Sutton & Epsom RFC 21 Gravesend 19. Saturday 3rd February.
It has reached the business end of the campaign and for all clubs a studious look at the table and
the remaining fixtures will determine their aspirations. For Sutton & Epsom and Gravesend it was a
fixture that would relieve relegation fears for the victor but increase anxiety for the defeated.
When the clubs met earlier this season on the Rectory Field it was a match rather ruined by the
referee’s penchant for puritanical pedantry as the crowd endured an endless stream of penalties.
Gravesend triumphed 36-29 with their clinical lineout securing multiple tries. On Saturday, with
great credit to referee Kasey Allen, those present enjoyed a rousing contest unimpeded by the
whistle as the Black & Whites secured their first win after a quartet of losses.
On a cloudy but mild afternoon on an excellent surface Gravesend kicked off playing towards the
clubhouse. The temptation to watch England play Italy was too great for many and a rather
Spartan gathering assembled. As England’s plight increased so did the crowd watching the local
contest. The opening five minutes of high tempo rugby with both sides attacking with gusto set
the tone before the first scrummage interrupted the entertainment. The backs probed, the
defences demonstrated thunderous tackling and the kickers sparred for territorial advantage. If
Sutton were not wary of the Gravesend pack before the start they had an unpleasant reminder on
the quarter hour mark. A penalty was conceded and the ball kicked into the corner. The lineout
ball was taken cleaning. The initial surge was halted but slickly the ball was spun to the blindside
where Brendan Kelly was in splendid isolation and had the easiest task to score in the corner.
Fortune favoured S&E as Josh Smith’s finely struck conversion came back off the upright.
Gravesend led 5-0 with Sutton left to ponder discipline and penalty counts.
Any anxiety in the ranks of the Sutton supporters was instantly assuaged. The visitors cleared the
restart but Gareth O’Brien and Ellis Rudder combined to run it back into the Gravesend 22 to win a
penalty. It was the hosts’ turn to kick into the corner for the attacking lineout. The first assault
saw Freddie Bunting close to glory but an earlier infringement meant the home team had a second
chance. As it has been for over a decade the go-to man was Matt Whitaker and he delivered.
Perhaps conscious of his veteran status he arrived clean-shaven this week, though it only took
days off his appearance it had not diminished his strength and footwork near the line as he
powered over. Freddy Bunting’s conversion put Sutton & Epsom ahead 7-5.
It was now that Gravesend winger Andrew Cooke entered the fray. His first run was rather lateral
but evaded too many defenders before the ball was marshalled into touch. That was merely an
appetiser to his next contribution. He gathered a clearance in his 22 in the middle of the pitch and
ran the ball straight back into the Sutton 22 before being denied a sensational try. Perhaps it
needed that fright to ignite the hosts. S&E now put together their best phases of the match as
forwards and backs in unison swept down the pitch recycling the ball at pace. The attack ended
with a penalty for a high tackle. Yet again the crowd waited to see if a 5-metre lineout would be
converted into points. Once more with clinical efficiency the forwards controlled the ball and
advanced to the line for lock Josh Glanville to score. Captain Bunting bisected the uprights to
extend Sutton’s advantage to 14-5.
The remainder of the first period was played out without further addition to the scoreboard. The
indication of the first half was that this match was evenly poised with Gravesend not only
dangerous through their powerful pack but carrying significantly more attacking threat in their
back division than was seen in the October meeting. For S&E the lineout was functioning superbly,
the set scrum had manfully met the challenge and they were playing with pace and precision. The
sides turned around with all to play for with Sutton holding the upper hand 14-5.
The Rugby Lane crowd nearly had the perfect start to the second half. Centre Lawrence Elliott
went from the sublime to the ridiculous. He picked the perfect angle to break the line and strode
purposefully into the Gravesend 22 with a try looking probable he then threw out a pass that could generously be described as unforgiving as the bemused winger, Ellis Rudder, watched the ball
speed towards the advertising hoardings. Though Sutton stole the lineout ball they could not
manufacture another opening. Soon the Rugby Lane XV was to be on the defensive. A penalty in
the Black & White 22 saw the visitors opt for a scrummage and as they went wide a kick through
rolled against the corner flag as Sutton scrambled in defence. This started a period of relentless
pressure. The hosts did not aid their cause by failing to find touch with a clearance. The Kent men
were now playing their best rugby and it seemed to be a question of when rather than if they
However, it was now that possibly the key factor of the fixture was becoming evident. The Sutton
defence was obdurate in the extreme, to a man they tackled tenaciously and got on their feet
eager to put in another hit. Almost miraculously the line held as Gravesend were frustrated time
and again as they were held up over the line. Eventually the visitors scored and it took exceptional
work from winger Matthew Brady twisting and turning to score in the corner with multiple tacklers
in attendance. Josh Smith converted exquisitely from the touchline as they made it a two-point
deficit, 12-14. Significantly it had taken ten minutes of siege warfare for the try which must have
emboldened the resolve of the hosts whilst equally left the visitors asking what do we need to do
to score. From the restart Gravesend were hampered by a yellow card as an instinctive
outstretched arm, with no malice intended, caught Kyren Ghumra’s head. The winger had to be
replaced by Matt Symonds but Sutton had ten minutes to play against 14 men.
Reacting to the numerical superiority with great urgency the home team went in search of points
to extend their lead beyond a solitary score. Soon they were given an opportunity. Despite being
awarded a penalty very much within the capabilities of the prolific Bunting boot the captain chose
to go for the corner. His bravery was rewarded as the lineout was secured and the pack advanced
to the line for Chris Farrell to score. The vital conversion was added by Freddy Bunting and the 21-
12 lead meant that Gravesend would have to score twice in the final quarter of an hour.
If Sutton had been under siege before their third try they now endured an all out assault from
Gravesend. It was the type of rugby that has every spectator on the edge of their seat living every
carry and every tackle. The previous fortitude had transformed to cussed resilience and was on the
way to heroic defence. Gravesend opted for scrums but the Sutton pack refused to yield. When
the ball went wide the visiting backs opted for solo glory rather than swift passing and were met
by scything tackles. The longer the line held the more desperate were the attacks. If the Kent men
picked the wrong options to their great credit they did not offer up the knock-ons or penalties to
assist the Sutton cause. Eventually centre Chris Brady crossed the whitewash and Josh Smith
made it a two-point game once more as Sutton led 21-19. Crucially Sutton had eaten away
significantly at the clock and only a couple of minutes were left.
It was now a test of game management and S&E controlled possession with admirable skill
advance to the 22. On the attack they put through a speculative kick to the try line. Though it did
not result in a score and gave Gravesend the ball it left the visitors with the Herculean labour of
scoring from the length of the pitch. Moments later the final whistle blew and Sutton had won a
victory of great significance. The manner of the success built on passion, team spirit and
determination should hold them in great stead for the remainder of the campaign. For Gravesend
they earned a bonus point but they put in a performance vastly superior to the earlier encounter
and they certainly have all the assets required to navigate their way to safety.
There is no game next Saturday but the league continues on 17 th February with a trip to Crescent
Farm to play the improving Sidcup who like S&E are on 38 points in the league but a place higher
on points’ difference.
Sutton & Epsom: Gareth O’Brien, Kyren Ghumra, Lawrence Elliott, Freddy Bunting ©, Ellis
Rudder, Tom Lennard, Steve Munford, Alex Mount, Chris Farrell, Callum Gibson, Josh Glanville,
Ewan McTaggart, George London, Rob Hegarty & Matt Whitaker.
Replacements: Tom Boaden, Tariq Al Khaldi & Matt Symonds.
Gravesend: Jamie Fautley, Andrew Cooke, Chris Brady, Josh Smith, Matt Brady, George Bruce,
Ben Kite, Brendan Kelly, Terry Papworth, Jamie Forsythe, Tom Bird, Harry Brooker, Matt Hewitt,
Samraj Chahal & Connor Murphy.
Replacements: Stan Dadson, Ben Reeve & Harvey Dean
Image – Robin Kennedy