Sutton & Epsom could yet end their season with silverware after beating Wimbledon 23-17 in the Surrey Trophy semi final.
Played under floodlights at Sutton on Thursday evening, the match had an incredible intensity and neither side could have played with more commitment had their very lives depended on it.
Eye watering tackles rained in from both sides, leaving the pitch at times strewn with bodies.
Every player on the park could take pride in their commitment but the outstanding man of the match was undoubtedly Sutton’s tireless No8 Matt Whitacker, next season’s captain, he popped up all over the pitch almost always made at least 20m with ball in hand and was responsible for the Steve Warnham try which won Sutton the game.
This match was interesting on another level as Sutton have been relegated to London Division Two South West and Wimbledon have just been promoted and will take Sutton’s place in London Division One South next season and this was Sutton saying we’ll be back.
Sutton with the strong breeze at their backs had the better of the early exchanges and pinned Wimbledon back in their half taking an early lead when scrum half Frankie Murray kicked a penalty.
Wimbledon then began to show their class with some sweeping passing moves and with their scrum getting the edge in the tight a score was almost inevitable. Wimbledon won a lineout seven metres from the Sutton line drove forward and their hooker Nathan Kemp drove in close to the posts. Full back Leon Driscoll converted to give the visitors a 3-7 lead.
Sutton making good use of the wind created pressure for most of the remainder of the first half but superb defence from Wimbledon time and again stopped them in their tracks, they eventually settled for a penalty from Murray to narrow the scores and at the break Wimbledon led 7-6 and with the wind at the visitors backs in the second half things looked ominous for Sutton.
Sutton’s supporter’s fears were realised early in the second half when Wimbledon drove over from a five metre scrum for their No8 Danny Craven to touch down. The conversion was missed.
Sutton despite this set-back gradually created pressure of their own on the Wimbledon line and when Wimbledon’s prop Ben Davies was sent to the sin bin for killing the ball five metres out Sutton took full advantage, smashing at the obdurate Wimbledon defence until eventually powerful flanker Joe Ridgley drove over midway to the posts, Murray converted and Sutton had a narrow one point lead.
Wimbledon came straight back and showing some superb ball skills pounded at the Sutton line but Sutton proving they could be just as solid in defence held them out and eventually were awarded a scrum five metres from their own line.
Whitacker picked up at the base and broke up field slicing through four of five tackles he made an unbelievable 80m before passing outside to his full back Steve Warnham who scored in the corner. Murray converted and Sutton led 20-12.
Sutton unused to defending a lead at this stage of the match then began to panic under relentless Wimbledon pressure and high balls were dropped, kicks charged down and when Wimbledon’d No8 Craven took a quick penalty six metres out and charged over for an unconverted try the writing seemed to be on the wall for Sutton.
They then dug in and had the first piece of luck they have had all season, when Wimbledon appeared to have scored a superbly worked try from a huge forward pass, unseen by the referee, the referee’s assistant though had not missed it and held his flag up, the try was disallowed and Sutton absorbing massive Wimbledon pressure held on to go through to the final.
The final along with the Surrey plate and Surrey cup finals will take place at Imber Court on bank holiday Monday, May 7, when Sutton will face Cobham who beat Guildford 27-22 in their semi final. Festivities start at 12 noon.