rugby-3Sutton & Epsom 10-16 Westcombe Park

Earlier in the season the match at Goddington Lane was rather distorted by early red cards and unopposed scrums. This Saturday on a windy afternoon there would be no such disruptions and the game was much the better for it. Despite a dominant first-half performance Westcombe Park ran out narrow 16-10 winners as Sutton & Epsom continue to demonstrate their credentials as a National League quality side.

Sutton kicked off with the elements but were to endure a half where their opponents were dominant throughout.

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Westcombe Park dictated play using their sizeable front five to control possession. Time and again their forwards crossed the gain line offloaded to a partner in crime and set up possession in the home team’s 22. If there was one fault in their display it was the tendency to over-elaborate when it went wide. The Black & Whites defence was resolute. Ironically the visitors opened the scoring after a quarter on an hour through intercepting a ball from S&E’s attacking line out in the Park’s 22. Despite desperate defence a penalty was conceded and the Orpington side opened their account for a 3-0 lead. Starved of possession in the first quarter the hosts started to panic when they did get their hands on the ball and took poor options. Rather than kick clear with the wind an injudicious attempt to run out of the 22 led to a turn over. A quickly taken penalty and a chip ahead and a smartly taken try for 8-0. Five minutes later and a well-angled run in the centres saw a second try. Park turned round 13 points to the good having dominated possession and territory they had imposed their style of play throughout the half.

Though the visitors had been most proficient the Rugby Lane team had made things too easy by failing to press them in defence. By allowing their opponents time and space to run onto their static defence they had rather gifted Park the advantage and had had to play on the back foot throughout. The second period saw a transformation in attitude, performance and style. Within five minutes a fine break by James Faaatuatu created a chance on halfway for Kyren Ghumra to test the opposition cover… Sadly the pass was dropped. Westcombe Park replied with a fine attack with excellent continuity to put a forward in space to canter in under the posts. However, the last pass was a judged forward. S&E, learning from their first half failings, recycled quick ball for James Faaatuatu to give Kyren Ghumra the ball. This time the quicksilver wing with a sidestep left his opposite number flat-footed to speed down the flank to score. Sadly the winger was forced to depart with a damaged hamstring and touching down would be his last contribution of the afternoon.

James Faaatuatu who had been immense in defence in the first half now demonstrated his strengths with ball in hand. He broke the gain line with every carry drawing increasing numbers to him as the half progressed. Following two of his rampaging assaults the ball went wide and a sublime floated pass from Sam Hurley created space for Ian Knott to force his way over in the corner. Steve Munford struck the upright with his touchline conversion and Sutton trailed 10-13 entering the final quarter. The game was transformed every time the visitors carried they were met with an aggressive defensive line that halted them in their tracks. The men from Orpington gratefully took a penalty as Frankie Neale extended the lead to 16-10. The Sutton forwards with Raynn Bruce carrying tirelessly, Matt Harwood getting over the advantage line and George London playing himself to a standstill were making an impact. There was a kick and chase from Captain Caddy, weaving runs from Matt Whitaker as Sutton hunted down the victory. What had been a one-sided affair in the first-half was now a thrilling end to end encounter. As the Westcombe Park pack tired and were forced into changes through injuries more space opened up. Jamie See began to make incisive breaks and with the ever-willing James Faaatuatu the hosts gave their supporters more than a glimmer of hope. But Park stood firm to run out victors in a contests that was ultimately far closer than anyone would have expected after the first 40 minutes.

The second-half performance showed great character from the Black & Whites but also was frustrating that they had not played like that from the start. A bonus point was well deserved and continues the trend of improving on the reverse fixtures earlier in the campaign. Next Saturday 11th March sees the visit of Hertford to Rugby Lane. To accommodate the Calcutta Cup kicking off at 4pm the game will start at 2pm. Therefore the Rugby Lane faithful can enjoy some live rugby before retiring to the clubhouse to watch England play Scotland.

Sutton & Epsom: Sam Hurley, Kyren Ghumra, Andy Matthews,  James Faaatuatu, Ian Knott, Jamie See, Steve Munford, Raynn Bruce, Seb Bonizzi, Theo Skoumbourdis, James Colclough, Matt Harwood, James Caddy ( capt ), George London, Matt Whitaker. Replacements (all used): Richard Madadangoma, Joe Ridgley, Dave Watts.