When KCS Wimbledon and Caterham met last year, there was an obvious feeling that Caterham were at the start of their project of building their rugby programme, while KCS were in a very good place with theirs.
KCS won that game 20-7, this year they built on it, expanding that winning margin to 29-8. They deserved it too, and yet it was so cruel on Caterham for they are a rapidly developing side. An unbeaten tour and a win against Kingâ€™s Canterbury on Saturday show you that to an extent, but watching them live you could see it. Physically they are a seriously developed side, they have some real threats in the team, not least their captain and hooker Cory Nelson, but they are organised and skilled too.
So how did they end up getting hit for a bigger margin?
KCSâ€™, handling in the backline, their ability to spoil set piece, and some very intelligent patterns of play, and, unfortunately for Caterham, some wayward tackling.
It became apparent too that in full back Jake Hennessy, KCS have a gem of a player. His two tries, and sack full of assists were a joy to watch.
It was he who opened the scoring, capitalising on a huge period of KCS pressure just shy of the ten minute mark. With Caterham stretched, he called for it out wide before slipping out of a tackle to race over the line.
His running threat was clearly playing on Caterham minds, they were keen to avoid kicking possession away whenever possible, for fear of his retribution one would imagine. It was a different threat next though, as outside centre Ollie Umney went crashing over to help his side go 12-0 up with fourteen minutes on the clock.
Umney was on the scoreboard again in the nineteenth minute, but this one was a try cast up in the heavens. First Hennessy returned a kick, exchanging passes with his winger before bursting up the right hand side and offloading off the floor to his captain and scrum half James Sharpe, whose ability to be in the right place at the right time and make good decisions, as well as his superb game management, explained exactly why he was skipper.
Sharpe then made further ground before offloading again to Umney, who ran the try home. It truly was a special try, the sort where there is a stunned silence before the applause breaks out.
That put the score out to 17-0 and at this stage it felt as though KCS might start to really pull away, such was the groove that they found themselves in and the momentum that they had.
Caterham needed the pace to break and the game to just settle down, and that opportunity came after a wayward tackle saw Nelson sin binned, but the fracas that followed saw KCS lock Will Rance also in the bin.
With those two missing momentum just halted, they were totems all day for their teams. Nelson naturally as captain, but also with his abrasive running, while Rance was a dogged worker but also as sure a supply of ball as anyone around at the lineout. With his springy frame he could be one-man lifted at the front of the line and was pilfering ball all day. The type of player that you imagine comes high in the tackles and rucks made stats.
Caterham clawed back a penalty during that period, reducing things to 17-3 as the teams went in for half time.
Whatever was said to Caterham in the break, it seemed to do the trick, particularly with their centre partnership. The inside centre Marcus Hodgkinson started stepping in at first receiver, and with his sizeable frame he began causing KCS problems, while his partner, Josh Coakes, was morphing into a latter day Brian Oâ€™Driscoll role, playing almost as an extra back row as he became a tyrant at the breakdown.
That step up soon brought rewards as Coakes collected a clever dink over the top to get Caterhamâ€™s only try of the game.
KCS hit back though, and through guess who â€“ that man Hennessy. It was yet another sublime try and sublime piece of skill. He collected the ball out wide on the right in his own half and just left the drifting defence for dead on his inside before a wiggle of the hips dealt with the onrushing fullback, it was then just a clean pair of heels to the chasing Caterham second row as he scorched over to take his team 22-8 ahead.
That seemed to prompt arguably the best period of play for KCS of the game as they sought to close it out. They began piling phase after phase in the Caterham 22, showing a real intelligence to their play as they mixed heavy runners and strike runners to really tie in defenders and stretch the play. It was a masterclass led largely by Sharpe at scrum half, and his hard running number 8 Finn Mead, who was a colossus all game with the ball in hand.
Mead got his just rewards too, crashing over for the final score of the game with just a minute left on the clock, giving Hennessy, now on kicking duties, the opportunity to hammer in the final nail with the conversion to make it 29-8.
It was a hugely impressive performance from KCS, with incredible fluidity in their backs early on, before the control and composure late in the second half.
For Caterham, they can reflect happily. Last yearâ€™s scoreline was probably a fair reflection of where they were, todayâ€™s was a reflection of an excellent performance from KCS, while Caterham themselves did not have their best day at the office. That difference in itself should be a source of pride though.
For KCS, the pride should all be in an excellent performance.
Full Time: Caterham 8-29 KCS Wimbledon
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By Angus Savage