In keeping with tradition, the last weekend of the season fixtures mirrored those of the opening one and so it was that that round 22 saw Old Alleynian making the short trip from SE21 for the swansong to the 2018-19 London 2SW season. Way back when on the 8th September King’s prevailed 24-36 but not before having been given a stern examination by OA who despite falling 7-31 behind inside 30mins or so, went on to win the remainder of the game 17-5 and in so doing scored as many points as King’s have conceded in a match all year. Coming into the clash OA’s pursuit of second place had stuttered a little with defeats against the other play-off aspirants Farnham and Old Tonbridgians, but still a mathematical chance remained if the visitors were to record a big win and the Farnham v OT game down the road was to end in a draw or narrow win for the Surrey side. With their own end of season celebrations set to take place the same evening the Dulwich College alumni were no doubt keen to finish on a high.
Of the XV who were listed to play OA in September, just two of the forwards survived to fight again (Jonny Kiddle and Ed Forshaw) although the backs faired slightly better with five seeing their names reappear albeit three of those in different positions. In the pack Matt Young returned after a couple of weeks away and was united in ‘the row’ with his namesake Sam Young for only the second time in the campaign. In the threequarters Will Nelson pulled on the 10 shirt for the first time since that famous afternoon versus Farnham when the league was won whilst James Radcliff was included for the first time in 2019. A powerful bench contained Matt Scott, Rob Parker and Jack Denison all poised to make their mark. With healthy touchline swelled by almost 50 Ladies’ Day guests, at 3pm those gathered prepared to feast their eyes on the all-conquering 1XV for the final time.
If there had been any thoughts that OA would be laying down their collective jackets over the proverbial puddle in deference to their hosts then that illusion was shattered very quickly by the pace and ferocity at which the visitors began the game. Forcing King’s to play from deep within their half, not normally a problem this season, the home side looked flustered with some questionable exit strategies, typified by the sight of a tighthead prop kicking, and miscommunication fast becoming endemic. It would be easy to say ‘it came as no surprise that the visitors were the first to cross’ but it was something of a turn up for the books, as they were the first opposition side to score the opening try of the game in a 1XV match at Motspur Park all season. Notwithstanding this statistical anomaly, it was no less than OA deserved when an outside break from their fly half Joshua Winduss clinically exposed a gap in the King’s midfield defence with two more duly added; 0-7.
On the sidelines there was something of a hush interspersed with muttering about this not having been in the script. On the pitch though King’s players set about getting some traction in the match and sure enough hints of the tempo and commitment which has characterised the season began to peak through. One area King’s never did quite master was their understanding of referee James Richardson’s interpretation of what was permissible at the breakdown as a series of decisions saw territorial gains meekly ceded. Eventually though the pressure did come to bear and when Matt Young picked up the ball 15m out he simply barrelled though two tacklers and crossed with two more vainly trying to prevent the inevitable; 5-7.
Thirty minutes had been played and the low score reflected the tense nature of the contest. Neither side were shirking the physicality of the clash and all the players were throwing themselves into contact with scant regard for their health. The exertion appeared to have taken its toll more on the away side than King’s as at each phase there was more often than not at least one OA slow to their feet. With the momentum now in their favour, King’s did what they have done so effectively in 2018-19 and pressed their advantage, on this occasion No.8 Ed Forshaw was the one to punish the opposition as he catapulted through a broken midfield to cross beneath the posts, George Jones converting; 12-7. Now in the lead the whole atmosphere changed with followers of the home side recognising what they were seeing as more familiar, the players seemed rather more relaxed too and in the last play of the half further comfort came as former club captain Jonny Kiddle crashed over after sustained pressure on OA’s line for just his second try of the season.
As the teams retreated from the decidedly Autumnal weather which was breezy and chilly there was a feeling that just perhaps King’s had weathered the OA storm. However, with margins as fine as they were it would be been disrespectful and potentially costly to have started the second period believing that the job had been done. Refreshed and replenished by the interval OA came out once again showing that they were a force to be reckoned with full back Frederick Smith making a couple of eye-catching breaks. As with many before them in L2SW this season OA found the King’s defence to be a tough nut to crack and at times their frustration began to manifest itself in a less productive manner with an intermittently petulant approach to the game. Their collective disposition was therefore not improved when the effervescent Brodie Wilson surged through the black & blue wall and cantered to the posts for the bonus point try which George Jones converted; 24-7.
If King’s had thought that the wind of change was going to blow exclusively in their favour then they were mistaken as regrettably Will Nelson was soon withdrawn with a nasty injury prompting a significant reshuffle as George Taylor stepped in to scrum-half pushing George Jones out to 10 and Luke Minors in to 12, Ed Forshaw (OA’s MOM) filling the now vacant centre spot, Rob Parker joining the fray at lock and Matt Young assuming the No.8 position. Things could very well have got worse before they got better as Tom Dugarin was lucky to escape unscathed from a dangerous challenge moments later, but fortunately the club captain walked away. It was not all good news though as Nick Gardner did eventually succumb to a knock, Matt Scott into the action at prop with Jonny Kiddle stepping in at hooker.
Whilst King’s were, inevitably, a little tentative as they got used to the new combinations on display it is a mark of the calibre of the players in the squad that this period of adjustment was short-lived and when Brodie Wilson powered over from close range the champagne corks were certainly being loosened. George Jones added a cherry on that particular cake; 31-7. OA were by now looking weary but King’s have not been in charitable mood very often this season and sure enough when Tom Dugarin fielded a ball in space they could do little more than look on as he sauntered past a maze of flailing arms before releasing the impressive Luke Minors who capped a fine second half of his season with another try, again improved by George Jones; 38-7.
Whether they chose to admit it or not, King’s now sensed there were records in sight – 993 points in a season by Camberley being the primary target – but their cause was certainly not helped when the referee took the decision to sin bin Matt Scott, the reason was given as striking but it seems only one person amid the 150+ present saw it, albeit his is and was the view which matters. Undeterred by their numerical deficiency King’s continued to press and it was Brodie Wilson who once more unlocked the OA defence, his pass to George Jones who capped a busy and effective day with a try he converted himself; 45-7.
With the line in sight on the game and the season the sides could have been forgiven for going through the motions in the time that remained but it was a case of anything but. First when OA elected to scrum, with one front row binned and another injured King’s were obliged to drop to another player, albeit Jack Denison injected fresh legs in a bid to temper the disadvantage. As it was, King’s repelled the attack and went one better when, in a fitting finale to their campaign, the 13 men marched their way up the field and ultimately it was loose-head Jonny Kiddle who completed the scoring with a swallow-dive as he grabbed a brace; 50-7. OA could very well have stolen some of King’s thunder but in the very last action of a remarkable season as Joshua Winduss did the hard part by evading the clutches of King’s defence, but when all that was left to do was the ground the ball in-goal the fly-half dropped it and with that the curtain fell.
On the day the score-line was arguably not an exact reflection of the competitive nature of the contest, but perhaps a mark of the efficiency with which the teams took their opportunities and their collective fitness. Certainly King’s did not have it all their own way, and in their first season for a while in L2SW, having been level-transferred from L2SE last Summer, OA can be pleased with their work and they can be expected to be amongst the forerunners next season based on this showing. They were gracious and complimentary in defeat and we wish them well for 2019-20 and beyond.
What else is there left to say about this remarkable campaign? With 22 bonus points wins it marks a record that literally cannot be improved and so King’s have ensured that 2018-19 will remain the high-water mark for each season that follows. Statistics tell only part of the story, and indeed sometimes only the story that the narrator seeks to relay, but what is irrefutable is that since 2010 when bonus points were introduced into L2SW King’s now have the most wins (22), most try BPs (22), best points difference (+722), biggest points margin over second place (33pts), highest average winning score (45-12) and are the only invincible side not to have dropped a point. All 44 players involved, coach Sam Richards, DOR Paddy Ralston, physio Jane Milton and a host of others have each played their own crucial part in a season which none will forget. So, for now, it’s time to rest and recuperate and to start planning for the great London 1 South adventure which starts in a mere five months’ time!
Tries: Matt Young, Ed Forshaw, Jonny Kiddle x 2, Brodie Wilson x 2, Luke Minors, George Jones
Conversions: George Jones x 5