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Latest 1st XV match report

A Game of Two Pitches
Sutton & Epsom 42-26 Towcestrians
In their first meeting back in September Sutton recorded their record away league victory 60-19. However, Towcestrians were in the midst of a miserable start to the campaign beset with injuries to experienced players. The Northamptonshire side arrived at Rugby Lane on Saturday with practically a new pack and having improved to such an extent that they ran Tring close before Christmas. So despite sitting bottom of the table it was not a foregone conclusion that S&E would just turn up and win. In the end a 42-26 bonus point victory appears to be most satisfactory but the scoreline masks some serious issues.

If any of the home spectators feared complacency from their team they would have been mightily relieved with the start of this encounter. Frankie Murray kicked off, Sutton recovered the ball and advanced. A well placed kick from Frankie Murray, playing at scrum-half this week, was knocked on and the hungry chasers won a penalty. The ball was duly kicked into the corner. From the ensuing line out Dan Wood easily ran in from a well executed move. Sam Hurley converted for a 7-0 lead. A couple of minutes later it appeared to be a case of ‘Action – Take Two’ as another penalty led to a 5-metre line out.  This time the throw was errant and the opportunity was squandered. From that moment a game that was being dominated by the hosts became not only competitive but also concerning for the Rugby Lane faithful. The Surrey side hindered their progress with errors. For every surging break and good passage of play ended with either an unlikely turnover conceded  or good defence from the visitors forcing a mistake. At the end of the first quarter the home pack were forced to defend a line out on their own 5-metre line. The execution of the their throw went completely awry. The ball ended up apologetically over the try line and an alert Towcestrian forward gleefully fell on the ball. The touchline conversation was missed and the lead was reduced to 7-5.

Five minutes later the Black & Whites were awarded a penalty. Perhaps reflecting the need to re-establish control the chance to kick into the corner was spurned in order to extend the lead with the boot. The penalty drifted wide and it was to be the only missed kick of the afternoon from Sam Hurley. The scrappy nature of this fixture was epitomised by the next score. A fine attack by the men from Greens Norton Road was undone as Sutton stole the ball and countered with power to add. S&E turned over the ball and this time when the ball went wide to winger Cameron Young. Provided with a couple of yards of room the speedy winger rounded his opposite number and ran in in impressive style from halfway.  The simplest of conversions was added by Benjamin Roe. Trailing 12-7 the home team’s response was superb. Jacob Knight broke in midfield and a surging burst from Stefan Cooksammy brought the ball into the visitors half. George London was on hand to punch towards the posts as a retreating Towcestrians defence scrambled to recover. The flanker saw Matt Whitaker on his left and unleashed the flying number eight who scored under the posts. Sam Hurley did the necessaries to regain the lead at 14-12. That moment should have been a template for the remainder of the game. Passion, power and precision had created a fine score and it was Sutton at their very best. So it was bitterly disappointing that they surrendered the lead meekly moments later. It looked like the Cheam team were about to extend their lead. Chris Kolapo-Ajala carried with menace, Jamie See jinked his way into their 22 but Felix Symonds was stripped of the ball. The Midlanders advanced into the host’s half. Aided by another turnover and a penalty conceded. Sutton found themselves defending a 5-metre line out in the dying seconds of the half. The hosts infringed again but encouraged by the ‘free ball’ the opposition went to their backs where winger Alex Foggett ran a superb line to touch down by the posts. Ben Roe made the score 19-14 to Towcestrians as the whistle concluded proceedings in the first period.

The first ten minutes of the second half were the key to the result. Even by the standards of some of the exit strategies witnessed at Rugby Lane this season the shambles from the restart was a marvel to behold. A dreadful pass was mercifully gathered, a sliced kick missed touch and a penalty was conceded in front of the posts from the follow up. The visitors declined the chance for 3 points and went for the jugular. Gritty Sutton defence denied the Northamptonshire side. A fine break from Jacob Knight is undone as the centre fails to release the ball when tackled. Ludicrously a Sutton player questions the decision to concede 10 metres and the ball is kicked to the 5-metre mark. The siege is finally lifted as the forwards steal the line out. The Black & Whites counter effectively to take the ball into the Midlanders 22. That failure to increase their lead having spent ten minutes in the Sutton 22 would prove to be very costly. Roles were reversed as Sutton declined a kick in front of the posts to opt for another scrum. The home pack were becoming increasingly dominant at the scrummage and forced another penalty. It was taken quickly and Matt Whitaker scored. Sam Hurley added the extras as the home team regained the lead 21-19.

The Rugby Lane crowd, no doubt, hoped that this latest score would signal the start of a period of Sutton dominance. To their despair it inaugurated another phase if error-strewn incompetence and indiscipline. Perhaps wary of not taking a kick at goal the visitors having been awarded a penalty went for the three point option. The kick sailed over the top of the post and so a chance was squandered. But  Towcestrians were soon on the attack able assisted by a flurry of penalties. Eventually they deservedly score. Ben Roe converts for a 26-21 lead. A chastened Sutton return to the attack and appear to be in an excellent position. The Towcestrians wing had not read the script as he pounced on a loose ball and set off for the try-line. It took an excellent covering tackle by Jamie See to deny a spectacular score. That fright focused the S&E team. The forwards then won another penalty from the set piece from which lock Felix Symonds scored a try from a distance which is appreciated by a player of his vast experience. Sam Hurley nonchalantly kicked the conversion to recapture the lead 28-26.

The game entered its final ten minutes with the crowd wondering whether the relegation threatened visitors would rally again or would the hosts finally establish control on proceedings. Another wonderful break by Jacob Knight led to a further 5-metre scrum. The pack who had performed tremendously at the scrummage were rewarded for their endeavours with a pushover try. Matt Whitaker completed his hat trick, Sam Hurley converted and for the first time the lead stretched beyond the 7-point margin as Sutton led 35-26. Their followed an unfortunate injury as Chris Kolapo-Ajala countered inside his 22 the Towcestrian tackler was knocked out. Proceedings were delayed for a considerable time as physios attended the striken player. As both sides ran a few drills to keep warm it was decided to relocate towards the clubhouse and finish the game on the Swallows pitch. There was time for one more score from Stefan Cooksammy. It was a deserved reward for the centre who had enjoyed a fine afternoon where his aggressive running had been a constant threat throughout. Sam Hurley made it six goals for the afternoon. Moments later the final whistle brought proceedings to a close with the Black & Whites 42-26 winners.

A bonus point win and six tries secured against the bottom of the table team. There is much to admire about Sutton rugby but equally there is much that frustrates. It was wonderful to see the pack put the opposition under pressure at the scrum that led to not only penalties but tries. Another Matt Whitaker hat trick and a tireless performance from the talismanic number eight should be celebrated. The aggressive ball carrying by Stefan Cooksammy and the numerous breaks made by his centre partner Jacob Knight were enjoyed by the crowd. However, the number of turnovers, unforced errors and penalties conceded seriously undermined the performance. The volume and expletive-laden conversations that met each Towcestrian try as the team gathered behind the posts awaiting the conversion was perhaps the best barometer to what the hosts thought of their performance. The Greens Norton Road team played with great spirit and it would have been fascinating to see how Sutton would have responded if they had scored during the early pressure of the second period. With pace on the flanks, disruptive forwards at the break down and tenacity Towcestrians are not giving up their National League status without a fight. For the Black & Whites a trip to beleaguered Westcombe Park is on the horizon next Saturday.  Having defeated the 14th-placed side the challenge will be now to overcome the 13th-placed team. If the lessons of this win are learned Sutton should travel with confidence. However, in Westcombe Park they will find an opposition desperately needing a win to climb out of the bottom three. In the corresponding fixture at Rugby Lane it took a Mike Schmid try on the final play to secure a victory, so S&E know what to expect.

Sutton: Sam Hurley, Tobi Oduyemi, Stefan Cooksammy, Jacob Knight, Chris Kolapo-Ajala, Jamie See, Frankie Murray, Raynn Bruce, Barney Cowie, Theo Skoumbourdis, Matt Harwood, Felix Symonds, George London, Dan Wood, Matt Whitaker (capt). Replacements: Seb Bonizzi, Jack Howes. Sam Lovatt: Did not play.

 

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