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Great start to Sutton and Epsom’s new campaign

Barnes 32-35 Sutton & Epsom
On a beautifully sunny afternoon Sutton opened their 2017-18 campaign against Barnes. With a change in nomenclature the league is no longer National 3 London & SE but London & SE Premier with the irony of including Towcestrians. To start the season away at a team who had been relegated from National 2 is always a step into the unknown. Also Sutton gave league debuts to Alex Banks, John Taylor, Jacob Knight, Jordan Turton and Nick Headley. So to end the afternoon with an away bonus point win was riches indeed.

The game opened with both sides instantly showing their intent to play a wide running game. Both defences were on their metal closing down their counterparts at pace. The first opportunity fell to the hosts who forced a penalty. The kick into the corner created the platform of an attacking line out five metres from the Sutton line. The visitors repelled the initial catch and drive but were penalised again for pulling down the maul. At the second time of asking Barnes ushered their number eight, Ciaran Smyth, over in the corner. Josh Coles added an impressive touchline conversion for a 7-0 lead.

The teams exchanged penalties as the first quarter reached its conclusion with Sam Hurley reducing the deficit for S&E before Josh Coles re-established the 7-point lead. The game then exploded into life to set the tone for the rest of the afternoon. The Black & Whites swung the ball wide with Jordan Turton held up in the left hand corner. The ball was then passed to the right hand corner where Andy Matthews forced himself over for the try. The testing kick was missed. Five minutes later Sutton & Epsom took the lead. Breaks by Jordan Turton and Jamie See forced the Green and Gold onto the retreat. From a 5-metre line out Matt Whitaker emerged from the pile of forwards as the try-scorer. Sam Hurley converted for Sutton to lead 15-10 on the half hour. Another Sam Hurley penalty increased the lead before a frantic end to the half. A sniping break from the ruck saw the home team on the verge of a try. Salvation came with an interception but barely had the cheers of delight broke out from the visiting spectators than Barnes snaffled the offload. The chance of a breakaway try had evaporated in the blink of an eye and a penalty was conceded. The half ended with a nonchalant Josh Coles penalty and the teams turned around with the men from Rugby Lane 18-13 to the good.

The Sutton & Epsom start to the second period gave no indication to the drama that was to follow. A Whitaker break and a precise crossfield kick by Jacob Knight set up the attacking position that forced another penalty. Sam Hurley did the necessary to stretch the lead to 21-13. Having the appearance of control for the opening 10 minutes of the half Sutton’s game was torn apart by two tries in as many minutes. Firstly, a clearance kick was returned from within the Barnes half as the visitors defence parted in Biblical proportions for the opponent to run in virtually untouched. The next play a kick was spilled and the hosts recycled for the centre to kick ahead regather and score in the corner. In no time at all the former National 2 club had gained a 25-21 lead.

To their credit Sutton & Epsom showed their character with a try within 5 minutes. A sniping break by the lively Steve Munford was snuffed out narrowly short of the try line. The ball was spun wide and Jordan Turton did well to touch down in the corner. A splendid Sam Hurley conversion had S&E regain the lead 28-25 with 25 minutes play still to come. For the remainder of the game the home pack began to exert control in the set piece. Not only from scrums the Sutton eight were shunted backwards but also their line out was not contested as the visitors tried to counter the well drilled catch and drive. The Black & Whites defended stoutly. The most notable effort was made by Jordan Turton who intelligently did not contest a precise crossfield chip but bundled his opposite number into touch as soon as it was caught with the try line in sight. The pressure eventually told as the hosts scored in the corner to take a 30-28 lead. The touchline conversion was crucial. The excellent Josh Coles converted leaving Sutton trailing by four points and needing a try to win. The last five minutes were frenetic and thrilling. The visiting supporters from Rugby Lane rode an emotional roller coaster. An errant pass wasted an opportunity, an attacking line out was lost and a marvellous turnover seemed to have denied the visitors. Barnes controlled the ball and decided to kick deep into Sutton territory. Jordan Turton surged out of defence and found James Caddy who marauded deep into the opposition half. Crucially he slowed his run to avoid being isolated. The ball was spun wide to Matt Whitaker who gleefully strode into the corner. Sam Hurley converted as the final whistle ended a wonderful game 35-32 to the Black & Whites.

Both XVs contributed to a highly entertaining game. It was a painful defeat for Barnes to lose to the final play of the game. The Barnes pack and their line out power will serve them well this season and Barn Elms will be a challenging venue for all visitors this season. However, Sutton, had they been defeated, would have rued a missed opportunity and were good value for their success. For Sutton, Jacob Knight in the midfield provided variety and class to the back division that looked a potent force with ball in hand. The pack worked tirelessly to provide quick ball. Dan Wood’s pace and energy combined effectively with Captain Caddy and the evergreen Matt Whitaker whose hunger for tries remains undiminished. Ultimately in a narrow win the contribution from the boot of Sam Hurley, 15 points in total, should not be undersestimated.

Next Saturday Sutton & Epsom fly out to Guernsey to take on the Islanders. This is never an easy option and it is rather sobering to note that their opponents recorded a 75-5 triumph on their visit to League new boys Towcestrians. For those of you who will not be heading to the Channel Island they can catch up with their team on 16th September when they host Tring at Rugby Lane kicking off at 3pm.

Sutton & Epsom Team:
Sam Hurley, Nick Headley, Andy Matthews, Jacob Knight, Jordan Turton, Jamie See, Steve Munford, Raynn Bruce, Seb Bonizzi, Alex Banks, John Taylor, Matt Harwood, James Caddy (capt), Dan Wood, Matt Whitaker.
Replacements: Mickey Pointing, Shiv Patel. Jonjo Wadwa (not used).

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