Guildford travelled to top of the league Sutton & Epsom hoping to avenge the mauling dished out at Broadwater at the start of the season. The game was played under the necessary floodlights but the pitch was in reasonable condition and the weather held out to give fairly good conditions. Sutton and Epsom bounded onto the pitch to the accompaniment of the PA system but Guildford made them wait, Jarrod Adam
leading the team in a slow walk a la David Sole. Coach Dave Ward
had also deepened the siege mentality by ensuring the shirts remained unwashed since 2012.
For the first 10 min Guildford were like a team possessed, having virtually all the possession but they had nothing to show for this besides a missed penalty attempt. Sutton inevitably came back into the game, attempting to force a scrum and then a couple of lineouts over but Guildford held on, despite conceding numerous penalties.
On 18 min a flowing move down the blind side was sustained by several great offloads leading to a try from Nick Taft
, unconverted. The score now 5-0
Sutton came back into the game 5 min later, succeeding where they had failed before and pushing a driving lineout over the line. The difficult conversion was successful: 5-7
However Guildford have had plenty of success with the driving maul in the recent seasons, and Mark Watkinson
has got himself to the bottom of most of them. This time was no different as Guildford responded in kind, Jarrod Adam
finding his range as well: 12-7
Guildford were looking dangerous whenever they managed to keep the ball through the phases and on 35min a lovely chip over the top from fly-half Bertie Hopkin
was gathered and touched down near the posts by Alex Vaughan
. This try was also converted: 19-7
The first half had passed at a whirlwind pace but it wasn't over yet as Mark Watkinson
was sin-binned for a team offence: Guildford conceded penalties rather than tries with the defence stretched almost to breaking point. Sutton scored the three points and went in to half time behind 19-10
Beginning the second half with 14 men, Guildford found themselves under pressure as Sutton found more space to run with the ball. With the increased pressure the referee was also starting to find more fault with Guildford, both in open play and at scrum time, despite Guildford's scrum having been dominant so far. On 46 min Sutton converted one of these penalties to reduce the lead to 6: 19-13
It was looking ominous for Guildford when Sutton settled into the scoreboard corner attempting to work another maul over the line. They were held up and then the ref judged one of their backs to have knocked the ball on over the line; the Sutton 5 chose to take his frustration out on the smallest man on the pitch Matt Shea
, the ref binned him in sympathy with the Guildford scrum half. Guildford though were unable to take advantage of the extra man and the 10 minutes passed without additional score.
On 70 it looked as if Sutton had got another 3 with a penalty attempt, but the ball cannoned off the post in a dangerous area. It was cleanly caught though by Laurence Fennemore
and the danger was averted. A few minutes later, following a series of scrums in Guildford's left hand corner Sutton took a quick tap following a scrum offence and dived over the line. Guildford's first half scrum dominance now being offset by the referee's whistle. The score was unconverted and Guildford took a 1 point lead into the final 8 minutes: 19-18
The league leaders did everything they could to get that final score but Guildford defended manfully, none more so than Jack Burrows
who seemed to be making every other tackle. It was at the bottom of one of these tackles though that Buzz was penalised for not rolling away and with the final kick of the game, Sutton finally took the lead when it counted: 19-21
Before the game, I think most spectators would have been pleased by this result, fearing the worst given the home leg. However this was a much improved performance by Guildford to start the New Year and must go down as a missed opportunity to claw our way back up the table. Looking back, the inability to turn possession and territory into points during the first 10 minutes was key, as was not taking the opportunity when Sutton were down to 14. Maybe at half-time Guildford started to think about the score too much and lost some of the intensity with which they started the game. The referee also ran out of patience with the consistent offending, and while some calls (including the last) may have been marginal, it's very difficult to defend for that long without giving up penalties. Guildford did come away with a losing bonus point though and plenty of positives to take into Saturday's home game against KCS Old Boys.