Oxford Harlequins 67 – Sutton & Epsom 20. Saturday 28th January. Our local rugby team travelled to Oxfordshire to play the Oxford Harlequins. In the reverse fixture at Rugby Lane the crowd enjoyed a thrilling game that was in the balance until the final whistle. On that occasion the visiting Harlequins held on to win 22-19. A lot has happened since that afternoon as Sutton & Epsom are now staring relegation in the face whilst their hosts sit comfortably fifth in the table. There were to be no surprises or a much-needed upset for the Black & Whites as the hosts strolled to a 67-20 win.
Kyren Ghumra and Robbie Marty were unavailable for S&E and were replaced by Messrs
Hurley & Baptiste-Wilson on the wings and George Drye returned to the second row. It was the
first time that the Black & Whites had played at the Horspath Sports Ground but in contrast it was
the 150th appearance in the league for James Caddy. Freddy Bunting kicked off and a couple of
minutes later he was in a very similar location lining up a kick at goal. Once more his prodigious
boot bisected the uprights from a considerable distance to give S&E a 3-0 lead. A minute later the
hosts lost flanker John Ireland to an injury to be replaced by Ben Jenkins. Despite these early
setbacks the Oxfordshire men were soon ahead on the scoreboard. From a 5-metre lineout hooker
Joshua Archer scored and Ewan Fox added a finely struck conversion for 7-3.
Freddy Bunting kept Sutton within touching distance with another superb penalty cutting
Sutton’s deficit to a single point as they trailed 6-7. Then Tom Varndell made his first impact on
proceedings making the initial break before the ball went to the opposite side and Ben Jenkins
scored in the corner. Ewan Fox missed the conversion but was soon to make amends. Tom
Varndell with a powerful run down the flank stayed in play enabling the ball to be spun open and
this time Ewan Fox was the beneficiary with exquisite footwork he weaved his way over. The
tryscorer converted his score for a 19-6 lead at the end of the first quarter.
The Surrey team had an opportunity for a swift response. The Black & Whites not only
failed to exploit their 5-metre line out but allowed the hosts to break from defence far too easily.
On the half hour the Horspath crowd were applauding the bonus point try from winger Josaiah
Ratulaveta. Oxford Harlequins were disappearing over the horizon and were benefiting from poor
tackling by the visitors as they led 24-6. S&E set about the task of getting a foothold in the game.
With the interval approaching a tremendous catch and drive set up the visitors and Ollie Baptiste-
Wilson was only denied by an offside player intercepting. The miscreant Varndell was shown a
yellow card and S&E were awarded a penalty try for 13-24.
Sutton failed to take advantage of their numerical superiority. Firstly, James Caddy was
shown a yellow for a high tackle and the game became 14-a-side. Secondly, Ewan Fox extended
the host’s lead with a penalty to make it 27-13. Soon after the referee concluded the half. It would
take a considerable effort and a comeback reminiscent of the Rugby Lane encounter if the Black &
Whites were going to get anything from their afternoon’s endeavours.
If there were any doubts about the outcome of this fixture they were resolved in the
opening five minutes of the second half. The hosts were in no mood to sit back on their laurels
and coast home as they turned up the heat in search more tries. Try Number 5 came from a catch
and drive from an impressive distance that saw Ben Jenkins collect his second try of the afternoon.
Ewan Fox did the necessary for 34-13. Try Number 6 followed a couple of minutes later and it was
a close-range effort courtesy of fine play by the pack with flanker Tom Walton getting the glory.
With the extras added the score was 41-13 and the contest was over and it was only a question of
how many the hosts would score.
The Black & Whites rallied and threw everything at the Harlequins perhaps in the belief
that attack was the best form of defence. A quickly taken tap penalty by the returning Caddy and
a 5-metre line out created a chance. Drye, Boaden and Hegarty went close before the ball was
knocked on in the face of a resolute defence. As the game opened up with both sides eager to run
the ball S&E were handicapped by the loss of their quicksilver 10 Jamie Flatley to an ankle injury.
On the hour the hosts replaced Ewan Fox with Oliver Brian. Immediately his half-back partner,
scrum half Harry Burn, was crossing the whitewash to give him his first shot at goal. Replacement
Brian duly obliged for 48-13.
The crowd then were treated to the Tom Varndell Show. His first score was a classical run
on the outside of his man demonstrating blistering pace considering his 37 years. The second
came moments later and was the best of the afternoon. If the first was orthodox the second was
stunning as his perfectly angled run against the grain saw him collect his second. Oliver Brian
accepted one of his two offerings and it was suddenly 60-13. Sutton & Epsom responded with
great heart. Replacement Ross Parsons poached the ball to make an opportunist break down the
touchline but was unfortunately injured in the process. However, at last the visitors took
advantage of an advantageous field position. From the lineout George London drove back the
defenders to be halted a metre shy but George Drye following up forced his way over the line to
score. Freddy Bunting wasted no time in dropkicking the conversion for 60-20.
The game ended with Oxford Harlequins ninth and final try. They spun the ball wide and
fullback Jonathan Hughes’ arcing run saw him score. Oliver Brian added the conversion to
conclude the scoring as the referee signalled the end of the game with the rampant Quins 67-20
victors. The result told the story. Oxford Harlequins were vastly superior on the day. Sutton &
Epsom did not help their cause with a combination of weak tackling and errors when close to
scoring. The Oxford Harlequins backs had impressed at Rugby Lane without Tom Varndell but with
the formidable winger in their ranks they had more than enough firepower to overwhelm S&E.
Next Saturday S&E host Camberley in the fixture re-arranged from 10 th December. The
visitors will be smarting from a most surprising defeat at Bournemouth that has derailed their title
hopes. Way back in September Sutton & Epsom lost at Watchetts Recreation Ground by 43-21.
The promotion-chasing visitors will be looking to return to winning ways to keep up the pressure
on the leaders, Wimbledon, and the match will kick off at Rugby Lane at 2:30pm.
Sutton & Epsom
Lawrence Elliott, Sam Hurley, Freddy Bunting, Alex Mawdsley, Ollie Baptiste-Wilson, Jamie Flatley,
Austin Bell, Tom Boaden, Alex Mount, Will Lloyd, George Drye, Ewan McTaggart, Chris Farrell ©,
Rob Hegarty & James Caddy.
Replacements: (all used) Dan Jones, George London & Ross Parsons.
Jonathan Hughes, Josaiah Ratulaveta, Edward Yeates, Toby Haines, Tom Varndell, Ewan Fox,
Harry Burn, Bradley Cook, Joshua Archer, Joel Hopkins, Harvey Tricker, Allan Purchase, Tom
Walton, John Ireland & George Primett.
Replacements: Jonathan Vermont, Ben Jenkins & Oliver Brian