With ten changes to the Sutton and Epsom squad that ended last season and five debutants, Messrs Benton J, Bunting, Craig, Glanville and Tame, the Black & Whites embarked on the new campaign. Ciaran Mohr kicked off on a sultry afternoon playing towards the clubhouse as the hosts returned to level the lively opening exchanges Sutton & Epsom looked to play with width and Bracknell showed panache when countering against clearances. The first opportunity arose in the third minute when the hosts were awarded a penalty. Ollie Radford stepped up to open Bracknell’s account for the season to lead 3-0. From the restart S&E countered from the clearance as Freddy Bunting make a break and Jamie See carried it to the 22 before conceding a scrum. The Berkshire club using the blindside and the jinking footwork of captain Ian Burch surged to halfway. A pulsating opening to the match promised tries in the future for the Lily Hill Park crowd.
The Sutton scrummage was reassuringly solid for the visitors and provided the platform for Gareth O’Brien have plenty of time for a probing kick into the 22. However, in the blink of an eye an attacking opportunity turned to desperate defence. Fumbling pin ball at the line out saw the Greens recover the ball and explode out of defence on the narrow side with Ian Burch to the fore.
Jamie See covering back made a splendid try-saving tackle but whilst on the deck tackled the supporting runner. A penalty and a yellow card saw the Black & Whites defending a scrum 10 metres out with 14 men. The home crowd urged on their team who looked to seize the moment. Magnificent defence on their line thwarted multiple attacks until the defenders turned over the ball on their line as the attackers conceded a penalty. Freddy Bunting cleared to the halfway as Sutton survived.
Sutton & Epsom did extremely well to run down the clock whilst they endured the ten minutes of numerical deficiency. Indeed a great scrum led to a penalty and a break from Freddy Bunting got them to 10 metres shy of the line. However, every time Bracknell got the ball they were eager to make the extra man count. A fine James Craig tackle thwarted the first counter. Another powerful S&E scrum won a penalty. In the last minute of the ten on the card it looked like a perfectly timed offload by Alex Fieldhouse had set the hosts free as they sped away from halfway with a wonderful chance to score. The shrill blast of the whistle brought the play back for
a forward pass from the referee who was well placed to adjudicate. Jamie See returned as the
game entered the second quarter.
A searching kick from Gareth O’Brien was followed by an impressive catch and drive as the visiting pack looked to impose themselves on the game. The well organised Bracknell defence were containing the Sutton backs as they tried to play a wide game and were denying the Surrey club who were starting to enjoy more of the territory and possession. Another Bunting carry led to a penalty and the centre stepped up to arrow the ball into the corner. A fine catch and drive led to a penalty 5 metres out. The forwards went close, Jamie See went even closer before finally George London forced his way over under the posts after formidable defence by the hosts. In the turmoil on the line the influential Bracknell Number 8 Ken Hodgson was issued with a yellow card.
Sam Hurley added the easiest of conversions as Sutton took a 7-3 lead on the half hour. It was Bracknell’s turn to survive with 14 men and Sutton brought on Will Lloyd and Jack Benton for Alex Mount and George London during this phase hoping that fresh legs would increase their chances to extend their lead. The hosts absorbed not only the visitors attacks but also scored a splendid try. Once again they exploited the narrow side but on this occasion the always dangerous Ian Burch rounded the cover and joyously touched down near the uprights. Ollie Radford added the extras as the 14 men regained the lead by 10-7. Moments later Kyren Ghumra was forced off with a groin injury and Jack Butt came off the bench as the first half concluded with no further addition to the score. Both sides retreated to the dressing rooms to receive the wise words from their coaches as the crowd replenished their glasses.
The players returned and the hosts restarted play. Sutton made one change at the interval as Mount replaced Boaden in the front row. The Bracknell pack who had struggled at the set scrum in the first period improved after the interval and after 5 minutes won a penalty as the scrum collapsed. Ollie Radford’s aim was sound once more and the lead stretched to 13-7. Sutton pressed hard to get back on terms in the next ten minutes. Promising breaks were snuffed by the impressive Berkshire defences but at a cost as they lost Alex Fieldhouse and Liam Wood to injuries. Despite the visitors’ pressure a solitary penalty miss from Sam Hurley was the closest they
came to reducing the deficit.
In contrast Bracknell scored on their first visit to the S&E 22. A sloppy line out saw the loose ball re-gathered by the hosts, a tackle was missed and moments later the powerful Ken Hodgson had scored under the posts. Ollie Radford made no mistake as the men in Green led 20-7. The S&E response was immediate. They won a penalty at the restart and Freddy Bunting rifled his kick to the corner. From the line out 10 metres from the line Sutton patiently mounted a series of attacks against the miserly home defence. Eventually Alex Mount squeezed in by the posts. Sam Hurley chipped over the conversion to trail 20-14. The see-saw nature of the second period had
another twist minutes later. Simon Bayliss found space and his powerful well angled run scythed through the Black & White’s defences for a wonderful try. The reliable boot of Ollie Radford increased the gap as Bracknell led 27-14.
Moments later saw the visitors awarded a 5-metre scrum and it was the Lily Hill Park team’s turn to thwart their opposition on the line. The turnover ball and the scrum allowed Bracknell to clear the danger. Ten minutes remained but it felt like a pivotal moment when Sutton had to score. The Black & Whites failed to create any further chances and it was Bracknell who ended the contest in style. With the lengthy time added on nearly complete the man of the match, Simon Bayliss, received the ball in space and charged through neatly sidestepping the last man to score. The bonus point secured, the conversion added by Ollie Radford and only time for the restart kick it was a job well done by Bracknell as they eased to a 34-14 victory.
The score-line probably did not reflect the closeness of the game. A keenly contested first half where S&E edged territory and possession had given Bracknell a slender lead. In the second period the hosts took their chances with clinical efficiency. The wingers, Bayliss and Burch, were a threat throughout and collected a trio of tries. In the pack Ken Hodgson rounded off an impressive afternoon with the other try. Perhaps key to the hosts success was their disciplined and organised defence that contained Sutton’s attempts at an expansive game. For the Black & Whites Freddy Bunting had a strong debut in attack and defence as well as kicking well from hand. Austin Bell, in the absence of the usual incumbents at 9, was in no way overawed by the occasion. The Sutton pack scrummaged and mauled impressively and had periods of dominance though the line out faltered too often. The trio of debutants in the starting pack, Craig, Glanville and Tame, all showed promise for the future on an afternoon that was not as doom-laden as the final score might suggest. Bracknell were worthy winners and great credit must be given to those concerned with preparing the pitch in testing conditions many hours of hard work and dedication resulted in an excellent playing surface.
Continuing with the topic of pitches an early decision was made not to use the pitch at Rugby Lane next Saturday due to its condition. Various alternative scenarios were explored before deciding upon playing the 10 th September fixture at Cobham RFC. It will be the first occasion in the league era that Sutton & Epsom have played a home fixture at a neutral venue though we have been shunted to alternative surroundings several times as the visitors. Apologies in advance for those spectators who turn up at Rugby Lane next Saturday expecting to see Sutton & Epsom v Banbury but they really should read the Epsom & Ewell Times, the club website or their email
Sutton & Epsom
Sam Hurley, Ciaran Mohr, Freddy Bunting, Jamie See, Kyren Ghumra, Gareth O’Brien, Austin Bell,
Alex Mount, James Craig, Tom Boaden, Josh Glanville, Matt Harwood, Ben Tame, George London
& Chris Farrell ©.
Replacements: (all used) Will Lloyd, Jack Benton & Jack Butt.
Will Field, Simon Bayliss, Alex Fieldhouse, Ollie Radford, Ian Burch ©, Alex Frame, Matt Outson,
Jasper Miranda, Bradley Waters, Jake Hodge, Callum Russell, Tom Scott, Liam Wood, Tom Field,
Replacements: (all used) James Gregory, George Milligan & Noah Cannon.
The RFU have restructured the league pyramid in a desire to reflect the trends of the game
in the current era. Following a lengthy survey it was decided to reduce the number of league
games and the travelling involved for many clubs. Last season’s London & SE Premier fourteen
clubs were released to the four winds and were distributed into two 12-team leagues. Sutton &
Epsom are in Regional 1 South Central and have seven new opponents for this campaign. From
the London & SE structure are the newly promoted London 1 South champions Camberley who are
joined by the historic London Welsh. Promoted from the South West Premier come champions
Oxford Harlequins, Banbury and Bracknell. Finally, through a formula only known by the chosen
few at the RFU, Bournemouth and Royal Wootton Bassett are transferred from the West.
Just when the rugby fraternity thought that normality had returned after the interruptions
of covid the clubs were faced with the more traditional hurdle of weather-related impediments. As
people of a certain vintage reflected upon the summer of ’76 there was a flurry of communications
between the RFU and League secretaries concerning the state of pitches and match preparedness
of playing squads whose pre-season might have been inadvertently affected by conditions. The
final RFU missive was despatched on 30 th August with eleven points that hoped to cover every
scenario. Fortunately S&E opened their account at Bracknell RFC whose facilities at Lily Hill Park
were in good order and their team primed for the initiation of hostilities. The last occasion that the
Black & Whites visited the Berkshire club it was a day for club masochists as the hosts put Sutton
to the sword to the tune of 76-0. Saturday’s encounter bore no resemblance to that thrashing but
Bracknell did record a 34-14 triumph to start their season with a win.