• S&ERFC league champions after away win at Bedford... final score 38-31...
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Latest 1st XV match report

Sutton get to the Mountain Top and see the Promised Land
Bedford Athletic 31-38 Sutton & Epsom
Twelve months ago at Rugby Lane Sutton & Epsom hosted the joyous celebrations of Barnes RFC as they clinched the London & SE Premier title with a bonus point victory. Few who basked in the spring sunshine that Saturday afternoon would have thought that the 2018-19 campaign would transport them to Bedford Athletic’s splendid Putnoe Woods facility to urge on their beloved S&E to the league title. The equation on Saturday was simple, one more point and they would be Champions. In recent weeks the Black & Whites had resembled one of those majestic thoroughbreds that coast around the circuit and surge to victory in the final furlong. That might be relaxing for the punters in the Sport of Kings but for the Sutton supporters their preference would be to see a dominant victory from pillar to post. Dare the faithful followers dream of four tries before half-time, a bonus point secured, euphoric celebrations and a relaxing watch soaking in the triumph. Some times dreams do come true as Stefan Cooksammy secured the crown at 3:35pm. Title tucked away the teams put on a highly entertaining game that went down to the wire with the Champions holding on to secure a 38-31 victory to round off the season with 102 points.

Bedford Athletic kicked off the game on a chilly afternoon against the breeze. The ground looked majestic with Bob Haime salivating at the sight of the pristine white fenced surroundings. Sutton & Epsom playing in their away colours of Sky Blue faced the Black & White hoops of the hosts, one hopes this was not too confusing for some of the senior Sutton supporters who had made the trip and were part of a sizeable crowd to witness the culmination of the campaign. S&E started at a high tempo eager to spread the ball wide. From the first scrummage Theo Skoumbourdis imposed himself on the game winning a penalty. Jacob Knight arrowed the kick into the corner. The first opportunity of the afternoon within five minutes was the familiar 5 metre line out. To the delight of the visitors a perfectly executed catch and drive saw Steve Munford, playing his 199th and last league game, was ushered over the whitewash. Jacob Knight made light of the buffeting breeze and the acute angle to add the conversion for a reassuring 7-0 lead. The hosts, having overcome a tricky start to the season, were in a rich vein of form with 7 wins and a draw in their last 10 outings and responded at once. Only an errant pass on halfway brought an end to a most promising attack. In the tenth minute another dominant scrum provided the platform for the second try. The blindside from 40 metres out was exposed and captain George Drye was the beneficiary as his astute supporting run saw him stride home for the score. Though the the conversion drifted wide it was 12-0 with two of the vital four tries banked by the table-toppers in ten minutes of fast-paced action. The Bedfordshire side were starting to gain a foothold with their impressive and inventive back division looking for any weaknesses in the Sutton line. With the first quarter drawing to a close Jamie See intercepted a pass on halfway, to reprise his other similar try on the opening day of the season against the same opposition, and once more he outstripped the cover to touch down under the sticks. The formality of the conversion was completed by Jacob Knight for a 19-0 lead. The Surrey team were on the brink of history…One hour to play and one try required.

The Midlanders were unbowed by the early onslaught and deservedly got on the scoreboard with the next try. Having forced their way to the Sutton 22 and being frustrated by a knock on 10 metres out they crossed the whitewash at the next time of asking. Stephen Woodhead weaved his way through and Steve Smith added the conversion to reduce the deficit to 7-19. The Champions elect fluffed their lines on their next sortie into enemy territory and Athletic took full advantage. Harry Sawford-Smith sauntered in and Steve Smith did the necessary and what had been a celebratory procession had been transformed into an exhilarating contest as the home supporters applauded the 19-14 score. S&E now pressed hard for the fourth try and were frustrated by strong defence and understandable anxiety when within striking range. Finally, the moment that will go down in Sutton folklore and live long in the memory of all of those who were fortunate enough to witness it, Stefan Cooksammy muscled his way over the line in a familiar demonstration of strength to score. A cacophony of celebratory exhaltations enveloped the ground as Sutton & Epsom secured the title. Jacob Knight added the conversion for a 26-14 lead. As the audible sighs of relief abated and the beaming faces of Suttonians wreathed the ground there was still time for more action in the first period. Bedford pressed hard for a score before the interval. Their initial attacks were thwarted but their patience and determination was rewarded with a try in the corner on the final play of the half. Despite the tricky conversion failing to bisect the uprights the game was once more in the balance with S&E 26-19 to the good.

The hosts retreated to the sanctuary of their dressing room whilst the Champions gathered on halfway to receive brief congratulations from Coach Hodgson before plotting a course to victory in the second half. Whatever was said appeared to work at once. Matt Whitaker caught Jacob Knight’s drop out, sprinted clear and passed inside to George Drye who scored. Sadly the record breaking Number 8 had put a foot in touch and play was brought back. But Sutton were not to be denied as moments later a catch and drive created the perfect platform. The ball was spun left and then right as Tom Lennard created the overlap and Andy Matthews was on hand to score in the corner for 31-19. Moments later from a line out 15 metres from the line another well controlled catch and drive provided Matt Whitaker with a try, his 98th in his league career, a fitting reward for yet another stunning performance of relentless carrying that put his side on the front foot. Jacob Knight converted for a 38-19 lead. Any thoughts of complacency from the newly annointed Champions had been dismissed in the opening exchanges of the second period as they were determined to end the season on a winning note and break the hundred point barrier for the season. More of the same seemed on the cards as a delightful kick from Jacob Knight rolled into touch 5 metres from the Athletic line. However, the combination of a declined penalty in front of the posts, Stoic defence and profligate attack meant that S&E failed to extend their lead. Buoyed by that apparent temporary stay of execution the Putnoe Woods team went on the attack and were soon rewarded for their adventure as they broke clear on halfway and scored a goal that ended the third quarter at 38-26.

The final quarter saw the tireless Bedford running the ball at every opportunity whilst Sutton players suffered a dose of ‘white line fever’ as understandably players wanted to join the celebratory mode with their name on the scoresheet. Opportunities by the Rugby Lane team were squandered whilst the Bedfordshire crowd sensed an opportunity for a famous win over the league Champions. It produced a highly entertaining denouement to the season. Another Knight grubber to the corner had Sutton enduring the sort of time so beloved of Sisyphus and Tantalus as the marvellous Bedford defence thwarted each and every thrust with Tom Lennard agonisingly close to scoring. With the joys of liberation from defensive duties the hosts switched to their preferred offensive mode. They broke through on halfway once more and careered off into the distance like Jehu to touch down. Perhaps the ball should have been placed more adjacent to the posts as the subsequent conversion went awry. Now with the score at 31-38 and in time added on the hosts could only gain the chance of a draw if they were to force another score. Low and behold the Black & White shirts of the Midlanders burst forward one final time moving remorselessly towards the whitewash only for the ball to be spilled forward in a tackle when a try looked the likely outcome. The referee signalled the end of the game concluding a high scoring and highly entertaining game.

After two seasons in the nether regions of the table 2018-19 has been an annus mirabilis for the men from Rugby Lane. On 20th October the Black & Whites suffered a heavy defeat at home to Tunbridge Wells. The club pessimists with the outlook of Silenus muttered forebodings of the relegation zone by Christmas as they glanced at the challenging fixtures ahead. However, the side embarked on a winning run with as many peaks as the Himalayas. If anyone is to question the worthiness of Sutton as Champions they should note that they defeated Westcliff and Wimbledon, their closest rivals, both home and away and recorded two more victories than any other team in the league. In addition they won at Cow Lane ending Tring’s unbeaten record that stretches back to antediluvian times. Indeed, the final whistle at the Dorian Williams Sports Ground was greeted with a joyous exuberance akin to the relief of Mafeking. The success has been built on a vastly improved defence, fast recycling of the ball and clinical back play. However, possibly the key factor is that immeasurable quality of team spirit that brings a side home in adversity. At Westcliff the side recorded the greatest Sutton come back in the league era in a performance that epitomised the self belief in the squad. It would be invidious to single out any player out of the 45 who have donned the Sutton colours this term as it has been a team effort. That being said the coaching staff deserve the highest plaudits. Sutton & Epsom are most fortunate to have the calibre and experience of Mike Schmid and Paul Hodgson. In tandem they have improved not only the individuals but also the collective to create a formidable team that have beaten every side in the league. Perhaps the most telling statistic is that the Sky Blues have won 12 out of 13 on their travels this season. Whatever happens next time around in National League 2 South in Redruth, Henley and Taunton let us enjoy and celebrate the success of a magnificent team in a most memorable season.

Sutton & Epsom:
Kyren Ghumra, Andy Matthews, Stefan Cooksammy, Jamie See, James Valentine, Jacob Knight, Steve Munford, Alex Mount, Chris Farrell, Theo Skoumbourdis, Matt Harwood, Eric Duey, George Drye (capt), George London, Matt Whitaker. Replacements: Raynn Bruce, Billy Fowler & Tom Lennard (all used).

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