Sutton & Epsom 2nd XV 26-22 Blackheath Brigands
Finally, Sutton got to play Blackheath Brigands after three false starts in the Zoo League in the last 12 months or so. It was well worth waiting for when the match came to pass. Despite a dominant first half display that saw the Black & Whites secure a bonus point for four tries it was the hosts that were desperately hoping for the final whistle as the injury count mounted when proceedings closed for a memorable 26-22 victory.
Sutton started on the front foot with the pack really taking the game to their opponents despite being visibly smaller in stature. After five minutes S&E opened the scoring as Ian Knott adding the finishing touches to an Andy King break. Unfortunately the influential flanker, Andy King, departed soon afterwards with a wrist injury to be replaced by Nigel Booth. The home team maintained the momentum adding a second try when the forwards linked with the backs for the ubiquitous Shiv Patel to score in the corner. Harry Jones was unfortunate to see his conversion strike the upright but the 2nds were 12 points to the good.
The Brigands awoke from their slumber using their heavyweight pack to bulldoze into the Black & White territory. After a period of concerted pressure the centre scored a try for the Kent side that went unconverted. The Rugby Lane team surged back with renewed zest. Following a textbook line out Captain Ernesto Lobo ran through his opposite number to score under the posts. Harry Jones added the simplest of conversions. Prior to the turn around Lewis McCormack added the final flourish to another piece of fabulous attacking rugby for the vital fourth try. Harry Jones added the two points for a splendid 26-5 interval lead with a bonus point already in the bank.
The break saw enforced changes as hooker Barney Cowie was forced to withdraw through injury. Fortunately, Phillip Williams, who had been enjoying himself on the flank, returned to the familiar surroundings of the front row. Ernesto Lobo went into the back row and David Dyer came off the bench to play in the centres, whilst Luke Mason replaced Chris Beevor on the wing. It was therefore not surprising that Sutton & Epsom lost some of their fluency as the third quarter became a stop start affair. Blackheath eventually broke the scoring deadlock in the second half with a try and conversion, bringing the scores to 26-12. Sutton could have put the match to bed as a contest with a sumptuous try. Backs and forwards combined again with perfectly timed off-loading, sweeping from one flank to the other only to see Dave Dyer left agonisingly close to scoring the try of the season.
As the game entered its latter stages, the Black & Whites pack tired against the bigger visiting eight. The props, Russ Keegan and Richard Madadangoma, deserve particular credit for their 80 minute shifts at the business end of the contest. As the fixture reached its denouement the Brigands, as their moniker would suggest, tried to steal the points. Two tries in quick succession, both unconverted, brought them to the brink of overturning the 21-point deficit. With defence ranging from stoic to desperate and well marshalled by the strong-tackling Ian Knott at full-back the Sutton line held. An exhilarating spectacle ended with Sutton & Epsom surviving for a highly creditable 26-22 success.
Both teams deserve congratulations for a thrilling contests. The hosts played some marvellous attacking rugby before being restricted by numerous injuries and changes not only in personnel but also positionally. The guests demonstrated great character never giving up. Using their reinforcements off the bench they forced their way back from the brink. Despite trailing by two scores deep into the game they came within a whisker of a memorable come back. Both sides will look forward to the return fixture with relish.
Team: Ian Knott, Lewis McCormack, Andrija Grubisic, Ernesto Lobo, Chris Beevor, Harry Jones, Jonjo Wadwa, Richard Madadangoma, Barney Cowie, Russ Keegan, James White, Paul Parker, Phillip Williams, Andy King, Shiv Patel. Replacements (all used): Nigel Booth, David Dyer, Luke Mason.