When The Going Gets Tough
By Tom Moore
Twickenham make King's work hard for their eighteenth bonus point win pushing from the first minute to the last and in so doing successfully limiting the promoted side to their lowest score of 2019.
Report from Sam Richards:-
Having been crowned champions 14 days prior, King's travelled to Twickenham hoping to maintain their unbeaten run. If the league leaders were hoping for a soft landing after their recent leap on high then this was not a fixture they would have wanted not least since the hosts were the last team to have beaten King's when they prevailed 33-36 in Motspur Park on the final day of the 2017-18 season to complete a ‘double’ having previously battled to a 20-15 win at home. Recent results have seen Twickenham using the second half of the season to settle some scores from earlier in their campaign, having got the better of Old Tonbridgians following a draw in their first encounter and turned around a heavy away defeat to Eastleigh to record an impressive victory in the return leg. With just one home loss in 2018-19, King's were the next team in Twickenham's cross-hairs.
The visitors’ side showed a number of changes from the one that had put Farnham to the sword in the previous round. Just 2 of the starting pack, Nick Gardner and Dan Staunton, wore the same shirt this week, Rob Parker shifted from the second row to the blindside. Joe Mason, Sam Young and Duncan Bucknell came straight into the starting line-up, whilst Jonny Kiddle and Jack Griffin stepped up from the bench to start at tighthead and No.8 respectively. In the backs Will Slater slotted back into the 'P' shirt, George Jones making the familiar switch from scrum-half to fly-half with Gareth Stoppani and Chris du Toit coming into the team on either wing. Under overcast skies, a blustery wind and the pitch conditions firm, George Jones kicked proceedings off.
Whether it was sore heads from previous celebrations or just a slow start, it was Twickenham who applied the early pressure up the hill and into the wind. King's got on the wrong side of the referee early on, giving Twickenham good early field position. Chances were created with half breaks from the home side's centres but good scrambling defence kept them at bay. King's were searching for a platform and a way to get into the game, and they found it in the set-piece and having won a scrum penalty won in their own half duly cleared downfield giving King's their first attacking opportunity and were soon into their stride. The King's back 5 were carrying hard before George Taylor swept across to the right-hand side and set Gareth Stoppani free and a typically weaving run the winger cut back inside the covering defence and went under the posts for the first score of the day, which he duly converted; 0-7.
King's, as has often been the case this season, looked to back up the score with another in quick succession. It was two ex-Oxford University front rowers causing havoc in the midfield with pace rarely seen from the ABC club taking the defence by surprise as Nick Gardner and Joe Mason made inroads. It was then a penalty won at the breakdown by the latter which caused confusion, not sure whether the penalty had been given or not George Jones tapped to himself anyway and set previous provider George Taylor off on a slaloming run to the whitewash. With Gareth Stoppani adding the simple extras from in front King's had suddenly created at 14 point buffer; 0-14.
Twickenham responded and worked their way back into the 22. A penalty kicked to the corner gave them a 5m lineout, but the away side repelled the drive and won a scrum of their own as a result, which was then improved to a penalty allowing them to clear their lines. Once again from a fairly innocuous position in midfield King's forced a turnover and within 3 phases set their Jamaican/American/Italian winger Gareth Stoppani clear for another impressive finish; 0-21.
King's pushed for the bonus point that they craved and within minutes it looked like they might get it as George Taylor found space through the midfield and set off to get under the posts before the covering Twickenham defender took him out hard and high. The two sides took it into their own hands to debate the incident with the majority of players involving themselves in some high level pushing and shoving. Once the referee had restored order, he chose to keep his cards in his pocket electing to give just a penalty to the attacking side on the 5m line directly under the posts. King's may have hoped for more but tried to take the 7 points when opting for the scrum, but it came to nothing.
Over the past few months when King's have got 3 scores up, opposition teams have wilted and it is to Twickenham's credit that they did anything but. The following 3 minutes was an extraordinary passage of play. King's made three line-breaks, with Rob Parker, Jack Griffin and Luke Minors all to the fore but Twickenham covered well on each occasion. Eventually with the ball having changed hands 5 or 6 times and the action spanning from either sides’ 22m lines, the play came to a stop with a knock on and everyone drew breath whilst the players took a deserved water break. The rest of the half was dominated by the men in black and red, they pressed for a score before half time and were duly rewarded when they forced a maul over the line which was bettered with a fine kick.
As the sides turned around King's knew playing up the hill, into the wind and with Twickenham gaining the momentum late in the first period that they would need to assert their authority quickly to prevent their hosts gaining more traction in the match. Twickenham had other ideas and stopped at nothing in their attempts to find the next score. Two excellent breaks from the Twickenham left wing were halted with desperate tap tackles from Will Slater and Nick Gardner but with King's struggling to get out of their own half, Twickenham were awarded a a string of penalties including 3 in a row at the scrum. A high tackle from Luke Minors was the prompt for the referee to turn out his pockets and produce a card as the centre was banished to the naughty step to think about his actions. With the man advantage Twickenham found space on the left-hand side to run in a simple score to bring the score to close the gap; 14-21.
King's had not heeded the warning shot that was the first score, but the reaction to the second was emphatic. Good pressure from the kick-off forced a scrum for the Old Boys and with Brett Williams and Pete Januszewski now on the field the scrum was once more going the way of the away side and from a penalty play was kicked to the corner just 5m out. Twickenham got up well to steal but were forced back over their own line. After conceding three successive scrum penalties it was Twickenham's turn to have a man sent to the sidelines, their replacement prop identified as the man to take time out. Frustratingly from the resulting scrum a mix up in midfield saw Twickenham win a penalty for crossing and clear their lines.
King’s determination to find a way to the line was undiluted and when Joe Mason ripped the ball out of a tackle on half-way play was moved swiftly out Tom Smith, a half time replacement, who charged up field and into the Twickenham 22. With quick, front-foot ball Dan Staunton and Jack Griffin thundered into the retreating defence, the latter being stopped just metres short of the line. Simple hands and it was that man again Gareth Stoppani over in the corner for his hat-trick. The kick was missed but King's felt like they were back in their groove and were buoyed by the reintroduction of Luke Minors. The all important bonus point had also been ticked off; 14-26.
King's felt like the finish line was now in sight and when Rob Parker won a penalty 30m out from his own try-line, fly-half George Jones, as is his want, tapped and went quickly before setting Dan Staunton free into the kind of wide-open spaces that might terrify lesser second rows. Within a few phases it was his locking partner Sam Young who thought he'd scored but a Twickenham hand had found its way under the ball to prevent the score. For the third time in the game King's manufactured a way of not scoring from a 5m attacking scrum, however just a few minutes later they finally found their way over. Quick ball found Nick Gardner who beat his man and found himself in acres of space on the right, he scampered away gleefully, surely visions of a hooker running in a score from 40m is something to tell future generations, but with the last defender closing he moved the ball on to Gareth Stoppani who was more than happy to accept the invitation of a walk in to secure his 4th try of the day with the conversion taking his personal tally to 28 points, albeit not enough for man of the match though, much to his consternation with Twickenham rightfully giving that award to one of the heavy lifters in the pack with Jack Griffin taking the award; 14-33. Despite Twickenham's push for a final consolation score the play petered out and the whistle was blown.
King's reflected on a hard fought win. Twickenham, as ever, were fantastic hosts but were never going to hand over a victory. They remain in the scrap for 2nd place, a battle that looks all but certain to go down to the final weekend of the season and we wish them well for their run in. For King's it's back to Dornan Fields against an Old Emanuel side that pushed them to the very limit back in November. Luckily for readers, our regular and far superior match reporter will be holding the pen then!
Tries: George Taylor, Gareth Stoppani x 4
Conversions: Gareth Stoppani x 4