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Barnes Clinch the Title
Sutton & Epsom 7-52 Barnes
On a beautifully sunny afternoon in front of sizeable crowd, greatly enhanced by the massed ranks of the Barnes faithful, the fate of the title was decided. The Guernsey juggernaut had ground to a dramatic halt in recent weeks and Saturday’s visitors required a bonus point win to secure the championship, automatic promotion and a return to National League 2 South at the first time of asking. Barnes won in emphatic style with eight tries in their 52-7 triumph.

Any thoughts that the pressure of the occasion would derail the visitors were quickly dispelled in a pulsating opening quarter. Within five minutes they secured their first try. A long clearance kick was returned with interest as wonderful interpassing down the flank enabled Rob Malaney to stride over. That score set the tone for an afternoon of equisite passing and ruthless finishing. The Black & Whites were again on the defensive after the restart. Desperate defence held up the ball-carrier over the line but play was brought back for a prior misdemeanour which saw the doughty Felix Symonds removed from the fray reducing Sutton to 14. From the 5-metre scrum the ball was transferred to Robbie Martey on the wing who demonstrated great technique and strength to touch down in the corner despite two tacklers. Ten points to the good the visiting fans only had five minutes to wait before they were heralding another score. The Barnes three-quarter unit created space out wide with sumptuous ease to provide Robbie Martey with a second try. At the third time of asking Charlie Wicks found his kicking boots to convert the try to extend the lead to 17-0. A stern test for Sutton at the kick off now made Eurystheus’ request to muck out the Augean stables seem like child’s play. S&E started to match their lofty opponents and stalemate ensued for ten minutes. Having already played for one period of ten minutes with 14 men the hosts once more suffered a yellow card as Kyle Coulter took a breather. However, it was Sutton & Epsom that went on the attack and pressed hard in the leader’s 22. If the Champions elect had shown precision in offence their line speed and defensive realignment swarmed all over the Rugby Lane team. Having won the ball 5 metres from their line Charlie Wicks countered sidestepping through the 22, the support play and passing was a joy to behold as seconds later a joyous Fraser Carlisle scored under the posts. That try guaranteed the crucial bonus point and with it the title so long as the hosts did not react in Lazarus-like fashion. To their great credit the Black & Whites went on the offensive as first Chris Kolapo-Ajala and then Kyren Ghumra threatened to score. It was left to the forwards to force home the advantage in the agonising final yards. Naturally, one-metre specialist, lock Matt Harwood emerge from the pile to claim the try. Sam Hurley, whose end-of-season kicking form has been spectacular, effortlessly converted from near the touchline. There was only time left for one last morale boosting sortie by the home team before the referee brought first half proceedings to a close. The teams turned around with Barnes 24-7 to the good.

Sutton continued where they had left off with a wonderful break by Jamie See. The fly-half then produce a beautifully weighted crossfield kick for Kyren Ghumra. Probably against any other team in the league it would have resulted in a try but in Tom O’Toole the green and gold men have one of the best full-backs in the league. Not only did he win the race to the ball but he also evaded the tacklers and cleared to halfway. A minute later there was despair for the Rugby Lane supporters as the referee had grown tired of Kyle Coulter’s company and issued a second yellow that equated to a red card so that the pugnacious Welshman would take no further part in proceedings. This was heaping Pelion upon Ossa for the hosts. The crowd might have been forgiven for thinking that Sutton were in for a torrid remainder of the game sending archivists scurrying to the record books in search of details of losing margins. However, it was not to be the case as the 14-man side played with notable determination, tackling with passion, running at their opponents at every opportunity and never throwing in the towel. So successful was the rearguard action that Barnes added only one try in the next half hour. However, there was a cruel inevitability in the last ten minutes as the Champions finally made their numerical superiority tell. The first score was out wide as the extra man ran a superb line, crossed the whitewash, trotted under the posts and it was duly converted. It was as if the levee had broken as within a minute the travelling masses were on their feet again. Outside centre Matt Cornish was 40 metres from his line when he was offered the outside, he gratefully accepted, and with an arcing accelerating run disappeared over the horizon to score. There followed tit for tat attacks before Tom O’Toole produced the final moment of class. The ball was cleared and passed to the waiting 15, in a thrice he evaluated the situation that confronted him. He ran forward a few metres, chipped it over the defence, gathered the ball and scored under the posts. A fitting finale to an entertaining afternoon with Barnes lifting the trophy on the back of this 52-7 win.

Barnes were not only worthy winners of this game but also deserved league champions. On the day their passing, support play and rapid realignment produced multiple opportunities and their clinical finishing reaped handsome rewards. For the Black & Whites, with safety secured a fortnight ago, it might have been easy to have put in a lackadaisical performance but that was certainly not the case as the team ran until they dropped and tackled defiantly in a losing cause.

With the season completed and Sutton & Epsom retaining their status it was also the last match for Head Coach Lee Cholewa. He joined the club in the 2012-13 season. If it was not the Darkest Hour it was certainly gloomy times as he club had been relegated after a winless season. He began with a promotion after a nail-biting play off win over Charlton Park. There followed the record breaking 2015-16 London One South title winning season. He has finished with two seasons consolidating Sutton’s status in Level 5. The whole of the club wish Lee, Sam, Joshua and Lucas the very best for the future and they will always be greeted with a hearty welcome in the Clubhouse.

Sutton: Sam Hurley, Chris Kolapo-Ajala, Stefan Cooksammy, Jacob Knight, Kyren Ghumra, Jamie See, Steve Munford (capt), Alex Mount, Seb Bonizzi, Raynn Bruce, Matt Harwood, Kyle Coulter, Felix Symonds, George London, John Taylor. Replacements (all used): Brandon Fanolua, Dave Weller and Frankie Murray.

 

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