Sutton & Epsom 26 Battersea Ironsides 25, Saturday 23rd September. This was the first time the two clubs had ever met in a league fixture as Battersea Ironsides became league opponent number 104 at Rugby Lane on Saturday. Once more the Black & Whites were set against an unbeaten side and on this occasion they entertained the league leaders. The hosts gave a debut to fullback Luca Shaw whilst the visitors, not for the first time this campaign, made a host of changes to the squad who had downed London Cornish the previous Saturday. S&E turned the early season form guide on its head with a dramatic 26-25 victory.
After the recent torrid temperatures it was a welcome return to sensible weather that was most conducive to entertaining rugby. Freddy Bunting set the game in motion and within five minutes the Ironsides had taken the lead. A solid lineout in the 22 was followed by a penetrative carry by lock Jack Wharton before captain Stuart released the backs and winger Ben Turner applied the coup de grâce. The conversion from the flank drifted wide as Battersea led 5-0. Five minutes later and the visitors had doubled their lead. A stunning break from a ruck on halfway by blindside Raphael Arboine was snuffed out by a splendid cover tackle deep in the S&E 22 but the damage had been done. The ball was recycled and spun wide for Ben Turner to dot down once more. Another challenging conversion from Charles Stuart failed as Battersea Ironsides were 10-0 ahead in as many minutes.
The league leaders were content that the natural order was being maintained as they appeared to be on their way to a regulation bonus point victory condemning the Black & Whites to another demoralising defeat. However, perhaps there should be a pitch-side sign at Rugby Lane declaring: “BEWARE OF THE BUNTING”. An illegal side entry to a ruck offered the Sutton skipper his first shot at goal. He duly obliged to put S&E on the board at 3-10. A few minutes later he was caressing the ball through the uprights again for 6-10 to conclude the first quarter. The second penalty being awarded for a deliberate knock on after a fine break by Matt Whitaker. The men from Burntwood Lane responded as outside centre Jacob Charles carved through the home defences and with a modicum more of precision a try would have ensued. Moments later his centre partner Ben Lyons held on to the ball too long and another chance disappeared over the horizon.
The SW17 outfit’s progress was already being hampered by the regular blasts from referee Richardson’s whistle. The sight of the referee shooing back the Battersea offenders the obligatory ten metres as if they were recalcitrant hens was becoming a regular feature of the game. Almost inevitably Freddy Bunting was given another opportunity to add to his account but failed to reduce the deficit on the half hour. The hosts rang the changes with Will Lloyd replacing Callum Gibson in the front row and Jack Benton taking over from Ewan McTaggart in the second row. The remainder of the half saw more probing kicking from both XVs as if they had signed a non-aggression pact putting security ahead of ambition. In time added on, normal service was resumed as Freddy Bunting bisected the uprights for the third time as S&E trailed 9-10. There was just enough time on the clock for the visitors to also have a shot at goal. Charles Stuart kept his head and landed his penalty from near the halfway line to conclude the first period with Battersea
Ironsides 13-9 to the good.
As the sides turned around a fascinating contest was evenly poised. The early dominance of the visitors had been undermined by indiscipline as they threw around penalties like confetti and failed to heed the impassioned plea of ‘cut out the penalties’ from within their ranks. S&E grew into the game via a solid scrum and keeping it tight with the forwards carrying to good effect to counteract the threat of the Battersea backs in open play.
The Black & Whites started the second half in fine style. An early infringement saw Freddy Bunting kick to the 22. An excellent catch and drive was followed by Matt Whitaker carrying to within five metres of the line forcing a scrum to Sutton under the posts. The resilient Battersea defence held the line until Sutton were awarded a penalty try when prop Will Lloyd was illegally prevented from collecting his annual score. The hosts now led by 16-13. In adversity the Ironsides made the perfect riposte. Probing kicks from Charles Stuart pegged the hosts in their 22 and put the visitors onto the front foot. Then more incisive running by Charles Jacobs had S&E on the retreat as centre partner Ben Lyons was on hand to shrug off challengers for an excellent finish in the corner. Despite the conversion failing Charles Stuart’s side had seen the restoration of their lead as the scoreboard read 18-16 to Battersea Ironsides.
With an unpleasant echo of last Saturday’s match against Old Reigatian the opposition tries were like London buses and Battersea secured a bonus point for their fourth try a minute later. Capitalising on the bouncing ball from an up and under the Openview side tore into the Sutton 22 and scrum half Jack Moates dived over. Charles Stuart gratefully accepted the easier conversion to extend the lead to 25-16. In a blink of an eye the Rugby Lane crowd, who had been contemplating a first win of the season, were now dreading a fourth defeat on the spin. As the game entered the final quarter so the action switched to the visitors’ 22. Despite pressure and territory the hosts had to be content with another Freddy Bunting penalty to be within a score at 19-25.
With only seven minutes remaining the men in green ventured into Black & White territory and were given a penalty. Following the prevailing orthodoxy the pot at goal was declined in favour of the kick towards the corner. In hindsight, Charles Stuart’s decision might have been a tad cavalier as a successful kick would have translated to a nine-point lead. Fortune did not favour the bold as they were undone by conceding their umpteenth penalty. In time added on a collapsed scrum gave Freddy Bunting the chance to kick to the corner for S&E to have a shot at glory. There followed 5 minutes of unrelenting assault on the Battersea line, heroic defence and unbearable tension with penalties and scrums as the action concentrated under the posts. Finally, a mass of bodies slumped over the line and jubilant Sutton players thrust their arms skyward. Mr Richardson took a considered look and finally raised his arm aloft for Rob Hegarty’s try. It was left to Freddy Bunting to add the conversion that was greeted with rapturous applause and the final whistle as Sutton won 26-25.
Battersea Ironsides had the ideal start with a quick-fire Ben Turner brace of tries. Their lineout, whether on their ball or against the Sutton throw, was excellent. Centre Charles Jacobs was a threat every time he had the ball. Captain Charles Stuart varied the attack from 10 but ultimately they were let down by their discipline. The profligate penalty count spread like a contagion and not only cost them 12 points, but also hefty yardage and time spent with 14 men.
The Black & Whites showed character in bucketfuls coming back from the dire start and then overturning the 9-point deficit that culminated with the nail-biting denouement. For Sutton the pack was a source of great strength in the set-piece and the loose, Matt Whitaker was a giant in attack and defence whilst Freddy Bunting kept the scoreboard ticking over.
Next Saturday the Black & Whites visit newly promoted Old Alleynians for the first time since November 2012. The OAs have had a solid start to the campaign lying sixth in the table after wins over Gravesend and Sidcup.
Sutton & Epsom:
Luca Shaw, Jack Briggs, Ciaran Mohr, Freddy Bunting ©, Max Russell, Gareth O’Brien, Chris Ballard, Tom Boaden, Jack Howes, Callum Gibson, Ewan McTaggart, Josh Glanville, George London, Rob Hegarty & Matt Whitaker. Replacements: (all used) Will Lloyd, Chris Farrell & Jack Benton.
Jack Winch, Ben Turner, Charles Jacobs, Ben Lyons, Charlie Craig, Charles Stuart, Jack Moates, Sam
Chetwynd, Harry Vigar, Harry Batstone, Jack Wharton, Max Trickett, Raph Arboine, Alex Chitan, Charlie Horrell. Replacements: (all used) Jonny Newsham, George Williams & Billy Diamond.