For the first half, Kings had the wind and the slope in their favour, helping them to make immediate inroads into home territory. Captain Richard Revell had demanded that his pack rip into the opposition from the outset, and that’s exactly what happened. Wave after wave of KN forwards went on the charge, TK and Jay Rawlings never taking a step back, with half backs Shane Rees and Adam Beech marshalling the rest of the forces. Aston Old Eds’ defence kept out these early thrusts, but then came the first scrum of the game, and by gum, what scrum! The black, red and gold 16-legged machine marched the Aston scrum back, which set the tone for the game’s first quarter. To Aston OE’s credit, they dealt with the retreating scrum remarkably well, getting the ball away from trouble, but the pressure was on. With the wind against them, the options for relieving the pressure were limited. As Aston OEs attempted to run it, they got no change from the centre pairing of Joe Beesley and Will McGinn. When they tried to kick it, the KN back three of Crompton, Crocker and Ford ran the ball back with interest. The Kings Men were back playing the game in the Aston OE’s 22, but those first points wouldn’t quite come. A Shane Rees penalty attempt went wide, and then a Chris Hands and Mark Waudby double-act went achingly close. It was the scrum though that was to be Kings’ most effective weapon. Once the slow trundle from the five yard scrum got going, there was a sense of inevitability about what would happen next: Number 8 Jacob Hickman got the touchdown and Rees made it 0-7.
Optimism within the Kings ranks was now high, but the hosts’ captain must have read his team the riot act, because they came back hungry to make amends. Their restart went long, which got them into the visitors’ territory for the first time in the game, and there they stayed. Despite having the wind and the slope, Kings found themselves pegged into their own 22, by relentless attacking from the hosts. Kings weren’t helping themselves though, with a string of penalties that halted any momentum that the otherwise water-tight defence had. After being warned by the referee for persistent infringements, it was TK who strayed from the straight and narrow with a high tackle, and out came the referee’s yellow card. Aston’s penalty kick went over to get them on the score board, 3-7, but there was a sense from Kings of having dodged a bullet, by only conceding three points from all the pressure. The restart served a purpose for the visitors, allowing them to get out of their own half for the first time in what felt like an eternity. Half-time soon came, and on one hand the Kings’ Men were kicking themselves for not getting more points on the board when the wind was in their sails, but on the other hand, they had stood firm against an AOEs-shaped battering ram which looked like it was used to getting it’s own way.
There could be no complacency for Kings; with the slope and wind now against them, they would need to find more grit, guts and guile than they had in the first half. Aston though made an immediate show of their second half intent. First they got the territory, second they got the possession, and third they got the try. Fortunately for Kings, the conversion went wide, but the try nevertheless gave Aston a slender 8-7 lead. Again though, the flow of the game was about to change. Just as Kings’ first half try had galvanised the hosts into action, so this Aston try was the catalyst for Kings to come back snarling. Prop Kris Fenn used his remaining fingernail to latch onto a sweet inside pass to get the Ash Lane men trundling again. The back row combination of Dan Thomas and Samuel Woodward continued the uphill charge into the Aston 22 and the strike zone. The home side’s defence tightened up for the assault on their line, setting the scene for twenty minutes of lung-sucking, strength-sapping attritional rugby. The black, red and gold men kept on coming, but those Aston men were protecting that try line as if their very lives depended on it. Waudby. TK. Hands. Fenn. Rawlings. All went close. All fell short. The hosts put boot to ball to clear their lines, but winger Karl Ford gobbled the ball up and danced through the chasers to take the game right back into that Aston 22. Dan Thomas popped up alongside the McGinn/Beesley centre pairing, but still that decisive break wouldn’t come. Back to the tight phases then, with numbers 10 and 15, Adam Beech and Paul Crocker, combining to get over the gainline. Two phases later, the Aston defence lost its shape for a split second, but that was all Chris Hands needed to burst through the gap and go over the line for the try. Shane Rees landed the kick, and finally, Kings were back in front. 8-14.
With ten minutes left on the clock, the game was still finely balanced. Aston Old Eds were throwing everything into it, but there was a quiet sense of assurance about Kings now – Aston threatened, both tight and wide, but the Kings Men, 1 through 15, were all standing tall. After the clock had counted down, the referee signalled for last play. Fittingly, the ball fell into the hands of prop and captain Richard Revell. It’s not often you relish a kick from a front five player (Mark Waudby: take note), but Revell’s hoof into touch was the final act of a riveting game. Both sides had thrown everything into the game and lesser sides would have crumbled, but Kings Norton delivered the performance that they knew was in them to get a fine win away from home. The semi-final opposition is TBC, but if that game is half as compelling as this game, you’ll all be in for a treat. Captain Revell paid tribute to 80 minutes of KN graft in his post-match comments: “Did you see my kick?”.
Next week sees Kings Norton back at home, but with no less an important game: a return to league action against Trinity Guild.