Kings like travelling to HSBC; it’s not far away, the ground is always perfect to play on, and we have churned out good results there in the past. On the back of the first win of the season against Sittingbourne the previous weekend, Kings were hoping that the short journey to New Beckenham would yield a favourable result again - and we weren’t disappointed!
With only a couple of notable absences, Kings fielded a strong squad with a big pack and quick backs. The day was grey and overcast, but the rain stayed away, meaning the Kings backline could look forward to reaping the fruits of the groundsman’s hard work. Kings kicked off playing towards the HSBC clubhouse, and were soon rewarded with a lineout deep in the HSBC half. The ball was thrown in and taken down into a driving maul that, despite the attention of some flying fists from HSBC, kept on charging and drove back the home defence. Ball under the arm, Chris Irwin powered over the line to give Kings an early lead. Conversion coolly slotted by Captain Jack Sparrow. 0-7.
The resulting kick-off fell short and Kings set about working up the field. After a scrum that drove HSBC backwards, the ball was being kept tight with the Kings pack ensuring that rucks were won in numbers. Unfortunately, try-scorer Chris suffered a recurrence of his knee injury and limped off as Kings had a line-out inside the HSBC 22. Ably replaced by Dallyn, the line-out was won, recycled, and crash ball taken up. Good rucking and a quick ball zipped from no.9 Liam Harris to no.10 Richie Rawlings meant the HSBC defence was scrambling. A beautiful dummy and scissor-pass to Tom Kelly in a well-practised strike move saw the Kings winger tear towards the tryline, breaking through the defensive line and over for Kings’ second. 0-14.
HSBC looked beaten. This was Kings as we know we can play; the right game plan was being executed very well - particularly through some tremendous kicking from Liam and Richie - and the moves were being clinically finished. A further penalty kicked by Jack put the score at 0-17, as Kings looked to close the game out before halftime. However, as the half wore on HSBC started getting some fluency to their game and were doing well to pick-and-drive around the edges of the rucks before releasing a backline who were keen to run with ball in hand and exposed the (rare) Kings miss-tackle. The HSBC no.10 was keen to put ball to boot, and the resulting lineouts and scrums were shaky - including a moment of being marched back by the HSBC scrum that every Kings player will want to forget.
The halftime talk from coach Mike was to regain composure - this was not the day when we’d let the opposition back in. Clearly the person who was listening most keenly was Ian Williams; seizing on a kick through and an error by the opposition defence, the Kingsman used his pace and poise to score Kings’ third try early in the second half. 0-24.
Roared on by the home supporters in colourful blazers, HSBC grew in confidence and attacked the Kings line switching play from one side to the other. Kings defended valiantly but illegally, and a series of penalties in quick-fire succession meant that HSBC had soon crossed the sacred turf of Kings tryline. 5-24. Frustration at giving away the try through ill-discipline threatened to knock Kings’ rhythm, and the HSBC support sensed a change could be brewing. For the next ten minutes it was Kings who were on the back foot, but this didn’t stop every single player throwing themselves into defensive tackles and putting their bodies on the line to stop the home side inching over the line. Not since Rorke’s Drift have men defended their turf so bravely, and even the maddened war whoops of the HSBC supporters couldn’t spur their team on.
Having dug deep in defence, it was time for Kings to go on the attack. HSBC, perhaps tired from their earlier forays, conceded a penalty inside their 22 for persistent fouling at the rucks. After a crash ball up the middle, the Kings pack gathered as one and ripped into the HSBC defence - heads down, legs pumping, moving onward as a unit with irresistible inevitability. Dave Ledger grounded the ball to quiet the crowd and ignite the fire in the belly of the beast that is the Kings pack. 5-29.
With twenty minutes to go, the bonus point secured, it would have been easy for Kings to step off the gas. Instead another surging run from Tom Kelly after some excellent work by the backs rounded off the scoring for Kings. 5-34. HSBC got a last-minute try in the corner taking advantage of superior numbers on their left, but as the final whistle blew they knew they had been well and truly beaten. 10-34. A really great game of rugby by Kings: clever in strategy, incisive in executing the gameplan, and with a passion and aggression that has perhaps been missing so far this season.
It wasn’t perfect though, and some work will be needed in areas - not least getting to grips with the new scrummaging process. But if Kings defend with such assuredness and force as we did in this game, then other teams will find it a mighty uphill struggle to get tries against us. And that is an encouraging thought indeed.