Sutton & Epsom 23 Chichester 30
Chichester began 2011 as they ended 2010 – by showing with a 30-23 victory away to Sutton and Epsom they are now real force to be reckoned with at this highest level of rugby they have ever played.
Sutton have rallied strongly after a quiet start to the London one south season and Chichester knew this would be much tougher than the home game they won 34-7.
The Blues were forced into a couple of changes from their impressive home win versus Haywards Heath with Billy Toone resting following minor surgery and Nick Shopland unavailable.
Experienced former first-team skipper Richard Johnson stepped up from the unbeaten seconds for his first start of the season with highly-rated 17-year-old Jack Walker making his first-team début on the bench.
Sutton started strongly and had much the better of the early exchanges, forcing two early penalties, one of which was slotted by the home team’s scrum-half.
Chichester weren’t helped by poor kicking options when ball in hand seemed the better bet.
Having weathered the early storm the Blues rallied. Nick Blount powered forward, Richard Adams’ quick feet took him away from the cover and Lawrence and Chris Johnson carried the move on but were forced into touch just short of the line.
The hosts cleared but from the resulting line-out, Chris Johnson surged over out wide with Adams calmly slotting the extras.
The blue forwards were on a roll with clever kicks from Adams keeping them going forward. The line-out was functioning well with Scott Barlow in commanding form.
A great drive had the home team retreating and after two well-worked phases, the ever-present Polhill used his powerful leg drive to surge over for the second score. Adams again drilled the difficult kick from out wide and it was 14-3.
Epsom’s extra urgency in the tackle area and uncharacteristically soft defending took the home side close to the blue line and the home prop smashed over close to the posts.
Sutton came again and a nasty punch off-the-ball on Lawrence left him dazed and as several home players piled in they moved the ball away with devastating effect. As the ball went wide, the S&E left winger chipped over, chasing down the kick to score an excellent try.
Skipper Moses Kasujja demanded more from his team and took the game to S&E. The big man and Adams combined to release Eddie Armah with 50m to go. The flying winger put on the afterburners to accelerate away to score out wide and the Blues led 19-17.
Veltom and Pszczonka battled hard in a fairly-even fight in the scrum.
Johnson at No9 launched an attacking kick and with a superb turnover, Adams was away. Three defenders all drew towards him but Adams cleverly chipped, leaving the defence completely flatfooted, but an outstretched leg brought him down.
Penalty try seemed the call as the ref ran towards the posts – but it was a penalty to Chichester and yellow card to the home winger. The Blues responded with a well-worked drive from the resulting penalty for Lawrence to score the fourth and bonus-point try.
Sutton showed why their form has improved and their young No8 broke the gain line and gave the black and whites real impetus. Another penalty pulled the score to 24-20.
Chichester decided to make the early change with Gray coming into the back row. The divisional under-20s player made a real impact.
Renwick was released in space and the Hartbury Hare smashed forward carrying defenders with him. From the maul, a key decision went against the Blues as Decoteau, on for Lawrence, drove forward.
Chris Johnson ripped the ball away and burst through the maul as the big back rower steamed to the line the call went up for for a forward pass. There was shock from players and supporters: there had been no pass.
Another decision went against the Blues as a try was called back for stamping by the home prop, who was carded. Adams slotted the three points.
With 15 minutes to go, Walker linked well with Gray to counter deep into the home half. The black and whites handled off their feet for Adams to slot the resulting penalty. Sutton came again, pushing Chichester back, and forced another penalty to draw back to a seven-point gap.
They threw everything at the away side but the Blues would not be denied.
Head coach Richard Isaac said: “We didn’t play with quite the intensity we can and there were certainly some rustiness after three weeks away.”
Director of rugby Paul Colley added: “This was a highly-competitive match with Sutton & Epsom showing they are a more than decent side with recent National League experience.
“We will take some satisfaction of coming away with the bonus-point win.
“That said, we need to step up our intensity at training and the rest of our league games for our young team to really start fulfilling their potential.”
CHICHESTER: Pszczonka, Lawrence, Veltom, Barlow, Blount, Johnson C, Polhill, Lindsay, Johnson R, Adams, Armah, Kasujja, Renwick, Jackson, Golds. Reps: Decoteau, Gray, Walker.
* This week Chichester take on Sussex rivals Hove at Oaklands Park (2.15). All support welcome.