Sutton and Epsom 41 – Beckenham 42. It was a case of polar opposites on the opening Saturday for this weekend’s combatants as the hosts began the campaign with an away defeat at Reeds whilst the visitors got off the mark with a thrilling 36-31 home win against London Cornish. Sutton and Epsom had not had the pleasure of hosting the Kent club since their 28-8 victory in November 2013. The Black and Whites gave debuts to starting prop Callum Gibson whilst utility back Jack Briggs began on the bench. In marked contrast evergreen George London returned to the colours to make his 187th appearance. The match surpassed even the weather in terms of being unexpected and eleven tries later Beckenham won by a solitary point as the scoreboard read 42-41.
The Rugby Lane crowd palavered peacefully onwards from the clubhouse into the unclouded jollity of the afternoon to witness the Class of 2023-4 open their domestic account. The thermometer told of testing temperatures in the 90s and the challenging conditions were certain to be a factor in proceedings. Freddy Bunting kicked off for the hosts. The first opportunity was given to the visitors as Sutton strayed offside to give Lewis Bunton a simple penalty to put Beckenham on the scoreboard, 3-0, in the third minute. Sutton and Epsom replied in kind moments later as Freddy Bunting equalised with a penalty of his own for 3-3. The Bunting boot then set up a great opportunity with a fabulous 50 20 kick. An ensuing quickly taken penalty by Chris Ballard had the Black and Whites under the posts. Will Lloyd went close before it went wide for Gareth O’Brien to jink his way over. Freddy Bunting added the simple conversion for a 10-3 lead.
The next sortie to the Kent 22 resulted in a second Sutton goal. Michael Bennion made a break and Max Russell kept it alive before it was switched to the right. Gareth O’Brien then glided in untouched under the posts from 30 metres for his second try. Freddy Bunting did the necessary for 17-3 and the players enjoyed a much needed official hydration break. With thirsts slaked and suitably revitalised the boys from Balmoral Avenue swept into the home 22 and won a penalty five out. They set up the lineout and though their catch and drive faltered they were awarded another penalty. A quick tap and a powerful burst saw Jamaican international Rimarni Richards score. The conversion drifted wide but Beckenham had reduced the deficit to 8-17. The Black and Whites immediately extended their lead, though Michael Bennion’s dummy went unsold, the ball was recycled, George London stooped to take a pass on the half-volley then made light of the attentions of the visitors’ defence to relentlessly power on and touch down from 20 metres. Freddy Bunting bisected the uprights and Sutton and Epsom had clear water at 24-8 approaching the half hour mark.
That clear water was to be the high water mark for the hosts as their ascendancy was alarmingly transformed by a stunning Kent comeback. It was not so much a turning of the tide but a tectonic shift of seismic proportions. A careless penalty at the restart gifted Beckenham an opportunity from a 5-metre lineout. They executed their process to perfection as former skipper Liam Markey flopped over. Despite the conversion failing they were on their way back at 13-24. It was the visitors’ turn to err at the restart, not only kicking out on the full but also following up by giving away a penalty. Sutton and Epsom opted for the kick to the corner rather than through the uprights but the gamble did not pay dividends. Moments later at the other end the men from Balmoral Avenue were more clinical as they won their lineout and a bullocking run by Rimarni Richards crossed the whitewash. On this occasion Lewis Bunton added the extras for 20-24. As a disbelieving home crowd dropped their remarks into the understanding air there was one more twist, or perhaps dagger to the heart, before the half-time whistle. Dan Hamilton gathered a loose ball in his own half and he sprinted by the grandstand with no one ahead of him. Desperate cover closed him down but a wonderful support run by Lewis Bunton saw the 10 score. He added the conversion and the visitors turned around 27-24 to the good to end a jaw-dropping half of rugby.
It was hard to know if the incarnadine faces of the Sutton players were from the heat or their embarrassment. The Kent team continued the second period where they left off in the first. Within moments Lewis Bunton had added another penalty for a 30-24 lead. From the restart the catch was run back 50 metres and soon followed try number five with a strong finish on the flank by winger Stefan Linton. The touchline conversion failed but Beckenham were 35-24 ahead with 27 unanswered points. At this stage the visitors looked to be favourites to continue their hot streak and run up a cricket score. However, the pendulum swung back in favour of the Black and Whites.
A positive carry by debutant Callum Gibson offered Sutton some respite with a penalty. Captain Bunting steadied the ship and ended the drought to close the gap to 27-35. Better was to come to raise the spirits of the Rugby Lane crowd. A desperate kick and chase by Max Russell led to a 5-metre penalty. Sadly Max Russell showed all the circumspection of the Gadarene swine with the same result as the Biblical beasts as his quick tap gave away possession. Fortunately for Sutton and Epsom they soon got a penalty that reduced Beckenham to 14 men as Mr Duncan Butler-Wheelhouse issued a yellow card to captain Hans Laud-Anderson showing no empathy towards a fellow double-barrelled man. More woe fell upon the visitors as Ewan McTaggart emerged from a pile of players with a try from the 5-metre lineout to secure an Sutton and Epsom bonus point. Freddy Bunting converted expertly from the touchline to make it a one-point game with Beckenham 35-34 ahead.
It was time for the final official water break and cool heads were certainly at a premium as the game entered the final quarter. Sutton started to play with fluency, the tackling improved, turnovers were being won and the set scrum was secure. The Black and Whites regained the lead with their best team try of the afternoon. Multiple phases had Callum Gibson, Max Russell and Ciaran Mohr make gains and it was left to the vastly experienced George London to force his way over from close-range for his brace. Freddy Bunting once more converted from touch to lead 41-35 leaving Beckenham searching for a goal in the last ten minutes as a try would not suffice.
A spectacular finish ensued as the tension led to errors. Kicks went out on the full, balls were dropped and penalties neutered attacks. Then with the game in time added on the visitors had the chance to kick a penalty into the corner. Could they once again score from a 5-metre lineout? The ball was secured but the drive was held and anxious moments passed until a shrill blast of the whistle. Everyone expected a try but a penalty try was a surprise to those seeking shelter from the sun in the grandstand. Instead of a very challenging conversion from the flank Beckenham had an automatic 7-point score and had regained the lead 42-41. Surely that was the end of the drama.
With noteworthy game management the visiting pack controlled the restart. Slowly and steadily they advanced to the Sutton 22 and the Sutton and Epsom defence dared not concede a penalty but were desperate for a turnover. Unexpectedly Beckenham gave away a penalty and offered the hosts a lifeline. It was advanced by Bunting’s boot to halfway. The lineout was secured and the endgame began. The ball went wide and the Kent territory was entered. Then the ultimate drama as Sir awarded the hosts a penalty. It was Captain Bunting who had to go to the well once more and attempt another kick from the touchline. The ball soared over the height of the uprights but inches wide and the final whistle blew. Beckenham had triumphed 42-41 and the Black and Whites had the consolation of two bonus points.
Both teams had moments of dominance but also had periods they would want to forget. It was cruel that the brilliant place-kicking of Freddy Bunting was not rewarded by one last successful strike to add to the previous magnificent seven. The Sutton scrum was a source of strength, Gareth O’Brien sidestepped his way to two tries and veteran George London also doubled up with forceful scores. Equally Beckenham had their standout performers with the powerful carrying of prop Rimarni Richards being rewarded with two tries, Dan Hamilton was central to the comeback and their lineout converted the chances they were provided with remorseless efficiency.
Next Saturday, 16th September, the charabanc will be heading to Geoffrey Knight Fields for a fixture with Old Reigatian. OR have opened their campaign with an impressive 33-7 home win against Sidcup before a 36-26 winning trip to London Cornish in round 2. Meanwhile the Black and Whites will hope it will be third time lucky as they search for their first win.
Sutton and Epsom: Michael Bennion, Max Russell, Ross Parsons, Freddy Bunting ©, Ciaran Mohr, Gareth O’Brien, Chris Ballard, Will Lloyd, Chris Farrell, Callum Gibson, Ewan McTaggart, Josh Glanville, George London, Rob Hegarty and Kean Orchard.Replacements: (all used) Tom Boaden, Jack Howes and Jack Briggs.
Beckenham: Luke Bosch, Stefan Linton, Dan Hamilton, Matt Lovell, Tom Bateman, Lewis Bunton, Ben Murphy, George Baker, Lamar Sinclair, Rimarni Richards, Ciall Kirwan, Josh Hiscott, Liam Markey, Tom Ward, Hans Laud-Anderson .Replacements: (all used)Rob Willden, Olly Stapleton and Sami Suliman.