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Latest 1st XV match report

Storm Dennis not as Severe as Feared but Bury as Effective as Expected
Sutton & Epsom 12-36 Bury St Edmunds
When these two prestigious clubs met in November it was notable for three reasons. Firstly, and tragically for all those with the Cross of St George emblazoned on their heart, England were a veritable damp squib in the World Cup Final earlier that morning. Secondly, the match was played in atrocious weather. Finally, and painful to report, it was the first time in 189 league fixtures that S&E had failed to register a point, a proud record stretching back to an ignominious afternoon in inhospitable Guernsey. On this occasion England had a weekend off, Storm Dennis had sent DIY fetishists to B&Q to prepare arks and Sutton got off the mark. Having made eight changes from the plucky team that battled the Crusaders the previous Saturday, due to a multiplicity of reasons too tedious to mention, it was a much-changed outfit to face the Wolfpack. There was a bonus for the Rugby Lane crowd as an eleventh hour withdrawal meant Steve Munford, who was released from domesticity, made his 200th league appearance for Sutton.

Despite the forecast and the poor weather at the kick off the 234-seat grandstand was full to capacity with a legion of past players who had enjoyed the luncheon reunion and an audible Suffolk section. Only those who enjoy testing weatherproof clothing or the criminally insane viewed proceedings from the far side. The visitors were soon on the front foot as their sizeable pack attempted to impose themselves on proceedings. Having driven Sutton off the ball at the first scrum they were awarded a penalty. They opted to scrummage again and were held up over the line. The next scrum under the posts the ball was spun wide. Winger Ciaran Leeson initially dropped the ball but diving full-length managed to secure the slippery object just before it hit the turf to open the scoring in the fifth minute. Kodie Drury-Hawkins conversion was defeated by the wind as Bury lead 5-0.

The Black & Whites began to string together some impressive phases but were undone either by handling errors in contact or accursed penalties. The former was excusable in the conditions the latter was horribly familiar and eminently avoidable. A blindside break and thoughtful kick ahead by the Green & Gold men had Sutton retreating. A brave fall by debutant 15 Harry Hunter prevented a try. However, a smartly taken 5-metre line out sent flanker Tom Brown over for the second try. Storm Dennis 2 KDH 0 and the lead was 10-0. S&E went onto the attack and kicked a penalty to the corner. The ensuing action involved one catch and drive, two tapped penalties and multiple mauls but the hosts could not force it over the whitewash. However, on their next visit to the opposition 22 Cole Potts stole the ball from the scrum and darted down the narrow side. Kyren Ghumra received the ball in space but his cut inside was neutered by the muddy surface. This time the pack successfully drove Jack Belcher over the line for his first try for the club. Another errant conversion and the home XV trailed 5-10 at the start of the second quarter.

The men from the Haberden scored a brace of tries either side of the half-hour mark. The first followed a penalty that gifted the Southgate Green team the ideal attacking platform from which they worked an overlap for winger Michael Stanway to score. The second followed another kick and chase, James Bourton prevented an opponent from having the opportunity to pursue the ball and received a yellow card, and prop Georgi Gidionov eventually scored from the ensuing 5-metre scrum. The simpler conversion was added for a 22-5 lead. S&E introduced early front row interchanges as Coutts & Mbaud replaced Mount & Farrell to refresh the pack. Five minutes later tryscorer Jack Belcher was forced off with an injury and Jordan Coombes entered the fray. Sutton survived until the interval without further addition to the scoreboard.

To the obvious delight of the packed grandstand Steve Munford came out for the second period, joined by Jamie See as Kyren Ghumra and Harry Hunter sought the shelter of the stand. Sutton & Epsom had the great good fortune that the weather surprisingly abated at the start of the second half. With Munford in the driving seat and the pack refocused by the astute instructions of the coaches the Rugby Lane team enjoyed their most impressive period of play. Keeping the ball in hand and among the forwards they monopolised territory and possession. Unfortunately when they reached the business end of the Bury 22 the smothering opposition engulfed the Sutton backs who had minimal penetration on the quagmire surface.

The Black & Whites had more than held their own in the third quarter but it was the Green & Gold who were to celebrate the next score. Centre Ben Leng shunned the obvious overlap and with a smart dummy essayed his way over the line to score. Codie Drury-Hawkins added the extras for 29-5 lead. S&E were not going to meekly subside. With the platform of a 5-metre attacking line out they took the opportunity to record their second try. The initial effort forced a penalty and showing admirable patience the hosts scored. Matt Harwood emerged from the muddy masses to claim the try. James Bourton added the extras for 12-29. The score was more of a consolation than the start of an epic revival.

With a comfortable cushion of 17 points the Wolfpack were happy to force Sutton back with astute kicks. Following one such tidy piece of footwork the covering Michael Cooke was forced to concede a penalty near his line. The scrummage was chosen and at the second time of asking replacement Tommy Waldock aquaplaned in near the uprights. The conversion extended the lead to 36-12 with five minutes on the clock. The final action of this encounter encapsulated a game played in such challenging conditions. A frantic scramble for the ball by the Sutton posts saw diving, sprawling and slithering players desperate to secure the muddy soap-like object. The referee adjudged that the defenders had prevailed and blew the final whistle that declared Bury St Edmunds as victors by 36-12 with a bonus point to boot.

Sutton were vastly more competitive than the November meeting between the two sides. However, Bury St Edmunds deservedly prevailed as they had palpably more cutting edge in attack. S&E had plenty of possession but the visitor’s robust and well-organised defence nullified the host’s back division. In conditions akin to a First World War battlefield the Rugby Lane pack had to fight mighty hard to advance every yard and deserve great credit for their two scores. Once more the Black & Whites delivered the distasteful cocktail of early penalties and tries conceded, a handicap from which they never overcame. The visitors from Suffolk in contrast started with power and precision with their back row trio to the fore they punished early errors. The damage was done in the first half and though the second period was a very even affair the Green & Gold men never looked likely to give up their lead.

What a bonus for players and spectators after 23 consecutive Saturdays, with time off for Christmas festivities taken into account, Sutton get to host Bournemouth for the second time this season next Saturday. The local electricity board will be on red alert as S&E face their fellow relegation favourites. For those of you who recall unlucky Week 13 the Black & Whites temporarily had gained a 20-15 victory but the cause of the abandonment, the local power cut, meant a replay was in order. Let us hope it is played to a conclusion this time.

Sutton & Epsom: Harry Hunter, Kyren Ghumra, James Bourton, Jacob Knight, Brad Meeson, Michael Cooke, Cole Potts, Alex Mount, Chris Farrell, Theo Skoumbourdis (c), Matt Harwood, Eric Duey, Jack Belcher, Joe Ridgley, Matt Whitaker. Replacements (all used): David Coutts, Mike Mbaud, Jordan Coombes, Steve Munford & Jamie See.

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