Sutton and Epsom leapfrog Old Colfeians in the end

Old Colfeians 22 – Sutton and Epsom RFC 31. Saturday 23rd March.

In bygone years this was a regular league fixture and Saturday bore witness to the
sixteenth such encounter between the clubs. Old Colfeians is a club to be mentioned in
whispered tones whilst in the company of James Clark’s title-winners of 2006-07. That Black and
White celebrated side saw their perfect record spoiled on the club’s last venture to Horn Park
in January 2007. The 2023-24 vintage may not have won this league but they headed home
with a 31-22 victory and replaced the hosts in eighth place in the league table.

The revolving door of selection meant that only Messrs Lennard and Bunting were in
the same shirts in a reshuffled Sutton back division following the culling of Cobham. For the
pack it was a minor disruption that saw Tom Boaden elevated from the bench in the absence
of Alex Mount. Sutton played with the significant advantage of the elements in the first period
as a strong wind tore down the pitch. Despite this handicap Colfeians started on the front
foot. A sublime moment of legerdemain by Tom Chapman put Ollie Burkett into space and the
full back was only denied by an eleventh hour cover tackle by Tom Lennard. The wind
hampered the Sutton lineout and led to an OCs scrum. The set piece wheeled and the alert
home Number 9 Jed Wylie wriggled free to score from 5 metres out. Chris Harris added the
conversion for a most valuable 7-0 lead in less than advantageous conditions.

Sutton replied instantly as the Horn Park XV struggled to deal with the restart gifting
the visitors with a prime attacking penalty position 5 metres from their line. The initial surge
from the set play failed to secure the score but a couple of phases later Josh Pulvirenti forced
his way over in the corner. The touchline conversion was blown wide and the Black and Whites
trailed 5-7. Moments later a counter by Kyren Ghumra ended in an SandE penalty that was
drilled into the corner by Freddy Bunting. From the 5-metre lineout the Sutton pack went
through multiple phases inching not only closer to the try line but also the uprights. Robust
Colfeians’ defence was finally ended by Mr Tobias Whinney awarding Sutton another 5-metre
penalty. Once more the attacking tapped option was taken rather than a kick at the posts.

Again the forwards took control and ushered hooker Chris Farrell over the line. Normal service
resumed for the Bunting boot and the visitors led 12-7 after a dozen minutes.

From the restart Sutton’s counter was penalised for crossing and it was Colfeians turn
to put the ball in the corner and attack from a 5-metre lineout. The Black and White line held
but infringed. Playing the advantage a Colfeians deft chip just sailed over the head of Chris
Harris but the winger punished SandE by adding the three points when play was brought back
for the penalty. OCs trailed 10-12 in a game of fluctuating fortunes in the first quarter.

Approaching the half hour Sutton secured their third try. With their best passage of play of the
match so far the backs and forwards combined through several phases before Ellis Rudder
was stopped deep in the 22 but the cover infringed on the deck. On this occasion it was
Callum Gibson who was the beneficiary with a try from the forward effort from the tapped
penalty. Freddy Bunting’s touchline conversion was even more impressive as he made it at the
third attempt having aborted his first two approaches as the wind blew the ball off the tee.
Sutton had extended their advantage to lead 19-10.

The visitors were soon threatening another score. A wonderful break by Tom Lennard
from his own half released fullback Ciaran Mohr who stepped inside the cover, took the last
tackle before passing to Alfie Baker but the ball was not gathered and a wonderful score was
denied. In addition Ciaran Mohr injured his ankle and was replaced by Austin Bell. A rampant
Sutton did not dwell on this missed opportunity and shortly afterwards had their bonus point
try. The impressive Josh Pulvirenti made a break and marauded into the 22 and passed to
Angus Findlay who was rewarded for his excellent support play with the try. Bunting moved to
the ball with his familiar constabulary stroll and converted with a laconic air for 26-10. Ten
minutes later and SandE added a fifth try from a precise lineout routine that saw Rob Hegarty
burst through a gap to score. Though the conversion failed Sutton had a healthy 31-10 lead.

With the first half near completion SandE ran the ball from their 22 from the restart
looking to maximise their advantage from the windy conditions. They were brought back for a
forward pass and there began a lengthy final play. It was a rugby version of ‘Groundhog Day’.
The teams scrummaged, the hosts were awarded a penalty, the visitors prevented a score and
the referee brought them back for the penalty and Colfeians chose to scrummage again.
Finally, after 52 minutes in the first period, and a yellow card for Sutton’s Dan Jones, winger
Tom Chapman squeezed in at the corner. A very challenging conversion fell short and the first
half ended with the Black and Whites 31-15 ahead.

The interval had comical overtones as Sutton stayed out on the pitch whilst their hosts
enjoyed the warmth of their dressing room. With a sable sky, a hailstorm swept the pitch and
Sutton players took shelter behind their bulkier colleagues. Perhaps it was the reward of the
Gods for braving the weather as the game restarted in sunshine and becalmed as cruelly the
Colfeians were to be denied the strong wind enjoyed by Sutton. The second half was a curious
affair. With excellent tactical acumen and pragmatism the numerically inferior visitors spent
their punishment time in the opposition 22. This benevolent occupation was then extended to
practically the entire second half. Old Colfeians adopted the mantle of Horatio and Rorke’s
Drift in heroic defence whilst Sutton became a hybrid of Sisyphus and Tantalus.

With the game approaching full time Old Colfeians finally made it into the Sutton and
Epsom half and won a penalty. The ball was drilled into the corner for a 5-metre lineout. The
throw was secured and the mountainous figure of captain Andy O’Malley powered over to
score. Chris Harris then reduced the arrears to 22-31 and the crowd awoke from their slumber
at the prospect of a thrilling climax. After their prolonged territorial dominance Sutton’s
character was now put to the test as an element of doubt over the outcome entered into the
equation. If the first period was inordinately lengthy the second period was unbelievably time
consuming as it racked up 57 minutes. There were several stoppages with the physios in
attendance but once again it was last play that endured. Sutton were again reduced to 14
when Rob Hegarty departed following a high tackle but Colfeians could not force another
score to garner any points. The game ended with the hosts defending and frustrating SandE
who failed to add to their score in the second period. The match finally concluded with the
Black and Whites victorious by 31-22.

There may be aficionados who love nothing more than a reset scrum and a catalogue
of infringements as frequent stoppages deny free-flowing rugby as with this second half.
However, that seems as likely as someone preferring the brutalist architecture of a housing
estate in Stalinist Russia to the Taj Mahal. It was a shame as a sizeable crowd had gathered
for Past Players’ Day adding greatly to the occasion and superlative bonhomie in the
clubhouse after the game. Sutton were the deserved winners but Old Colfeians failed to
exploit their superiority at the scrummage as discipline and errors undermined their
performance. In the lineout and the loose the SandE pack played with great control.

Angus Findlay, starting for the first time in his preferred Number 9 shirt, gave an assured
performance releasing the back division that showed moments of fluency and quality. The
Black and Whites failure to convert pressure into points in the second half was more down to the
courageous Colfeian defence than the inadequacies of the Sutton attack.

The Easter weekend offers a rest for the teams before the league season concludes on
Saturday 6th April. Old Colfeians will be taking a trip to relegated Cobham and have the
prospect of ending the campaign with a thumping victory. Meanwhile at Rugby Lane Sutton and
Epsom will host Reeds Weybridge aiming to make amends for a 27-12 loss on the opening day
of the season.

Sutton and Epsom
Mohr, Baker, Rudder, Bunting ©, Ghumra, Lennard, Findlay, Boaden, Farrell, Gibson, Glanville,
McTaggart, Jones, Pulvirenti and Hegarty.
Replacements: Al Khaldi, Tame and Bell.

Old Colfeians:
Burkett, Harris, Hepden, Jones, Chapman, Smith, Wylie, Whichello, Newins, Rameaux, O’Malley ©,
Cunningham, Walker, Carter and Smith.
Replacements: Orubo, Greatorex-Sanderson and Nagel.