Sutton & Epsom RFC 21 Old Colfeians 17 Saturday 2nd December.
Old Colfeians arrived at Rugby Lane as the form team in the league with five victories on
the spin. Meanwhile a resurgent Sutton & Epsom had won all their three November fixtures and
were equally confident. Both squads were hit by injuries and illness with S&E giving a debut to
Matt Symonds on the wing. The last time the Black & Whites played OCs in 2007 the Kent side
managed to record the only blemish on James Clark’s perfect season. Fixtures between the two
clubs go back 50 years and in the league era the matches have always been keenly contested and
Saturday was no exception with Sutton winning 21-17.
There was a serious risk that the freezing weather might sabotage the game but a
moderately milder morning, temperatures being above zero, meant that the crowd would not be
disappointed. Freddy Bunting set the game in motion and the visitors immediately demonstrated
their superlative form with the opening score after five minutes. Having spun the ball wide to both
flanks the forwards took over in the 22. Phase after phase they remorselessly advanced under the
posts until prop Tom Rameaux powered over. Chris Harris added the simple conversion for a 7-0
lead. In the early exchanges the powerful pack of the visitors initially held the upper hand in the
set scrum but the host’s lineout was more efficient and also disrupted the Colfeians ball. Both sets
of backs looked threatening when they had possession and expectations of a closely fought
encounter, that had been anticipated before the kick off, were being fully justified.
In the closing moments of the first quarter Sutton had an attacking lineout. Josh Pulvirenti
took the ball and the pack advanced. The referee noted an indiscretion by the visitors but he
played the advantage and was soon raising his arm to signal Rob Hegarty’s try. Freddy Bunting’s
conversion cleared the uprights but just drifted wide as S&E trailed 5-7. The game was being
played at a furious pace with both sides tenaciously contesting the breakdown forcing turnovers
and errors. On the half hour S&E had another opportunity with a 5-metre lineout. The ball was
safely secured and Matt Whitaker exploded from the pack powering over the line with would be
tacklers hanging off him. Normal service resumed as Freddy Bunting added the extras to put his
team into a 12-7 lead.
Old Colfeians reply was immediate and the Sutton lead short lived. With commendable
adventure they ran a penalty from halfway and advanced to the S&E 22. The jinking Chris Harris
took over to score a stylish solo effort. He was unable to add the conversion to his try but the Kent
team were level at 12-12. Before the interval the Sutton back division that had already endured
three changes before the start had another set back as Steve Munford was forced off through
injury to be replaced by the versatile Jack Howes. The momentum had shifted to the visitors and
Chris Harris came off his wing to create the overlap and the OCs surged from their 22 but the
Sutton cover forced a knock on. The half concluded with the Black & Whites pressing hard but
undone by an error in the opposition 22 and there was no further addition to the score and the
sides turned around at 12 apiece.
Sutton & Epsom were fast out of the blocks in the second half from a lineout it was a vintage run
from Matt Whitaker carrying the ball 40 metres. Sadly, the talismanic eight had outrun his support
but soon had the consolation of a penalty. From a central position near halfway Freddy Bunting
thumped the ball between the posts for a 15-12 lead. Once again the visitors responded with an
assault on the Sutton 22 with the sidestepping Chris Harris to the fore. Alex Mount conceded a
penalty but immediately made amends by winning a turnover from the quickly taken play. S&E
replaced Tom Boaden with Callum Gibson, who is a man of considerable ‘avoirdupois’ whose 140kg
frame might turn a deck-chair to match-wood, to add ballast to the front row. In addition their
lineout with the catch and drive was becoming a potent weapon.
The weather began to deteriorate as not only did the temperature plummet but also a fog began
to descend and gradually envelop proceedings. As Colfeians sought parity they probed the 22 and were awarded a penalty for a Ghumra knock on. Chris Harris went for the three-point option but
hooked his kick. In stark contrast a couple of minutes later Sutton were awarded a penalty on the
halfway line on the angle with a distance in excess of 50 metres. With a truly magnificent strike
Freddy Bunting bisected the posts. The strike was greeted with rapturous applause from the crowd
as much for the 18-12 lead as for the opportunity to warm their hands.
As had been the case throughout the match the men from Horn Park responded at once in the
grand manner. Winning a kickable penalty they opted to kick for the corner. They won the lineout
and after sustained pressure the ball was transferred to hooker Daniel Orubo who dismissively
broke through the tacklers to score. With the conversion going awry there was now only a solitary
point in the game with Sutton & Epsom holding the advantage at 18-17. With the game entering
the final quarter and so finely poised the hosts now played their best rugby of the match. With a
slender lead the key is to play in the opposition’s half and they proceeded to dominate the
The game opened up and Sutton scrum half Chris Ballard became more influential making sniping
breaks and playing at a high tempo. From one counter the 9 won a penalty and took the quick tap
which instigated multiple attacks from the Rugby Lane XV. Colfeians defensive resolve was
impressive as they managed to halt Kyren Ghumra in the corner and the hosts were held up over
the line. S&E were then gifted a great chance by a careless knock in the 22. From the scrum Matt
Whitaker headed for glory. Once more the Horn Park men stood firm and Sutton were held up
over the line. The visibility deteriorated and the distant Clubhouse was shrouded in fog. A shrill
blast of Tobias Whitney’s whistle indicated another penalty for Sutton. Freddy Bunting stepped up
and hammered it home for a 21-17 lead with a couple of minutes of normal time remaining.
Up to this point Sutton had been exemplary on receipt of the restarts but at this vital stage they
gave away a penalty. The visitors, conscious of the clock, turned down a shot at goal. Now the
anxiety of the crowd as much as the fog descended on Rugby Lane as they knew another
Colfeians try would see them take the lead. As they tried to work an overlap on the 22 Kyren
Ghumra made a priceless interception. From the subsequent Sutton scrum the hosts failed to find
touch and invited more pressure on themselves but forced a knock on with thunderous tackle. S&E
conceded a penalty from the scrum and OCs turned the screw by opting for another scrum. Their
followed a commendable moment of tactical acumen as the home team replaced their hooker with
a prop. The beefed up Black & White pack drove their opponents off the ball and were awarded a
penalty which was greeted by the loudest cheer of the day. Bunting kicked to touch, the lineout
was secured and the clock was run down before the ball was kicked to the grandstand. Sutton had
won this epic encounter 21-17.
The excellence of Freddy Bunting’s placekicking had made the vital the difference. The Colfeians
powerful forwards with the outstanding Number 8 Conor Gray had an influential afternoon with
Chris Harris their creative hub in the backs. However, Sutton & Epsom played with steely
determination that bodes well for the rest of the season. Once again they raised their game in the
second half with their collective desire epitomised by debutant Matt Symonds’ nerveless display.
This is the midpoint of the season and the reverse fixtures begin next Saturday with a trip to
Balmoral Avenue to take on leaders Beckenham. Back in September on that remarkably hot day
the Kent side won 42-41. It will be another stern test for the Black & Whites especially as their
hosts will no doubt be smarting from having just lost to bottom of the table Sidcup.
Sutton & Epsom:
Gareth O’Brien, Kyren Ghumra, Steve Munford, Ciaran Mohr, Matt Symonds, Freddy Bunting ©,
Chris Ballard, Tom Boaden, Chris Farrell, Alex Mount, Ewan McTaggart, Josh Glanville,
George London, Josh Pulvirenti & Rob Hegarty.
Replacements: Callum Gibson, Ben Tame & Jack Howes.
Ryan Napper, Louis Baker, Miles Jones, Victor Spaczil, Chris Harris, Will Smith, Jed Wylie,
Tom Rameaux, Daniel Orubo, Lloyd Evans, Andy O’Mailey, Leo Cunningham, Ethan Collins, Jake
Carter & Conor Gray.
Replacements: Bamidele Agorioge, Frank Blythe & Ollie Burkett.
Image courtesy Robin Kennedy