By Liam Moakes 24/04 Updated: 24/04 15:58
KINGS NORTON came within a whisker of clinching a superb victory at promoted Shipston-on-Stour on Saturday as they closed their Midlands Three West (South) campaign with a 27-24 loss.
The visitors arrived knowing their second placed hosts were aiming to put on a promotion party piece and, with Kings without nine first team regulars and playing uphill into a strong wind in the opening half, they knew an onslaught lay in wait.
However, Kings coped admirably and managed to turn around just 27-14 down, which gave them the chance to launch a fine fightback in the second half which almost brought maximum reward.
Early on Alan Dearden made a fine try-saving tackle before Shipston did take the lead with a penalty awarded after the visitors were caught offside defending a forward drive in front of their posts.
The hosts went 10-0 up when they scored a converted try out wide but Kings responded well and, after Mike Kiley won good lineout ball, they worked their way upfield and after a period of pressure involving four phases of play Yassin Ayachi ghosted through for a try which Louis Stelling easily converted to make it 10-7.
The visitors were now rampant and Gareth Johnson came close to crossing before Kings did get their reward when scrum half Ken Whitehouse threw an outrageous dummy to nip through and score close to the right hand upright, allowing Stelling to easily add the extras and silence the boisterous home supporters as the Ash Lane outfit moved into a 14-10 lead.
Shipston hit back well from the surprise of falling behind and their fly half cleverly chipped the ball through and, as Kings fumbled the ball on the greasy pitch, it was eagerly gathered and the race for the line resulted in an unconverted try after 25 minutes.
Shipston now had their tails up and scored two more first half tries with some powerful forward play - the last being converted as the whistle blew - to put the hosts 27-14 ahead.
Kings had the advantage of playing downhill in the second half and, led by Ayachi and Jack Fairhurst, took the fight to Shipston and eventually, with Tom Hatfield and Marcus Bender to the fore, Shipston conceded a penalty for holding on and Stelling confidently slotted the ball over to narrow the gap to ten points.
Both Chris Hands and Kris Fenn won plenty of turnover ball for the visitors and this inspired numerous attacks, but none were rewarded and in the 68th minute Kings' coach Ian Jackson sent on Ben Boyce for the tiring workhorse Sam Woodward and the younger number 8's extra pace injected even more pressure on the Shipston pack.
Ayachi kicked through an excellent chip which created mayhem and from the confusion Fairhust glided through a despairing defence and outpaced the last man to cross Shipston's line for a superb effort converted by Stelling, closing the gap to just three points with six minutes remaining.
Boyce and Hatfield went close and Johnson was also held up close to the line before Fairhurst seized on a loose ball and, supported by Ayachi, went for the break, but last-ditch tackling stopped a certain try and victory for Kings in the final moments of a great game played in a wonderful spirit.
Interestingly, the previous game against Shipston at Hopwood Park had ended in almost similar fashion with Kings snatching a win from the jaws of defeat to prevail 24-22.
Kings last night (Thursday) held their AGM when the new committee and captains for next season were voted in.
Kings also say goodbye to a number of final year students from Birmingham University and also Germans Ayachi and Bender, who are returning home at the end of the season.
It is hoped the usual Pete May Club Sevens tournament will go ahead as usual at the end of the season and, on Tuesday, May 1 (7.30pm), Kings will be represented by Fairhurst, Hatfield and Johnson when they play for Herefordshire & Worcestershire seniors against Shropshire at Hopwood Park. All are welcome to this match under the floodlights.
Kings Norton will be running 02 touch rugby events throughout the summer evenings and anyone who is interested in taking part in this new exciting non-contact game will be welcome at Hopwood Park.
Visit www.knrfc.co.uk for further details on all happenings at Kings Norton's Hopwood Park, Ash Lane venue.
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