After a good pre season with strong numbers at training and two good wins in pre season friendly games against Whitstable who were relegated from Kent 1 and Gillingham Anchs who play a league higher in London 3 the Willies were optimistic that this could be another successful season for the team on the field.
The old boys kicked off the new campaign away to Kings College Hospital on a rather wet and windy Saturday afternoon. After the joys of sitting in the South Circular traffic for an hour the boys arrived at what they thought was the correct ground only to be told Kings no longer play here, so the lads bundled back into the cars to head round the corner to Kings new home. On arrival the pitch looked in perfect condition if not a little sandy but other than that the scene was set for this League opener.
The old boys weren’t really sure what to expect today in terms of the oppositions quality. These two teams use to play each other regularly when Kings where in Kent 3 and 2 before their promotion into Kent 1. Back then Kings were known for their attractive fast flowing rugby with talented backs, so they where a bit of an unknown in terms of ability. Something the Old Boys will have to get use to this season, with many new teams that have never been played before.
Willies received the KO and set about blowing away the pre season cobwebs. Both teams looked to get an early foot hold on the game with most of the play being kept tight within the packs. Kings with the home advantage and crowd on their side began to make inroads into the Willies 22 with efficient forwards play, recycling the ball well and keeping possession. On 15 minutes Kings sucked the Willies pack in with a number of rucks then spread the ball wide. Running a simple crash ball back inside, the Willies backs failed to cover the gaps and with a missed tackle there was an easy run in under the posts for Kings to get the score board ticking. Adding the extras Kings went into and early
Receiving the ball from the restart kings had clocked that their weight advantaged in their pack was really their only form of attack and again kept the ball tight with a number of rucks and mauls up the field. With the Willies scrambled defence just holding firm the ball was put into touch. From the resulting line out Kings caught and set up a rolling maul using their well organised pack to push the ball over in the corner for their second score of the game. Conversion missed but now with a healthy 12-0 lead the Willies knew they had to up their game quickly or face defeat in the first half.
With 15 minutes or so of the half remaining the Willies looked to get back in the game with some points of their own. The pack started to work as a team and begun to secure good ball in strong attacking positions. With the backs set to run a trade mark move the ball was spun out wide by scrum half Will Burton to the ever green hands of Finny who dummied wide and cut back inside for the crash ball to Mark “Squelchy” Welch who went over under the posts. With the extras added the score looked a more respectable 12-7.
However from the restart the ball wasn’t claimed and the Willies made a mess of the tidy up. With a penalty awarded to Kings just to the right of the posts their prop stepped up to add another 3 points making the Willies pay for their silly mistake just as they had got back into this game. With 5 minutes of play to go the Willies set about attacking Kings at pace and gained quick ground into Kings 22. After several phases of forwards play the Willies were awarded a penalty and with a chance to bring the score to within an unconverted try Captain Bowie stepped up to add the points.
Half time 15-10 to the home side but the Willies were starting to believe that this game was there to be won if they could get clean ball out to the pace men while fronting up to the Kings pack.
The second half kicked off and much the same as the first, Kings kept the ball tight attempting to just crash the ball up the middle. Learning from the first half mistakes of committing too many to the break down the Willies began to stand off and hit Kings on the crash. Great work from Oli and the Pearce brothers saw the Willies begin to Limit Kings forward attacks and also start to turn over ball with quick counter rucking. Playing Kings at their own game and making good ground from the Car ball, the Willies broke into Kings 22. With a break by Prop Reece Price for the Kings line he was deemed to be tackled high by the ref and awarded a penalty try to the Willies. With the kick brought in under the posts the extras were added and for the first time the Willies took the lead. 15-17.
Kings clearly not happy with the decision set about rectifying this and for the next 10 minutes threw everything they had at the Willies. Standing firm the old boys kept to the game plan and tried to limit Kings forward play. With the Kings pack working hard at the break down it wasn’t long before the ref blew for a penalty to Kings. Within kicking distance the Willies feared the worst but for some reason Kings opted for the corner when points on the Board would have been the better option. The line out was deemed not straight and from the retake Willies cleaned up and kicked good field position back on the half way.
As the game wore on it was clear that if Kings were going to score it was going to come from a forwards pack effort. From a line out deep in the Willies half Dim sum stole a Kings line out ball and broke through the line. Supported by Shears who had hardly seen the ball all game Dim Sum dummied the rushing winger taking him out of the game then popped a pass into the arms of the waiting Shears. With the covering full back to beat Shears put on the trade mark burners and ran half the field to score in the corner. A difficult kick saw no extras added but the score now stood at 15-22. Knowing kings needed a converted try just to draw the game the last 10 minutes was a frantic battle of field position. Kings looked to kick for territory that would give them the footing to mount one last attack on the Willies line. With a perfect torpedo kick right in the corner the Willies Barmy Army held its breath…… Ball won… A sigh of relieve as the Willies won the line out and cleared up field. Chasing the ball and turning Kings over the ref signalled the 80 minutes was up and the ball was thumped out of play.
A well fought battle right to the last kick of the game. Kings are an organised, strong team and to come away with a win on the first day of the season speaks volumes for this young Willies side. Beaten up front they never gave up and worked hard to turn this game around. There were a lot of lessons to be learnt today and the Willies must work extra hard in training this season to improve their defence. Playing no where near there best this young Willies side showed great determination to turn a game that looked to be slipping away from them in the first half in to a win.
Coach Dirty Den said after the game “If we can improve our defensive line and keep our heads high like we did today while under pressure from a well organised side that has several seasons experience of playing in this league we will do very well this season.”
Although a great win the Willies were some what subdued, the way they had played and scrapped out a win which to be fair could have gone to either side left a bad taste in the mouths of the young Willies. Last seasons free flowing fast rugby never really made an appearance in this game and it was more about the forwards and their ability to match up to a bigger stronger opposition pack. For the Willies much work to do on the training ground if they are going to push for the league position they feel achievable. With all games in Kent 1 being won and lost within 10 points it is going to be a long hard battle to the end of the season.
Special mention to Jack Packwood who had his nose broken in this game. The team hope it heals quickly and you make a swift return to action.
Also to Big Bad Gavlar Hyder who damaged his shoulder again. A reoccurring injury which we hope doesn’t keep him out for too long.
As we played away and Kings club house was rather full of football players discussing how their new £150 footie boots had definitely made a difference to their game we didn’t carry out a MOTM and DOTD. Instead we returned to the Fortress club house to celebrate the Birthdays of the providers of the Willies final try.
Aaron “Dim Sum” Dimmick and Ben “Speedy” Shears. Both lads took on a Sambuca challenge with both grace and style and then elected Ashley “slick Back” Smith and Jon “Pooper” Pearce to step up to the plate. Pooper being, well…Pooper decide to make it a little more interesting by taking one on the bum cheek much to the amusement of the team. More beer was consumed before the hardcore rolled on to the strip for more fun and games in Rochester’s finest drinking holes.
Pics of the game, the Sambuca challenges and the night on the strip can be found on the Old Willies Face Book page.
Up the Willies!!!!!!