Outwitted by Sidcup’s set pieces
Sidcup 45 Sutton & Epsom RFC 22. Saturday 17th February.
Sutton & Epsom RFC first played at Crescent Farm in February 1898 and it is a delight to record that
modern times have not hindered this historic rivalry as the clubs met for the 21st time in the
league era on Saturday afternoon. Earlier in the campaign the teams met at Rugby Lane with both
clubs apologetically at the bottom of the table with a solitary success each. Sutton & Epsom came
from behind to take the honours on that day. Since that November day the season has improved
considerably for both clubs with the hosts arriving on the back of five straight wins. Sidcup’s
successful streak continued as they comprehensively and deservedly defeated S&E 45-22.
Sutton & Epsom were forced into four changes from the side that beat Gravesend with the back
division incurring most of the disruption with three absentees but with the advantage of hindsight
the loss of the Black & Whites’ hooker probably had greater significance on the events that were to
unfold. Captain Bunting started proceedings as the sides sparred in search of any early defensive
frailties. The teams recycled the ball quickly, defences closed rapidly and kickers looked for open
spaces and the status quo was maintained. A looping run from Sutton 10 Tom Lennard initiated
the first genuine chance in the 22 but solid defensive tackling saw the ball go forward a few
phases later. In contrast from a scrum on halfway Sidcup scored from their first sortie. The ball
went wide and an overlap was created on the flank and Louis Keeley finished with aplomb despite
a valiant effort from the diving Matt Symonds. The conversion fell short but the hosts led 5-0.
Sutton & Epsom’s next chance to score was manufactured by a magnificent touchline clearance from
Gareth O’Brien, being a yard or two from touch he magically threaded the ball 50 metres down the
line. Though denied a stunning 50/22 the slavering chasers forced a penalty and Freddy Bunting
happily accepted the points on offer for S&E to trail 3-5. As ever restarts are crucial and scrappy
play saw the Black & Whites suddenly 5 metres from their own line with a scrum. Matt Whitaker
carried well from a retreating pack giving Tom Lennard time to clear. Relief was temporary and
punishment severe. Moments later Louis Keeley was collecting his and Sidcup’s second try. On this
occasion the winger left a less challenging conversion that was gratefully accepted by Tom Shea.
The Crescent Farm fans warmly applauded the 12-3 lead with the first quarter nearly complete.
It had become apparent that the excellent Sidcup pack had the upper hand in the set
scrum. In addition Sutton were struggling with their lineout ball. Additionally and unexpectedly
Freddy Bunting missed a chance to narrow the deficit as he slipped slightly on the muddy surface
attempting another penalty. Then the visitors were further hampered as fullback Gareth O’Brien
departed with an injured knee to be replaced by Ciaran Mohr. Once more it was a marvellous kick,
this time a 50/22 by Tom Lennard that put the visitors in the opposition 22. S&E pressed for a
score and were brought back for a penalty. Declining the easy three points they took the tap and
Matt Whitaker celebrated his birthday with a try on the ground where he had previously recorded
his 100th league try. Freddy Bunting added the extras and Sutton trailed 10-12 on the half hour.
Sutton & Epsom won a penalty at the restart as optimism rose amongst the ranks of the travelling
support. Seconds later they were relieved that play was brought back for a knock on as Sidcup had
intercepted and a certain try from 70 metres was denied. With half-time approaching Alex Mount
received a yellow card. Not only was the Sutton scrum under pressure their front row had incurred
the wrath of the referee over the technical issue of the scrums engaging. The result was a ten-
minute breather for Mount for the accumulated offences. Reduced to 14 Sidcup had a wonderful
opportunity to make the scoreboard reflect their pack’s dominance. The 14 men from Rugby Lane
appeared to have navigated the choppy seas to the safe waters of half-time harbour but the Kent
men scored with the final play of the half. Taking the ball blind from deep the ball-carrier stepped
out of a low tackle and an overlap opportunity developed from halfway. With clinical efficiency
fullback Dan Masters strode home and Tom Shea’s conversion was met by the whistle that
concluded the first period. The 19-10 interval lead was a fair reflection of superiority that Sidcup
enjoyed in the key areas of the lineout and scrum that had provided the vital possession.
The second half began with the Black & Whites still numerically hampered and before
anyone could debate if they could survive without further addition to the scoreboard Sidcup had
their third try. Outside centre George Bird breezing through the defence to notch up their bonus
point try which was effortlessly converted by Tom Shea for 26-10. Sutton showed their defiance a
minute later. From a ruck on the 22 Matt Whitaker opted for the most direct route and found clear
water before he evaded the last couple of defenders to score his second try. Freddy Bunting added
the conversion and with that kick recorded his 200th point of the league campaign. Sutton &
Epsom trailed 17-26 and hope lingered on.
It was Sidcup’s turn to pin Sutton & Epsom back with a 50/22. Though S&E were now back to their
full compliment the hosts immediately created a chance and how on earth they did not score will
remain a mystery to all who were present. The Black & Whites cleared their lines from a 5-metre
scrum but it was a temporary stay of execution. In contrast to the recently butchered offering
Connor McDonald excelled with a wonderful solo effort weaving his way to the line. Though the
conversion faltered with the score at 31-17 it was threatening to become a long afternoon for the
visitors. That threat became a reality five minutes later. Forced back into their 22 the visitors
conceded a penalty. The hosts opted for a scrum then ran wide and Connor McDonald had the ball
again, with the defence desperately trying to cover men outside, he ghosted in for his second
score. Tom Shea added to his account and Sidcup extended their lead to 38-17.
With 15 minutes remaining Sutton needed to carry the game to Sidcup and attempt to get
something from the fixture. A fine kick return by Angus Findlay ably supported by replacements
Callum Gibson and Dan Jones got S&E into the 22. There followed a Sutton try that owed more to
Heath Robinson than Christopher Wren. From a central position Tom Lennard chipped ahead and
the ball was not secured by the defence in the ensuing chaos the ball ended up in the right hand
corner where Freddy Bunting was on hand for his first try of the season. Sutton & Epsom now had
a very attainable target, the fourth try and a valuable bonus point, despite trailing 22-38.
Sutton suffered the immediate handicap of Callum Gibson becoming the second member of
the front row union to get a yellow card through accumulated indiscretions. Sidcup went for the
jugular only to be denied by Alex Mount’s tackle under the posts forcing a spillage. The award of a
5-metre scrummage under their own posts was a mixed blessing for the Surrey men. The pack
was shunted back, the posts were waving dramatically and Number 8 Nick Jansen touched down
for a magnificent seventh Sidcup try. Tom Shea added the easiest of conversions for his tenth
point of the afternoon as his side led 45-22.
The contest was over but there began the game within the game as Sutton went in search
of their bonus point. First of all Matt Whitaker stormed to the halfway but to no avail. Then a
wonderful run down the wing by Angus Findlay ended as he failed to get his pass to Ellis Rudder
who was in support. The veteran Whitaker again went on the rampage and threw in a kick ahead
for good measure. A penalty was kicked into the corner and the 5-metre lineout was lost. Then on
the final play of the game Ellis Rudder broke clear in the 22 and passed to Matt Symonds. The
rapturous cheers of the Sutton supporters turned to groans as the referee whistled for a forward
pass. The game ended with Sidcup the clear winner by 45-22.
If there was a Man of the Match Award it should have gone to the Sidcup pack as they
were magnificent to a man. The domination of the scrum, lineout and giving their backs front-foot
ball was the telling factor in this game. Sutton & Epsom will regroup with a weekend off from the
cut and thrust of league action before the visit of London Cornish on 2 nd March to Rugby Lane. For
those wishing to attend please note that it will be a 3pm kick off.
Sutton & Epsom: Gareth O’Brien, Angus Findlay, Ellis Rudder, Freddy Bunting ©, Matt Symonds,
Tom Lennard, Joe Lovatt, Tariq Al Khaldi, Alex Mount, Tom Boaden, Josh Glanville, Ewan
McTaggart, George London, Rob Hegarty & Matt Whitaker.
Replacements: Callum Gibson, Dan Jones & Ciaran Mohr.
Sidcup: Dan Masters; Connor McDonald, George Bird, Sam Leek, Louis Keeley, Tom Shea, Simon
Vincent, Teddy Gibbons, Jonathan Fordham, Sam Carmen, Ben Stock, Steven Evans, Fred Ruff,
Billy Williams & Nicholas Jansen.
Replacements: Harry Large, Tom Epps & Alex Ure.