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The Raiding Party take the Spoils but Sutton earn two points
Sutton & Epsom 24-30 Worthing
The 2019-20 campaign reached its midpoint on Saturday with Worthing being the final National 2 South opponent of the season before the reverse fixtures start next Saturday. Invigorated by their magnificent performance at the last time of asking against the Titans the S&E supporters hoped they would go one better against the Raiders. On a cold afternoon in excess of 250 supporters, with a sizeable contingent from the South Coast, gathered for the last home fixture of 2019 at Rugby Lane. In an error-strewn game of eight tries, shared equally between the combatants, the visitors returned to Rugby Park with a five-point 30-26 win. There was considerable consolation in defeat for the hosts as a try, by debutant Ellis Rudder, in time added on gave them an invaluable two bonus points.

Many of the crowd had barely taken their seats or found their vantage point when Sutton were reduced to 14 men. One often laments the lacklustre kick chase to a box-kick. On this occasion, unfortunately the catcher was airborne, as a returning Stefan Cooksammy took man and ball in a crunching tackle. Whether by a couple of inches or a couple of feet the result is the same: ten minutes on the naughty step. Worthing looked to press home their numerical advantage and appeared to be set to score. The long pass out landed apologetically on the turf nowhere near a colleague. Veteran Sam Hurley pounced and set off for glory. Though hauled down on halfway the ball was soon in Christian Bottomley’s hands and he kicked ahead for Kyren Ghumra to win the chase to the line to touch down for the opening score. Sam Hurley added the extras for a 7-0 lead. The flying winger was soon on duty moments later preventing a try. That was only a brief respite as another Barnes Wallis offering arrived in Harry Forrest’s hands and the winger finished with ease. The prolific Mathew McLean failed to convert and the visitors trailed 5-7.

Despite the heavy conditions both teams were eager to spread the ball wide but were impeded by errors and infringements. Early in the second quarter Mathew McLean punished S&E with an assured penalty to take an 8-7 lead. There followed the Surrey men’s finest passage of play as the ball swept first to one flank and then the next. George Drye carried to within 5 metres and Michael Cooke saw the chance to glide through the defence to score. The team from Angmering had shown festive generosity with the first home try but the third Sutton try was a present beyond the realms of generosity. From an innocuous line out near halfway they passed straight to Ollie Kilgallon who romped in unchallenged under the posts. Sam Hurley did the necessary and in the blink of an eye the Black & Whites had a 19-8 lead.

With the interval fast approaching the hosts again were reduced to 14. A hapless pass on halfway had gifted the visitors the ball. As they pressed to score Kyren Ghumra was adjudged to have intentionally knocked on. Penalty awarded, kicked to touch, line out won, catch and drive and try. Elliott Luke was the tryscorer and Mathew McLean made the half-time score 19-15 to Sutton. The visitors took the long walk back to the dressing room for their break as the hosts stayed out in the middle. Worthing took full advantage of the extra man in the second period. It became the Mathew McLean show as he slotted a penalty, scored a try and added the conversion. The ruthless exploitation of the yellow card accounted for 15 unanswered points as the Roundstone Lane team took a 23-19 lead. When the punishment ended Sutton introduced Ellis Rudder, for his debut, and Tariq Al Khaldi to freshen things up.

As the game entered the final quarter with the Raiders looking far more assured Sutton needed to take every opportunity. A fine break by Stefan Cooksammy was followed up by a sumptuous grubber into the corner by the excellent Michael Cooke. The ball was bundled into touch and S&E had a 5-metre line out and the perfect attacking platform. They conceded a penalty having won the ball and Worthing cleared their lines. The faltering visiting line out gave the Black & Whites another opportunity as Whitaker, Ince and Drye combined well to take the ball forward. Once more a penalty was conceded. That was the wake up call for the Sussex squad. Jamie See, replacing Sam Hurley at 15, was soon in the action scurrying back to touch down and prevent a try. From the ensuing scrum it was the visitors’ turn to spurn an opportunity to score.

As the game drew to a conclusion the number of mistakes at the line out by both teams reached comical proportions. Finally, Worthing managed to make a period of concerted pressure pay. Sam Cook popped over from close range after valiant Sutton defence. The metronomic McLean stretched the lead to 30-19. With the game in time added on it looked like the Rugby Lane side would emerge from a contest, that they once had led by 11 points, with absolutely nothing. However, knowing that a try would earn not only a losing bonus point but also a try-scoring bonus for the fourth score, they attacked with relish. Eventually the ball, thanks to a miraculous offload by Jacob Bushnell, reached Ellis Rudder on the flank. The debutant still had a lot to do but to the delight of the home crowd he twisted and spun, brushing aside tacklers, and crossed the whitewash to score. There was a little time left on the clock to worry Worthing pessimists but their team held on for a deserved victory.

The Raiders have every element required to challenge any side in this league. Their scrum provides a solid platform and their line out should, despite the evidence of this game, win their own ball with ease. They have plenty of pace in the backs with Harry Forrest a constant threat and the creativity of Jonathan Dawe in midfield. In addition the prolific boot of Mathew McLean makes them a formidable opponent. However, this was an off day for the South Coast visitors in the first period. Though Sutton capitalised on errors, it was their own indiscipline, notably two yellow cards, that meant that the Raiders, with a much improved second half display, emerged victorious.

Perhaps it is the appropriate moment to reflect on the season so far as Sutton have played every team. The campaign is relentless and the Christmas weekend is the first break since the September opener. 46 different players have donned the Black & White jersey so far. Obviously a consistent selection, less injuries and improved availability would help the cause but these are expected hurdles. The greatest failing has been the penalty count which time and again has undermined the performance. The outstanding effort against Taunton demonstrated the standards that can be reached. The pack have not been outmuscled in the set scrum and have provided a solid platform. Michael Cooke at 10 has made telling contributions in his four outings and it is hoped that he will be ever-present for the remainder of the season. Andy Ince, after his most unfortunate debut, is now demonstrating the quality expected and with Ollie Kilgallon and the tireless Matt Whitaker they are proving to be a formidable back row combination. The second half of the season will be tough, indeed it starts away at league leaders Tonbridge Juddians next Saturday. However, with a pragmatic approach to the remaining fixtures Sutton have every chance to progress into safer waters.

For those of you desperate to avoid Christmas shopping, the ubiquitous festive music and wasting your money on dire tat that will never see the light of day after Boxing Day then I invite you to The Slade. Sutton & Epsom will be playing Tonbridge Juddians with a 2:30pm kick off according to the BBC website. That turn of phrase is used because they still show us as having beaten Bournemouth. Sadly, the NCA, that august body, have decided the match must be replayed on 22nd February at Rugby Lane as the power cut that ended the game does not trigger the 60-minute rule.

Sutton & Epsom: Sam Hurley, Kyren Ghumra, Jacob Bushnell, Jacob Knight, Stefan Cooksammy, Michael Cooke, Christian Bottomley, Raynn Bruce, Chris Farrell, David Coutts, Matt Harwood, George Drye (c), Ollie Kilgallon, Andy Ince, Matt Whitaker. Replacements: Tariq Al Khaldi, Will Lloyd, Jordan Coombes, Jamie See & Ellis Rudder.

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