Battersea Ironsides 38 Sutton & Epsom RFC 29. Saturday 6th January.
In September at Rugby Lane Sutton & Epsom belatedly gained their first success of their campaign
with a last gasp 26-25 win over the then league leader’s Battersea Ironsides. Therefore the return
fixture was anticipated with great relish. Before the kick off there was much disruption from the
scheduled proceedings. Storm Henk had led to torrential midweek rains resulting in Battersea’s
Openview facilities being unplayable. Fortunately an alternative time and venue was found. The
match was rescheduled for 4pm at the splendid Grasshoppers RFC venue. The crowd enjoyed the
curtain-raiser at 2pm as HAC overcame Grasshoppers 22-14 in the parallel Regional 2 Thames
League before settling in for the main event. A thrilling nine-try match ensued with the lead
changing hands five times before Battersea Ironsides triumphed 38-29.
Sutton & Epsom suffered a setback in the warm up as Tom Lennard injured his back. The deck
was reshuffled and Gareth O’Brien went to 10 and Austin Bell, returning from University, came off
the bench to 15. The unfortunate Lennard, with all the mobility of an octogenarian, was ushered
to the bench and was unlikely to play any part in proceedings unless some miracle worker
happened to be strolling down Syon Lane. The game started under the floodlights with Battersea
Ironsides immediately in the ascendancy. A try in the opening minute was denied as the hosts
were held up over the line. Five minutes later blindside flanker Ollie Davies made the first of many
penetrating breaks. From halfway he broke through the first defender then palmed off prospective
tacklers who were scattered like skittles as he raced in to score. Charles Stuart regally added the
conversion for a 7-0 lead.
The high tempo opening from the hosts continued as Charles Stuart added a penalty to extend the
lead to 10-0. Moments later Sutton were on the scoreboard from the familiar efficiency of Freddy
Bunting’s boot as he added another penalty to his ever-increasing season’s tally to make it 10-3.
However, the errant Sutton defence yielded another penalty that enabled the hosts to regain their
ten-point advantage to lead 13-3 a couple of minutes later. At the end of the first quarter
Battersea Ironsides were rewarded for their dominant start to the match with their second try.
This time it was Number 8 Tom Jeffs who forced his way past flailing defenders from ten metres
out. The ball-carrying of Davies & Jeffs was to be the difference between the sides by the final
whistle. Though Charles Stuart’s conversion drifted harmlessly wide the Ironsides had a healthy
advantage of 18-3 with the visitors starved of territory and possession.
The early ascendancy of the SW17 outfit was replaced by a sterling Sutton comeback. At last the
Black & Whites put together some phases and excellent handling got them deep into the Battersea half. The opportunity looked to have been lost but the referee brought the game back for an earlier
offence. With the 15-point deficit Captain Bunting shunned the 3-point option and kicked to the
corner. The gamble saw a rich reward. Josh Pulvirenti scored from close-range and Freddy Bunting
added the conversion to trail 10-18. Though the S&E revival was soon deflated by another Charles
Stuart penalty that saw the score at 21-10 the Black & Whites had a foothold in the game and
were looking dangerous when they had possession.
With the interval rapidly approaching Sutton & Epsom enjoyed their best spell of the game as they
went in search of a score before the break. Resolute and powerful tackling by the Battersea team
held the line. However, under pressure the defence transgressed and they were reduced to 14
men. With the clock counting down in time added on in the first period finally flanker Rob Hegarty
forced his way over following a 5-metre lineout. Freddy Bunting’s conversion concluded the first
half with Sutton closing the gap to 17-21.
The second half began with the Black & Whites confident that they could repeat the come from
behind win they had enjoyed earlier this season. In contrast Battersea sought to regain the
dominance they had enjoyed at the start of the game. As ever the opening score of the half would be vital for the hopes of both sides. Ten minutes into the second period Battersea kicked into the
Sutton half. Fullback Austin Bell gathered the ball and looked for an advantageous 50-22 kick. As
the ball rolled towards the beneficial touch it trickled to a halt but Sutton’s initial frustration was
transformed into delight. Winger Kyren Ghumra arrived with the cover and his boot manage to
nudge the ball to the Ironsides 22. He regained his footing gathered the loose ball and ran in
unopposed. Freddy Bunting added the conversion and Sutton led 22-21.
If self-doubt had entered into the hosts it was soon dispelled as the redoubtable Tom Jeffs added
to his account with his second try of the afternoon. A penalty was kicked to the corner and the 5-
metre lineout was secured and ball was quickly transferred to Tom Jeffs who bulldozed his way
over. Though the conversion was missed Battersea lead once more by 26-22. Sutton refused to be
subdued and five minutes later they had regained lead. From a breakdown 15 metres from the line
lock Ewan McTaggart gather the ball, broke through and sidestepped the last defender to score by
the uprights. The towering second row is arguably S&E’s most improved player this season and his
try was greeted with joyous enthusiasm from the travelling support. With Freddy Bunting adding
the extras the Black & Whites led 29-26 entering the final quarter.
Once more the Ironsides went in search of a try. Another penalty was kicked to the corner for a 5-
metre lineout. The expectant home crowd bayed for a repeat dose of the medicine. Initially it
appeared that the Sutton defences had frustrated the hosts on the line. After much delay and
close inspection of the mass of humanity piled in front of him the referee raised his arm aloft to
signal the try. Prop Henry Warby was awarded the crucial score. The pendulum had swung back in
favour of Battersea and Charles Stuart’s conversion put the hosts 33-29 ahead. A couple of
minutes later the confused crowd saw Josh Glanville and a Battersea forward depart with yellow
cards. It came to pass that Sir had been unimpressed by some pushing and shoving though the
incident was less than what commuters experience boarding a rush hour tube and to onlookers it
seemed a rather draconian response.
The topsy-turvy nature of the second half had fifteen minutes to go and the outcome was still in
the balance. Sutton & Epsom went in search of the 22 and a platform to launch an attack on the
Battersea line. Freddy Bunting’s long penalty kick from hand, intended for the corner, was
gathered infield and a mark called. The threat was averted and the Ironsides set out their stall in
the visitors’ half. In a rousing finish multiple attacks followed as last ditch tackles frustrated the
hosts. Finally, Charles Stuart rounded off a fine performance as he dummied and sidestepped his
way over the line for Battersea Ironside’s fifth try of the afternoon. The score resulted in an
unseemly fracas in the in-goal area. No further cards were issued with only a couple of minutes
remaining but Battersea were awarded a penalty at the restart. For those who revel in the unusual
it was rather disappointing that Charles Stuart did not attempt the extra three points but Battersea
led 38-29 with a two score cushion.
There was no further addition to the score and the Ironsides had won a most exciting game 38-29.
Messrs Davies and Jeffs had been outstanding for the victors carrying numerous times collecting
considerable yardage as well as three tries. Sutton had looked dangerous in attack but their
defence lacked the excellence of their Cobham away win and ultimately that was the deciding
factor in a match played between two sides who were notably better than their earlier meeting this
season. Next Saturday Sutton & Epsom host Old Alleynians who have started 2024 in splendid
fashion by crushing London Cornish 50-17. When the two sides met at Dulwich Common in
September the Old Boys edged out S&E 29-25.
Sutton & Epsom:
Austin Bell, Ciaran Mohr, Willem Ratu, Kyren Ghumra, Freddy Bunting ©, Gareth O’Brien, Ross
Parsons, Tom Boaden, Chris Farrell, Alex Mount, Ewan McTaggart, Josh Glanville, Rob Hegarty,
Josh Pulvirenti & Matt Whitaker.
Replacements: Callum Gibson & Ben Green. Unused: Tom Lennard.
George Clair, Will Diamond, Ben Turner, Jacob Donovan, Mike Brennan, Charles Stuart, Jack
Moates, Harry Martin, Ollie Lewis, Henry Warby, Archie MacPherson, Sam Reeves, Ollie Davies,
Alex Chitan & Tom Jeffs.
Replacements: Harry Batson, Max Trickett & Cameron Baker.