Now Is The Autumn Of Our Fairly Content
A strong first half show from the hosts is enough to secure another maximum return against a powerful and accomplished Old Tonbridgians side.
With the outside pitches at Richmond Athletic Ground, home to OTs, still deemed unfit to host rugby it was at Motspur Park that the sides were to face each other under lights on Friday evening. OTs had started the season somewhat slowly with an opening day defeat to Farnham followed by a draw away at Twickenham. There have been just four games between the clubs with an aggregate score of 99-70 in favour of the hosts, but remove last season’s 43-12 win for King’s and that tally stands at 56-58 which was arguably more indicative of the evenly matched nature of the sides.
Following on from last week’s reference to the numbers of players used, going into Friday’s clash King’s swelled to 32 across three games, proof, if it were required, that the concept of a 1XV is becoming increasingly alien, at least in amateur rugby, and in fact a squad not just a team of capable of players is an absolute must. Making their first appearance were Sam Young, James Radcliff, Pete Januszewski, Rob Parker and former 1XV skipper Patrick Smith. For the second week in succession King’s welcomed a referee officiating at Level 7 for the first time, on this occasion Anna Coppel from the LSRFUR West list held the whistle and at 1940 she blew it.
Quickly the game began to take shape, albeit that shape was far from clear – perhaps an irregular polygon. Whatever, both teams made it clear they were not going to die wondering as the ball was flung about the park with gusto. With a shade over 5mins played it was to be George Jones who was to inject the first, but not the last, bit of quality as a fleet of foot break eluded several would be tacklers as he recorded a fine individual score which he duly converted; 7-0. It transpired that before kick-off Ms Coppel, who acquitted herself very capably on her debut, had asked whether the game was likely to quick? The answer was becoming apparent as neither team showed much if any willing to kick the ball, both with an apparently insatiable appetite to run the other into submission. Whilst several players managed to get behind the defence of the other, as it proved it was to be a break from Ed Forshaw which was to be telling with his inside pass releasing Will Nelson to run under the posts with George Jones adding the extras; 14-0.
The confident, naïve or inebriated watching may have thought that King’s were in the driving seat, but OTs soon brought the prematurely optimistic back to earth. As the Kentish men mounted a series of attacks and honed in on the home line, captain Joe Mason was to be confined to the bin and unsurprisingly the visitors elected to scrummage. It proved to be a prudent decision as their No.8 was able to bundle over for a try which was improved; 14-7. If anything this was the cue for the action to get quicker again, and neither side was shirking the physical challenge, Jack Griffin relishing the contact with one hand-off which very nearly lifted the would-be tackler from his feet. James Radcliff and George Taylor were to combine moments later with an incursion on the left which culminated in the ball being touched down in goal. King’s kept their opponents under the pump and following another dash from George Taylor, he put Patrick Smith in for a third score, with George Jones keeping his perfect record from the tee; 21-7.
Even though half-time was now imminent both teams found time to tire the other out further. With Joe Mason back on, the powerful OT pack marked the occasion of his return by sending the King’s eight backwards, the visitors’ scrum-half on hand to do the easy part. The kick made it a one score game again; 21-14. Still the clock ticked and once more King’s fired the thrusters and made for OT territory. When a flagging defence leaked a penalty in front of the posts King’s took full advantage of the ‘free ball’, George Taylor availed himself of another assist as Ed Forshaw secured King’s try bonus point. This time the conversion attempt was unsuccessful.
The first forty(ish) had been breathless stuff for players and spectators alike, and air and water were being greedily gulped by both teams at the interval. Surely the combatants could not maintain the same relentless tempo? As it was the formative exchanges were a little more circumspect than the corresponding period in the first half, and King’s had to settle for just a penalty from the boot of George Jones; 29-14. Neither side lacked for adventure, although there was an element of fatigue creeping into some facets of the game as some of the heavier operators on both sides began to deploy an array of ‘dark arts’ at the breakdown to ensure that matters became a little more temperate. King’s did have one more attempt at goal, but it was to fly wide and the tally stayed unaltered.
Both teams continued to pose problems for the other, Will Kibblewhite (OT’s MOM) was to be a thorn in side of the Kent school alumni all evening, just as No.8 Jamie Sims and centre Tom Jones were to King’s. The visitors to their credit used their bench to good effect, replacement winger Matt Nolan cut a particularly intelligent angle towards the posts and King’s had to be on their mettle to avoid their line being breached. Indeed, as the proceedings drew nearer their end it was Tonbridgians who posed the greater threat, and were unlucky not to win a penalty when King’s apparently spirited the ball away from the attacking side for a turnover when a try seemed certain. Had the, alleged, infringement been spotted someone would certainly have seen yellow – just as a mischievous Tonbridgian would surely have done when, as King’s surged forward and with the defence struggling to recover ground, a hand slapped the ball to ground at the back of a ruck.
The balance of play remained with the visitors and it was no less than they deserved when eventually they did find a way over wide on the left, a good kick adding two more; 29-21. A bonus point, perhaps two, were within touching distance and this was not wasted on OTs who continued to strive for one, two or even all five available points. King's too had chances, one overlap wasted as tired hands tried to move the ball without first getting a grip of it, and again when an unusually tall blade of grass felled Will Kibblewhite 5m out after a lung-bursting break down the right. It was not to be for either side though when time was called it was King’s who were to claim all the spoils.
OTs were disappointed to have nothing to show for their endeavour and with good reason. Just as their front five had given their two previous opponents a torrid time, so they did again to King’s. They recorded twelve try bonus points last season and have the ability to test the best teams in the league. They may have to wait a while to get back to the RAG so the challenge for them will be to ensure they don’t lose touch with their peers during their time in exile.
As Autumn ticked round at the stroke of midnight on Sunday King’s may reflect with legitimate satisfaction on a maximum return of fifteen points which saw them elevated to the top of the table after Saturday’s results came in. All three oppositions to date have posed problems and whilst King’s are a long way from the finished article, they have adapted to the challenges they’ve faced with good effect thus far. Visitors Effingham have not enjoyed their season to date with three losses but the margin of their defeat at the hands of Twickenham, just six points, should serve to remind King’s that to underestimate the threat they pose would be most unwise. It is back to business as usual with a 3pm Saturday kick-off this weekend, readers are encouraged to become viewers and see with their own eyes whether King’s can make it a fourth win in succession.
Tries: George Jones, Will Nelson, Patrick Smith, Ed Forshaw
Conversions: George Jones x 3
Penalties: George Jones