The Battle of Medway lost


Medway 37 Sutton & Epsom RFC 26. Saturday 27th January. Sutton & Epsom returned to a most happy hunting ground on Saturday as their only previous trip to Priestfields saw them gain promotion in 2016 with an Andy Matthews hat trick. There were two survivors from that famous afternoon being back row brothers George London and Matt Whitaker. If nostalgia filled the air it was also because it was a red-letter day for Medway stalwart Tom Beaumont who was making his 200th league appearance. For the veteran flanker the hosts obliged with a 37-26 win in a hard fought and entertaining encounter.

Sutton saw a welcome return to Ellis Rudder, last seen four years ago at Westcliff in National 2,
and Lawrence Eliott after injury breaks of vastly contrasting lengths of time. The Priestfield playing
surface was in excellent condition considering the recent vagaries of the weather as Freddy
Bunting kicked off on a dry but chill winter afternoon. S&E were on the attack immediately with a
surging break to the opposition 22 from the prolific Matt Whitaker after the initial line break from
Gareth O’Brien. An early riposte from the hosts gather the ball on the blindside on halfway with
great prospects the ball inexplicably fell to earth. After this entertaining start the opening score
was rather more mundane. The visitors conceded a penalty and were penalised for not retreating>
The second infringement lead to a lineout in the corner. It was third time unlucky as the referee
gave Owen Church-Mills the opportunity to open Medway’s account. The Number 10 assuredly
bisected the uprights to put Medway 3-0 up after five minutes.

Sutton & Epsom only took five minutes to not only open their account but claim the lead. Another
Whitaker carry and support by the forwards led to a penalty. It was the hosts’ turn to defend a
lineout near their line. The men from Surrey secured the ball and Alex Mount was the beneficiary
of their control as he forced his way over for a try. Freddy Bunting added the extras for a 7-3
advantage. Five minutes later the Black & Whites were celebrating a second try. Advancing into
the 22 Freddy Bunting’s probing kick behind the defence was gathered by winger Kyren Ghumra
who finished with panache. Captain Bunting made it 14-3 with a relatively simple conversion. At
the end of the first quarter the productive opening by the Rugby Lane XV was undone by a fatal
self-inflicted wound as a woeful clearance in their 22 was predictably charged down. Medway took
advantage of the retreating defence as Captain Antony Clement’s perfectly timed pass gifted his
centre partner, Sean Marriott, a try. Owen Church-Mills conversion made it 10-14.

The Black & Whites had a chance to reprise their opening score but Freddy Bunting overcooked
the penalty and instead of a 5-metre lineout his team set up to receive a drop out. As the half
continued to ebb and flow Medway were playing with great continuity and Sutton were indebted to
a splendid tackle from Kyren Ghumra and an over-eager forward going off his feet at the ruck.

Medway made their first change as Deji Oyesola replaced Ryan Eastley in the front row. S&E were
hampered by poor kicking from hand as two kicks in as many minutes found opponents with
perfect precision who gratefully called ‘mark’. As the errors mounted it was a great relief for the
travelling supporters when fluency returned from the familiar source of Matt Whitaker. Gareth
O’Brien and Tom Boaden continued the move that was only halted by foul play. The result was a
yellow card, Medway reduced to 14 and Sutton with the penalty. The forwards took control and
Chris Farrell burrowed his way over for his sides third try. Freddy Bunting’s precise kick left the
scoreboard reading Medway 10 Sutton & Epsom 21.

In time added on a long clearance kick unfortunately rolled through the dead ball area to the
advantage of the home team. Whether you view that as careless or unlucky is up to the generosity
of your spirit. However, this territorial penalty was compounded by then conceding a penalty.
Owen Church-Mills stepped up to conclude the first period with his second penalty of the afternoon
which took some of the gloss off the visitors first half performance but Sutton still led by 21-13 as
the teams turned around.

Medway seized the initiative early in the second period. They camped in the Sutton 22 and carried
relentlessly with powerful runs ably supported. However, defiant defence by Sutton averted the try
that seemed imminent as a frustrated home team decided to opt for the three points at the third
time of asking. Owen Church-Mills made it three out of three for penalties and his team were
within a score at 16-21. It was becoming one-way traffic in the third quarter with Captain Clement
at his influential best orchestrating the backs. But the stoic Sutton defence were a match for each
and every carry and it was a mark of their defence that again the hosts opted for a kick at goal. It
was rather a surprise when the latest strike slid wide. The despair of the home crowd was
immediately replaced by a joyous cheer. The drop kick was taken by Number 8 Todd Johnson and
the previously adamantine defence dissolved as he broke through a couple of tackles on his way to
the 22. Then Deji Oyesola exploded through the ruck to run in untouched under the posts. The
easiest of conversions was added and Medway had taken the lead 23-21.

This setback inspired Sutton who finally got some attacking ball having won a penalty at a scrum
they kicked to the corner. It was the turn of the Medway defence to face the music. Willem Ratu,
Freddy Bunting and the pack advanced to the line. One, two and three penalties were awarded.
From the third the irrepressible Matt Whitaker added another try to his record-breaking career
tally. The blustering breeze carried the conversion narrowly wide but a resurgent Sutton held a
slender advantage at 26-23. Suddenly it appeared to be anyone’s game with ten minutes left on
the clock.

After what had gone before the denouement of the match was most disappointing for the visitors.
Great credit must go to Medway who raised their game to play with urgency, accuracy and
potency. They declined a kickable penalty for the lineout in the corner. This time the sustained
pressure resulted in a try for lock Dan Jackson. Owen Church-Mills increased the gap to 30-26 with
the game still in the balance. But the hosts were in no mood to sit back on so precarious a lead. At
once they went in search of the bonus point and another try to secure the win. Ewan McTaggart
appeared to have won an important lineout steal but the he tapped back bounced cruelly away
from the visitors and was gathered by the alert Kent pack. Once more the hosts burst through a
ruck but this time it was an assist to Deji Oyesola who was perfectly placed to trot in under the
posts for his second try of the afternoon and an impregnable 37-26 lead as Owen Church Mills
made his personal tally 16 points. The hosts had no problem running down the clock to secure the
37-26 bonus point win.

It was the third game in a row that Sutton & Epsom had led in the second half but failed to hold
onto their advantage. For long periods their defence was of the highest quality but unfortunately
errors were punished. Medway, as they had at Rugby Lane, carried aggressively with great
continuity created by timely offloads to excellent support players. Antony Clement was at his
influential best whilst Todd Johnson and Deji Oyesola impressed in the pack. For S&E there was a
great sense of frustration despite a try-scoring bonus point they had the chance for more. For long
spells the defence was first rate but there was a sense that more than one of the scores could
have been avoided. In attack the Black & Whites conversion rate in the 22 was high and four tries
on the road should be the foundation for a victory. There is an urgent need to find a way of seeing
out these close finishes to win matches that are in the balance.

Next Saturday Sutton and Epsom entertain Gravesend, at Rugby Lane at 2:30pm, who like the hosts and
Sidcup have a 10-6 loss record in the rather congested nether regions of the league.

Sutton & Epsom:
Gareth O’Brien, Kyren Ghumra, Lawrence Elliott, Freddy Bunting ©, Ellis Rudder, Tom Lennard,
Steve Munford, Alex Mount, Chris Farrell, Tom Boaden, Josh Glanville, Ewan McTaggart, George
London, Rob Hegarty & Matt Whitaker.
Replacements: Callum Gibson, Ben Green & Willem Ratu.

Perry Macauley, John Sipawa, Sean Marriott, Antony Clement, Conor Chalmers, Owen Church-Mills,
Ben Dance, Ryan Eastley, Josh Knight, Jack Nickalls, Dan Jackson, Jordan Stubbington, Harry
Gibbons, Tom Beaumont & Todd Johnson.
Replacements: Deji Oyesola, Joseph Byrne & Robert O’Brien.

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