King’s mix youth and experience to produce a performance of real vintage
Report from Captain Fantastic, John Ledger
After last week’s re-arranged game yielded a loss in the snow away at Old Gravensendians, King’s were desperate to get back to winning ways and keep their play off hopes alive away at Ashford, who after an impressive recent run of results had sneaked ahead of us into 4th in the table.
Perhaps luckily for the 1st XV, the weekend saw the scheduled 2nd XV and KIPIRS fixtures called off, allowing King’s to field an experienced tight five - a front row with a combined age north of a century, and one second row who had caveated his availability with the words ‘as long as my wife doesn’t go into labour, I can play’. Alongside the wily heads up front, King’s were also able to field the explosive backline that had recently torn Beccehamians apart at home. The question on everyone’s lips, however, was how would these two elements mix over the course of 80 minutes?
Within the first 20 minutes of the game, the question received an emphatic answer, as King’s raced into a 3 try lead. A penalty into the corner saw King’s take the lineout and build a maul, rolling forward with patience, before moving the ball out to some big centre runners. Knocking on the door, it fell to Chris McKeand to kick it open, with a lovely dart from 9 to score the first points of the afternoon. From then on, it was all King’s as they matched Ashford up front, and with Billy Scanlan dominating the lineout and Josh MacMillan running hard lines all over the field, the forwards were securing enough ball to allow the backline to play as we all know they can, marshalled expertly by Harry Clark at 10. It wasn’t long before try number 2, as Tim Pope showed his footwork to slice through the midfield and dot down. With no let-up in intensity, King’s soon ran over their third score - a first phase line out play to Ceri Thomas in the centres saw him make ground, before he offloaded to yours truly, who had a simple run in under the posts.
So far, so good for King’s, and with a typically dominant defensive effort led by Ian Williams, King’s piled pressure onto Ashford whenever they had the ball, not allowing them a foothold into the game – and when they did break forward, too often they spilled under pressure, or saw themselves turned over through good breakdown work. And on the few occasions they did manage to go wide, the King’s wingers of James Read and Fraser Allan shut down their runners early. And then just before half time, Ceri went from provider to scorer, as a chip over the top from Harry was dotted down to give King’s a 24 point half-time lead.
The chat at half-time was focused on the importance of the next score – if Ashford found it, they would fancy a comeback. As it happened, they took a chance to slot a penalty 10 minutes into the half, but it sailed wide. King’s then spent the half building phases with strong tight carries, kicking for territory, and keeping the upper hand in the lineout. A try was coming, but it took Josh’s excellent quick thinking to tap a penalty five metres out and stroll over while Ashford were complaining about the decision. King’s then finished the scoring with a penalty ten minutes from time, before remaining defensively sound against Ashford’s big runners, with Will Hinds in particular putting in a shift around the fringes. Ashford’s last attack saw them being held up over the line, and after they knocked on in the subsequent phases, the game was done.
A huge mention to the front row of Lee Turner, Rob Pinchin and Portman (and Dave Ball when he came off the bench) who put in a shift around the park all day, expertly managed by Jack ‘Management’ McAvoy from the bench. It was refreshing to see them rolling back the years, ably supported by Tom Rossor from the second row, playing solid front five rugby to allow the King’s backline to fire on all cylinders. A shout too to Read and Fraser on the wings, who kept Ashford quiet out wide, something we hadn’t managed to do at home earlier in the season – and both looked good with ball in hand, with Read in particular likely to be aggrieved after he was blocked from racing onto his own chip ahead by the Ashford flanker in the first half.
As the clocks go forward, this win means King’s stay in the race for the play-offs, but need two bonus point wins to have any chance - starting with a home game against New Ash Green in two weeks time.