Sutton & Epsom 21-18 Guildford
After a week of freezing temperatures it was a relief for all concerned that the game was played in relatively mild conditions. The recent history between the two teams has been one of thrilling matches being decided in the dying moments and Saturday afternoon maintained that tradition. The Black & Whites will be delighted to have edged out their county rivals 21-18 to gain a very important win and a precious four points.
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The visitors immediately put themselves under pressure as an over-enthusiastic tackle led to a yellow card in the first minute. The hosts tore into the depleted opposition as the forwards carried the ball to within 5 metres. Sutton only released it wide when they had men to spare and James Faaatuatu scored unopposed in the corner. S&E then reinforced their numerical superiority with a thrilling try. Dave Dyer with a well angled run and great power exploded through the midfield and off-loaded to his centre partner James Matthews to score under the posts. Steve Munford added the conversion for a 12-0 lead with just 10 minutes gone. The return to numerical parity did not alter the tempo of the game. The sizeable Rugby Lane crowd revelled in the pace of their team’s play as they exploited a disjointed start by the men from Broadwater. Another attack and a kickable penalty was declined in favour a kick into the corner and an attacking line out. A subsequent penalty in front of the post was duly accepted to extend the lead to 15 points.
Guildford finally got underway via the boot of Freddie Hooper who gratefully accepted a penalty to put them on the scoreboard. But this was a temporary respite as a great break by Matt Whitaker and more good work from Dave Dyer gifted Steve Munford another simple penalty for an 18-3 lead. The visitors fought back to establish themselves in the game. Concentrating on a forward effort they now enjoyed their best period of the match. A sustained attack was thwarted by excellent defence. However, a penalty was forced and yellow card incurred by S&E. Freddie Hooper kicked the simplest of penalties. The one man advantage was short-lived as the Farncombe-based team were possibly fortunate to suffer only a yellow card for taking out James Caddy in mid-air. The game ebbed and flowed for the remainder of the half and crucially the visitors scored on the stroke of half-time. It was a well-deserved score after multiple carries by the pack finally breached the host’s resolute defence. The kick was missed by the narrowest of margins. The teams turned around with Sutton 18-11 to the good.
The second period started ominously for the side from Rugby Lane. Matt Whitaker, who was enjoying a productive afternoon, was dispatched for dangerously carrying the ball into contact to be the first victim of the new RFU regulations that came into force in 2017. As the Black & Whites did in the first period Guildford now took full advantage of their extra man. Despite valiant tackling on the line the Broadwater forwards powered over to give Freddie Hooper the chance to level the scores and he did not fail them. After such a dominant start by Sutton to be pegged back to 18-18 with 30 minutes remaining and a man down was quite a transformation.
The guests could not add to their tally and the hosts survived the remainder of the yellow card period. The game entered an attritional phase as the steam rose from the packs as they battled hard to gain the ascendancy. Dave Dyer continued to be a major threat and just failed to find a supporting runner following another wonderful break. Guildford absorbed the pressure and kicked wonderfully from hand to clear their lines on more than one occasion. As the game drew to a conclusion the crowd speculated on whether they were about to witness the first draw in any National 3 game this campaign. But Guildford earned an attacking 5 metre line out. This had been their most productive area throughout the game. However, Sutton & Epsom held up the drive to win the scrum. From the set-piece they enjoyed a moment of great good fortune. The clearance kick was regathered and from the quick line out Guildford knocked on gifting the home team a midfield scrum. From this attacking platform the Black & Whites advanced to the opposition 22. Steve Munford dropped into the pocket for the chance of a drop goal. An over eager defence strayed offside. In utter silence the crowd held its breath as Steve Munford kicked the penalty for a 21-18 lead as the game entered time added on. The Sutton pack then showed great discipline to control the ball and advance deep into Guildford territory almost a yard at a time but it was enough to run down the clock and garner the crucial four points for a most welcome win.
This was an extremely important match for the Black & Whites and a perfect tonic following the nadir of Wimbledon before the festive break. They deserved the narrow win due to the quality of their opening salvo. But Guildford, as one has come to expect, were never going to submit without a fight and played splendidly to get into a position where they had every chance of winning. For the Rugby Lane faithful they will have enjoyed the home debut of Dave Dyer whose powerful carrying and astute lines of running made the back division look a far more dangerous commodity. It was a fine performance by the whole S&E squad and provides the perfect platform for the crucial games to come. The campaign resumes next Saturday 14th January with a trip to Colchester.