Beckenham RFC 22 – Sutton & Epsom RFC 26. Saturday 9th December.
Saturday marked the start of the home stretch with the first of the reverse fixtures. In Week 2
both teams endured testing temperatures in the crucible of Rugby Lane to produce an
extraordinary game of extremely fluctuating fortunes. The denouement included the ecstasy of a
penalty try to Beckenham and the agony of a last second penalty drift wide for Sutton as the
visitors won 42-41. At least the teams were spared Arctic weather for the rematch at Balmoral
Avenue. Many players had crossed the whitewash since that September Saturday and the Kent
Club sat atop of Regional 2 South East whilst the men from Surrey arrived with four consecutive
wins under their belt. After an enthralling contest Sutton gained their most impressive scalp of the
season as they won 26-22.
Sutton & Epsom offered a warm welcome back to Tom Lennard after his highly successful jaunt in
the Antipodes. The playmaker not only starred for Melbourne University gaining representative
honours but also encouraged Josh Pulvirenti to join him at S&E. If Tom was the Australian addition
New Zealand was represented by the returning Willem Ratu. So the domestic unions did not feel
overlooked Sutton even selected a Welshman in Ross Parsons. The weather once again played a
significant role in the fixture with a tremendous wind billowing down the pitch. Freddy Bunting
kicked off with the gale behind him and Sutton went on the offensive from the very start but their
swift attacks were matched by the swarming defence of the hosts. Though the leaders gave up an
early penalty in front of the uprights. With a prostrate player holding the ball in place and the posts
swaying in the wind Captain Bunting made it 3-0.
Beckenham gave an early warning to the visitors of the quality of their back play as Tom Bateman
linked with Matt Lovell to bring the leaders deep into the Sutton 22 but their efforts were thwarted
by conceding a penalty. After ten minutes S&E had doubled their lead to 6-0 with another Bunting
penalty but they were frustrated that a fine attack had not resulted in a try. At the end of the first
quarter Matt Whitaker’s desperate bid to force his way over by the posts was held up by resilient
defenders. The elements made it extremely difficult for the hosts to exit from their 22 but their
well organised defence frustrated the Black & White backs. On the half hour Tom Lennard hacked
through a loose ball and gathered it up and a couple of strides short of glory he was tackled. The
referee ruled it a high tackle and with no other defender in view he awarded a penalty try and
Sutton led 13-0.
The leaders then enjoyed their best passage of play as their forwards and backs combined with
multiple phases to get into the Sutton 22. Impressive offloads in the tackle maintained the
momentum and then they opted to kick ahead. On any other afternoon it would have been a
worthwhile gamble but the ball was gathered by Freddy Bunting and despatched on the wind 60
metres back down the paddock. The visitors pressed hard to extend their lead and thought they
were about to score again from a 5-metre scrum when Gareth O’Brien was penalised. With time
running out in the first half Willem Ratu countered towards the 22. His run earned another penalty
which Freddy Bunting readily converted to conclude the half with a 16-0 lead.
As both sides retired to the warmth of the dressing rooms for directions from their coaches
everyone pondered just how many points the wind was worth. In addition to the elements
Beckenham had survived 10 minutes with 14 men after a yellow card to stand off Gary Dipple. The
leaders had done extremely well to frustrate the Black & Whites who, for all their territory and
possession, only scored a solitary try. Sutton knew that they would need to be at their very best in
the second half to withstand the inevitable siege to come.
The Blamoral Avenue crowd did not have long to wait to cheer the success of their local heroes. A
Sutton fumble on their 22 from the restart put the hosts in prime position to chip away at the lead.
S&E conceded a penalty at the scrum and Geordie Boyce stepped up to chip over the conversion
for 3-16. Beckenham pressed hard for further additions. A Gareth O’Brien tackle thwarted one
attack and the pack stole a scrum ball on their 22. However, the clearance kick was run back with
a vengeance. The Kent side were within 5 metres and flung out a long pass. Lock Ciall Kirwan was
hugging the touchline and did superbly to take the pass on his laces to score in the corner.
Unsurprisingly the touchline conversion was blown off course but the Sutton lead was now 16-8
with 30 minutes remaining.
With errors mounting in the Sutton play and confidence surging through the veins of the league
leaders the momentum had definitely shifted. It was now that Sutton & Epsom demonstrated not
only great character but also their best play. The howitzer boot of Bunting thumped a penalty into
the 22 to give his team a promising lineout. The catch and drive advanced the ball into threatening
territory. Following multiple phases and admirable control by the pack finally Matt Whitaker was
ushered over the line for the try. The kick adjacent to the uprights was converted and S&E led by
23-8. The men from Rugby Lane continued to attack in search of another try. As per the first
period the Beckenham defence held firm but once again the referee brought play back for a
penalty. Once more the irrepressible Bunting extended the lead to 26-8 as the game entered the
Considering the playing conditions this was a most impressive phase of play from the visitors who
continued on the offensive not only carrying well but when required kicking penalties into the 22.
At this stage centre Tane Feldhaus-Davies gave voice to his frustration with the number of offside
penalties that his team were accumulating as he let fly with colourful language as he enquired to
the heavens as to the precise number of offences. With ten minutes remaining Beckenham scored
a quite outstanding try as fullback Francesco Pennacchia made a stunning break from his own half
and linked with his support. A wave of Beckenham shirts burst into the Sutton 22 and captain
Hans Laud-Anderson, like every quality 7, was on hand to add the finishing touch. Geordie Boyce
added the extras for 26-15.
Roared on by a sizeable and passionate crowd the game was now turned on its head and it was
the Surrey team who had to show their defensive mettle. It was the turn of the visitors to concede
penalties. Beckenham opted for a 5-metre scrum and the result was another penalty and a yellow
card not to a prop but to flanker Rob Hegarty and the leaders opted for the tap penalty. The ball
was given to replacement prop James Cleverly with his mane like Samson, the beard of a
lumberjack and a physique that shuns the modern figure-hugging apparel he bounced off the first
tackler, sidestepped through a gap and strode over for a most accomplished solo effort. With
Geordie Boyce chipping over the conversion the Sutton lead was only 26-22.
The crowd were in full voice and expectations running high as Sutton had five minutes to survive.
In recent times the expression game management has not been linked with flattering adjectives
for the Black & Whites but they now relentlessly held onto possession through multiple phases
near halfway with a prodigious effort by the forwards. Then a shrill blast of the whistle and the
hosts were given a lifeline of a penalty. The Gods smiled down benevolently on S&E as the kick
went through the in-goal area. A grateful Sutton accepted a scrum on halfway and moments later
ran down the clock to gain a fabulous 26-22 victory.
That made it five wins in a row for Sutton and to inflict the first defeat on the table-toppers at
Balmoral Avenue this season was a notable achievement. The Beckenham backs are formidable
not only in attack but also in defence. The leaders ability to pass out of the tackle is a most potent
weapon but S&E matched their lofty opponents and it was their ability to play so well against the
wind that was the deciding factor. Freddie Bunting’s accumulation of points is well known but in
this game it was the power of his kicking from hand that caught the eye. However, in truth it was
a great team performance, as is often the way in harsh weather, that was the backbone for this
latest win. It would be remiss not to mention the magnificent hospitality offered at Balmoral
Avenue with the clubhouse bar one of the finest locations around to enjoy the traditional pleasures
for which rugby is renowned.
Probably with a sense of relief to players, coaches and administrators next Saturday sees the last
league match of 2023 and the competition adjourns for the festive break. For those readers who
still prefer the High Street to online purchasing but are looking for an excuse to escape the horrors
of Christmas shopping I can heartily recommend Sutton’s game against Old Reigatian at Rugby
Lane that kicks off at 2pm.
Sutton & Epsom:
Gareth O’Brien, Kyren Ghumra, Willem Ratu, Tom Lennard, Ciaran Mohr, Freddy Bunting ©, Ross
Parsons, Tom Boaden, Chris Farrell, Alex Mount, Ewan McTaggart, Josh Glanville, Rob Hegarty,
Josh Pulvirenti & Matt Whitaker. Replacements: Callum Gibson, Jack Howes & Matt Symonds.
Francesco Pennacchia, Tom Bateman, Matt Lovell, Tane Feldhaus-Davies, Geordie Boyce, Gary
Dipple, Ben Murphy, Lamar Sinclair, Liam Markey, Graham Murray, Ciall Kirwan, Josh Hiscott,
Conor Palmer, Hans Laud-Anderson © & Oliver Stapelton.
Replacements: James Cleverly, Thomas Ward & Jed Hamilton