Colchester RFC 31-37 Sutton & Epsom
Despite snow, threats of flooding and rumours of evacuations during the week Saturday’s fixture was played on a perfect surface ideal for the running rugby that both of these teams prefer to play. From the first minute this was a pulsating game that fluctuated throughout. It might have been ideal viewing for the impartial observer but agonising for the partisan spectators. Appropriately the game was won with the final play and for the hosts it was another story of so near so far as Sutton sneaked home 37-31.
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The Essex side showed their intent from the start creating a wonderful chance from the kick off. Only a superb covering tackle by James Faaatuatu coming off his wing prevented a try. From the resulting loose ball Dave Dyer fly-hacked the length of the pitch only to knock on with the try line begging. That set the tone for a game of thrilling attacks undone by turnovers and followed by exhilarating counterattacks. After sustained pressure the home team opened the scoring via the trusty boot of their captain, James Crozier. The Black & Whites were soon on the front foot with a blistering break by James Faaatuatu that led to a kickable penalty which was declined in favour of a kick to the corner. A controlled catch and drive delivered hooker Seb Bonizzi over the line for the try.
Despite having twice created excellent attacking positions poor handling thwarted S&E. On the second occasion they were punished by the excellence of the Mill Road backs. Centres Brandon Fanolua and Te Albert were outstanding all game and they created space for James Crozier to complete a sweeping move from their own 22. The winger converted his try to regain the lead 10-5. Sutton & Epsom were more clinical with their next attack with a well worked move from a scrum 15 metres out Dave Dyer broke through and offloaded to James Faaatuatu to score under the posts. There followed a bizarre incident. A stiff breeze led to Steve Munford requiring a team mate to support the ball, the coordinating of this act went horribly wrong and the scrum-half was left to kick a ball lying on the turf and subsequently missed. The score was 10-10 and within five minutes it was 17 apiece as the teams exchanged goals. Sutton went ahead through another superbly executed move with Matt Whitaker strolling home. Colchester replied at once by turning over the ball on halfway they chipped to the flank and the openside gathered and offloaded to the supporting runner who sprinted home. So ended the first period with honours even and the crowd eagerly anticipating more action in the second half.
The Black & Whites re-emerged with the breeze in their favour. But it was Essex team, in their red second strip, who regained the lead to leave the Surrey side trailing 24-17. Having declined the kick at goal multiple attacks resulted in the influential Brandon Fanolua scoring under the posts. The ensuing 15 minutes saw S&E create chances only to turn over the ball and Colchester threaten to score on the counter. Finally, parity was restored as the visitors patiently controlled the ball through their pack to create the chance which Stefan Cooksammy finished with style. Steve Munford converted via the upright from out wide… 24-24. A couple of minutes later Sutton were fortunate to gain a great position through a knock on. They forced a penalty to regain the lead via Steve Munford’s boot.
If some of the visitors tackling had been faulty during the game there followed a fantastic goal-line defence that saw the hosts repelled despite numerous efforts from within a metre. Relief came from an impetuous tap penalty that with hindsight should have been kicked. Once more a knock on created the field position for a Steve Munford penalty. As one would expect the game was far from over. The Mill Road crowd roared on their team and their faith was rewarded as flanker Jerone Awesu muscled over from a 5 metre line out. James Crozier added the conversion to take a slender 31-30 lead with a minute to play. It was the turn of Sutton to go on the attack. This time with control and patience they scored a marvellous try in the corner to deliver Stefan Cooksammy’s second try. Steve Munford added the conversion and the final whistle was blown to end the game with Sutton & Epsom 37-31 victors taking home five valuable points courtesy of a try-scoring bonus.
This was a cruel result for Colchester who played some wonderful running rugby. The centre combination of Fanolua and Albert were a constant threat and with a splendid back three allied to James Crozier’s kicking they are a side who will score heavily. Sadly for the Mill Road team it was yet another near miss in a season of continuing frustration. For Sutton it was successive wins that sees them climb the table to eighth and they showed great character to turn the game around in time added on. In such a memorably exciting game where the lead changed hands on many occasions but never was more than seven points, it was a great team performance with credit due in equal measure to the forwards and the backs.