Kingswood reached the quarterfinals of the Champions Trophy on Tuesday with a superb 29-17 defeat of 2015 champions, Bedford.
It was an impressive display of mental toughness and resilience from Kingswood, who twice came from behind against their hosts, who also reached last year’s final.
Within 30 seconds Bedford had taken the lead, a wonderful try from full-back Reni Omotomilola, who ran 70 metres with the ball in hand as Bedford moved the ball to him from inside their own 22 straight from the kickoff.
Around the touchlines an ominous mood swept around, could this be a rout? Kingswood could have been forgiven for falling down into the deep dark hole of that feeling, many sides would have, being handed a heavy defeat from there would have been easy.
It is to their eternal credit that they did not though, and over the course of the next few minutes they found their feet and started to take the game to Bedford. A wonderful game started to emerge, with both sides looking to move the ball wide. In Orchard for Bedford and Mackenzie for Kingswood, each side possessed fly halves of excellent quality, with passing games that brought teammates into the game at pace and across the full width of the pitch, and, as the game went on, kicking games that were just as cultured.
Mackenzie’s passing game reaped rewards for Kingswood 11 minutes in as his cut out pass left to outside centre Morton left Bedford’s right wing, Williamson, between a rock and a hard place, with Morton showing great pace and power to go over out wide.
Shortly after, with Bedford 7-5 ahead, the hosts lost their outside centre to a nasty looking injury (thoughts are most definitely with him). It meant a reshuffling of the backline for Bedford, and with players in unfamiliar positions, where you need just that split second of extra time to familiarize, Kingswood’s impressive line speed, and their dogged back row, started to take real effect.
A move over to the 2nd XV pitch was required, and within minutes of the resumption of play, Mackenzie had put Kingswood ahead with a penalty. Less than ten minutes later, Kingswood had stretched their advantage further as Morton’s centre partner, Kelly, powered over for his side’s second try.
With Mackenzie converting, Kingswood was suddenly 15-7 ahead and putting their hosts under all sorts of pressure with their defence, Bedford simply could not get the width on the ball that they had been able to earlier. An Orchard penalty shortly before the halftime break did narrow the gap to 15-10, but it was still Kingswood in the ascendancy.
Everything changed again in the second half though. Heavy rain and a strong wind arrived, howling diagonally across the field, and the tactics naturally had to change.
With Orchard showing a class of thinking behind his kicking that was well beyond his years, and Bedford utilizing their big pack in tight rather than out wide as they had in the dry, they started to seize back control of the momentum.
The only question, it seemed, was whether, in this weather, they could secure enough territory and points scoring opportunities to build a strong enough lead.
They certainly made a good start to it, sending the ball into the corner and then through maul after maul grinding the Kingswood defence down for Joe Wallace to dot down and level things.
Orchard then nailed the conversion to send the hosts 17-15 up, and on the touchlines, an air of confidence emerged. To hold the lead in these conditions felt doubly as important as usual.
Once again, Kingswood was going to have to dig deep, very deep, and in these conditions, they were going to have to do it with a different style altogether.
Nobody should have doubted them. Not only did they dig deep, they responded immediately. Regaining possession straight from the kickoff and rumbling forwards, slowly, steadily, powerfully, towards Bedford’s line. Thompson, in the second row, was eventually the man to power his way over the line, with Mackenzie slotting the extras from in front of the posts.
Suddenly 17-15 was 17-22, and all of that pressure that Bedford had put on Kingswood was flipped the other way. It was a hammer blow from the visitors and has wrestled back the momentum, they made sure they made it count. They regained field position a few minutes after and through yet more controlled and powerful play, they crossed for the fourth time, this time through Gurung, the tighthead.
Mackenzie stretched it out to 29-17 with the conversion, but that was far from the job done. Bedford is not former champions and finalists for nothing, this is a school that knows its rugby and knows how to keep on fighting.
Orchard kept pumping his team deep into opposition territory, but time and time again Kingswood repelled the powerful Bedford pack, culminating in some magnificent defence on their own line in the final acts of the game.
It was truly a wonderful game, and both sides could have gone far in this competition. Bedford was undoubtedly hit by some nasty luck after their stunning start to the game, but credit cannot be taken from Kingswood for their response to that early setback. As at the beginning of this report, many sides would have collapsed after such an early setback, that Kingswood did not only recover from it but actually went on to win the game is a huge endorsement of both their quality and their character. Often it is the mental side more than the physical side of the game that makes the difference in the championship games, and on this evidence, Kingswood has the mental side well and truly covered.
Full Time: Bedford 17-29 Kingswood
15 Reni Omotomilola, 14 Leon Williamson, 13 Barnaby Ollerhead, 12 William Barnes, 11 Aaron Borland, 10 Alfie Orchard (c), 9 Felix Mallalieu, 1 Harry Donougher, 2 Marcus Lake, 3 Oliver Mitchell, 4 Toby Garrett, 5 Alex King, 6 Joe Wallace, 7 Conor Finch (VC), 8 Ryan Hussey.
Replacements: 16 Alexander Bowes, 17 Joseph Fordham, 18 Matthew Johnston, 19 Thomas Batten, 20 Matthew Fordham, 21 Felix Iles, 22 Frank Hearnshaw.
15 J Craig, 14, H Bristow, 13 G Morton, 12 J Kelly, 11 O Hawkins, 10 A Mackenzie, 9 O Penny, 1 B Curran, 2 R Murchison, 3 A Gurung, 4 W Thompson, 5 W Barnes, 6 H Taylor, 7 O Parry, 8 T Royston.
Replacements: 16 O Millichap-Merrick, 17 T Deverell, 18 R Barnett.