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Honour in Defeat ss Sutton Demonstrate the Qualities Required
Clifton 38-31 Sutton & Epsom
Having kick-started their season last weekend, with a Westcliff win, Sutton still went to Clifton looking to bridge the gap between National 3 and National 2. A victory over a fellow promoted side is one thing but to take on an established club at Level 4 is quite another. Therefore the performance against the Gloucestershire stalwarts was most encouraging. Though defeated 38-31 they collected a couple of bonus points, many plaudits and no little confidence from their spirited comeback that saw them end the match in the ascendancy.

Sutton & Epsom arrived at Cribbs Causeway to find a pitch in perfect condition and mild weather. The visitors kicked off and after the opening sparring the hefty home pack looked to open their account. A couple of surging bursts close to the breakdown by marauding hooker Luke Stratford had Clifton encamped on the Sutton line. With plenty of sizeable options from close range a try looked inevitable. However, the defence, led by Captain Drye, was magnificent as they thwarted the West Country forwards time and again. Eventually they turned over the ball and cleared their lines. Indeed the hosts lost centre Kieran Griffiths to a shoulder injury in the process. After such heroic defence the manner of the opening score was a disappointment. The excellent Cameron McDonald was the beneficiary as he crossed the whitewash in the tenth minute following a poor clearance and ineffective pressure from the defensive unit. Brad Barnes converted to start his perfect afternoon with the boot for a 7-0 lead.

Within five minutes the lead was doubled. A fine Ben Holt box kick to halfway hugging the touchline should have relieved the pressure but the slovenly chase negated its value. The ball was spun open and reached the dancing feet of Cameron McDonald who scythed through would-be tacklers to gift a try to lock Henry Harper. Brad Barnes did the necessary for 14-0. Moments later a clearance kick failed to make touch and Cameron The Creator was on hand again. This time he kicked ahead and appeared to have been stymied by a bounce that had the ball angling to touch but undeterred a sublime one-handed flick behind him to Henry Harper was gathered near the lock’s bootlaces. To complete the splendid try fellow second row Archie Benson was on hand to stride home. A simple conversion accepted and 21-0 lead as S&E’s errors were being ruthlessly punished.

But what a response from the re-start as a towering James Bourton kick was regained and the forwards rapidly recycled the ball through a few phases. Ben Holt saw a gap through the retreating defences and darted through to score under the posts. Sam Hurley added the extras for 7-21. The Surrey squad surged with self-belief and started to gain not only possession but quick ball to test the Clifton defences in the next 15 minutes. Unfortunately in a cluttered midfield with Sutton forwards attempting to realign a pass out to the backs was delayed and the totemic Luke Stratford pounced to intercept and charge home from halfway. Brad Barnes kicked for 28-7 and a bonus point was in the bag. The dying embers of the first period saw Sutton with a 5-metre line out. The ball was secured, Ollie Kilgallon burst towards the line and, although halted, Alex Mount was on hand to score. A Sam Hurley conversion brought proceedings to a close as the half-time scoreboard recorded a Clifton lead of 28-14.

The visitors began the second period well whilst the hosts were unfortunate to lose Cameron McDonald through injury within five minutes of the re-start. Sutton & Epsom deservedly opened the scoring in the half with another try from a 5-metre line out. This time Ollie Kilgallon would not be thwarted and secured his first try in Sutton colours. Despite the conversion from the flank missing the men from Rugby Lane were in the contest and trailing 19-28 with 30 minutes remaining. However, almost at once, the hosts extended their lead in slightly fortuitous circumstances. For once the Clifton handling was not perfect and the ball went loose, but crucially adjudicated as legitimately, and the ubiquitous Henry Harper scored. The immaculate Brad Barnes restored the lead to double figures for a scoreline of 35-19.

Sutton stormed back into the contest with a perfectly executed score five minutes later. With the Sky Blue pack gaining ample possession and going through the phases they threatened the line with sustained pressure. Debutant Michael Cooke at 10 glanced up and delivered a perfect kick into the waiting hands of an unmarked Daley Aremu on the wing to score in the corner. The challenging conversion narrowly missed but Sutton had secured their first try-scoring bonus point of the season. Despite a Brad Barnes penalty extending the lead to 38-19 S&E were very much in the game. Entering the final quarter live wire scrum-half Cole Potts replaced Ben Holt. The frenetic pace of a wonderfully entertaining and open game was starting to tell on some of the forwards and gaps were appearing on the fringes. Barely had he set foot on the pitch than Cole Potts set off on a mesmeric run from halfway weaving through the cover and almost to the line.

The team from Cheam were finishing stronger and were twice thwarted when play was stopped due to injured players receiving treatment where they wished to advance. Another blistering break from Cole Potts provided Kyren Ghumra with a try in the right hand corner. The touchline conversion, from the wrong side for the right-footed Sam Hurley, if successful would translate into a second bonus point. Not for the first time the Sutton kicker produced the goods for 31-38 with ten minutes left on the clock. Despite much endeavour the visitors could not create another chance to level the scores as resolute Clifton defence thwarted the magnificent Sutton side as the game concluded, with no additional score, at 38-31.

Sutton were severely punished for their errors in the opening 30 minutes and must learn the lesson that you cannot give time and space to the back threes in National 2. Clifton’s early dominance provided them with sufficient points to deservedly win the game. However, for the Black & Whites, the positives far outweigh the negatives. Debutant Michael Cooke at 10 found touch with his kicks, made numerous tackles and made breaks. To round of a fine display his inch perfect chip created a try. The re-arranged back row trio of Kilgallon, Smart and Whitaker combined as if they had played together for years providing Sutton with plenty of quick, clean ball as well as carrying to great effect. The pack to a man put in its best display of the season with two tries from the line out a testament to their skill. Daley Aremu impressed once more with his tenacity in the tackle and eagerness to attack. Cole Potts is proving to be a potent weapon off the bench with his pace and flare he clinically exposes tiring bodies and the open spaces in the latter stages. S&E thoroughly deserved their brace of bonus points in this thrilling contest and hopefully it will be the catalyst to many more exhilarating afternoons this season.

Next Saturday Rugby Lane has the exciting prospect of hosting Esher for a rare league encounter. With the Black & Whites promotion coinciding with their Surrey rivals relegation it provides an opportunity to rekindle this traditional fixture.

Sutton & Epsom: Sam Hurley, Kyren Ghumra, Brad Meeson, James Bourton, Daley Aremu, Michael Cooke, Ben Holt, Alex Mount, Chris Farrell, Theo Skoumbourdis, George Drye (capt), Sam Collingridge, Ollie Kilgallon, Josh Smart, Matt Whitaker. Replacements: Raynn Bruce, Matt Harwood, Jamie See & Cole Potts. Richard Madadangoma (did not play)

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