National Two South
Sutton & Epsom
Man of the match:
The ‘too much turkey’ excuse is trotted out every January immediately after the Xmas break if a side appears under the cosh when taking the field for the first time in a New Year. Festive feasting had nothing to do with the shambles the visitors made of the first quarter at Rugby Lane.
True, Joe Butler nudged OAs into the lead with the only penalty of the match after three minutes but tactical mistakes, a weak and erratic lineout and a leakage of avoidable penalties provided opportunities not to be missed for a Sutton side keen to overcome their lowly league position.
The hosts drove to the Albanian five-metre area, snapped up the resulting throw from touch and Andy Ince benefitted from the inexorable march to the line. Fly-half Cooke converted.
Then, for OAs, rugby briefly broke out. Eight smart phases eroded the Sutton defence and Josh Hallett scored wide out on the left giving his side a short-lived single point lead. Scarcely a minute later a restart error handed the initiative back to the men from Surrey and Aaron Phillip needed no second invite. Cooke’s conversion attempt this time drifted wide as did his next effort when Bruce was ushered over by another efficient catch and drive.
All were awaiting the break when Alex Ricci showed a clean pair of heels for a (possibly crucial) five-pointer just before the interval. Thus far A’s had scored two good three-quarter tries and conceded two catch and drives. The half time message seemed clear: the ball should be swung wide and fast.
Fast and wide it went and the next half hour saw some of the best of Albanians. Morgan Thompson, deservedly man of the match, led the parade and converted his own try three minutes into the period. Next, full back Noot gave his side their try bonus point tearing in from fully seventy metres for Thompson to improve.
The level of OA precision was a league above anything Albanians had produced in the first half as lineout, tight scrum and loose ball all fed the side’s ambition. Noot’s searing pace saw him cross for a second with more than a quarter still to play but, not yet content, Thompson once more, Nic Defeo and Hallett, also on a pair, completed the damage. Thompson’s metronomic right foot gained him all six second-half conversions and took his total to twenty-two points.
To their credit, Sutton were not yet done and with the last move of the match, Matt Whitaker gave them a try bonus point after sustained pressure.
Albanians have had a tough time in the past two months and this encounter (at least the second half of it) will boost morale throughout the squad. Quite simply the side showed what was possible, what the players are capable of even when things don’t go exactly right. They should be shown the video of the last forty minutes before every remaining game this season.
Old Redcliffians visit Woollams next Saturday and James Buckland’s charges will want to carry on feather-ruffling, turkey-induced or not!
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Sutton & Epsom
National League 2 South