For the first 15 minutes it looked like it might be quite a long and difficult afternoon for the away side. With little ball they were pinned in their own half and could make little ground with ball in hand as the middle of the pitch proved all but impossible to run through. Winchester only managed one penalty after in this period and suddenly the game changed.
Tom Dugarin found space to begin pinning Winchester back with a selection pf probing kicks. Even if Winchester secured the resulting lineout they could not clear far enough and if they had to run back or clear the ball then again King’s won the territory battle. The late introduction of John Walton on the blind side after James Shaw hurt his back before the game could have weakened the side but it gave King’s one crucial extra weapon. Lineout ball to John Walton proved fruitful for most of the game but more importantly took the focus off Sam Young and Will Brady who then also managed to secure nearly all our own lineout ball. Nicky Rawlinson’s throwing in was also accurate and this key area probably won the game for King’s.
The scrum was less clear cut as whichever side managed an initial nudge would find an opposition unable to push back as they just slid in the mud. Both sides won scrum penalties and both sides made it very difficult for a retreating scrum half to provide clean or quick ball.
The other crucial aspect of the game were penalties. In the first quarter King’s conceded 5 penalties but in the following 40 minutes only gave away one penalty. If ever there was a case for not giving penalties away to win matches then this was it.
In this forty minutes King’s scored a try through Will Brady following a good catch and drive, a penalty from Neil Williams and then in the second half after another Winchester penalty by their excellent kicker King’s exerted some extended pressure and a quick pass to the wing saw Josh Dhillon open his account with a neat finish in the corner.
At 13 to 6 to the good King’s could and should have scored more but the game changed again as more penalties were conceded. After 28 minutes a yellow card to Barry Williams threw the game open and all but immediately Winchester also scored a wide try by their winger. Crucially the Winchester kicked failed with the difficult, against the wind, conversion to leave the score at 13 to 11 to King’s. With 10 minutes to go and only 14 men the game could easily have slipped away but the pack found some energy and driving runs took us back to the Winchester line. A crucial 6 minutes passed as King’s failed to score. Finally Winchester managed to claw their way back to the King’s 22. Good tackling by King’s and finally a knock on by Winchester. Scrum to King’s but the welcome sight of Barry Williams returning after his 10 minute imposed rest gave King’s parity in the scrum. The referee deemed Winchester had pushed early, or did King’s pull? Free kick and Tom Dugarin, fittingly, used his trusty boot to finish the game.
The whole King’s team did well and the few already mentioned did no more than those not mentioned. Pete Wickham put in a good shift on a horrid day to be a scrum half. He did well enough to prevent our other sub and another 9 playing at all. Will Kibblewhite was safe at full back and one clearing kick was of particular note. The whole team tackled well and the big three did their job well in an area that King’s has traditionally struggled. I won’t mention Dan Staunton bringing his work rucksack with him and not having any kit. Luckily he found some and played well.
A good and much needed win for King’s. Safe in mid table there was a danger that the season was slipping away in apathy but the win sets King’s up for a good end to the season and a dream of a third place finish. The foot of London 2SW is not such fun with five teams still facing the drop. Tonbridgians failure to play at Gosport probably gives Gosport a ticket to avoid relegation but puts themselves very much in the running. They will need a good team to prevent the resurgent Effingham from moving further away from danger when they play next weekend. Winchester could easily win four of the last four especially if their fine kicker gets a chance. Luckily for King’s he didn’t in the game on Saturday.