Sudbury head coach Ben Scully confident Blues can survive after home setback to relegation rivals Fullerians
Sudbury’s 20-13 home defeat to third-bottom side Fullerians on Saturday sets up a crucial weekend in the fight for survival in London League Division 1 North.
Two matches involve four of the bottom five teams with Sudbury, in 10th place but now only seven points above the drop zone, travelling to bottom-of-the-table Diss (3pm), who are already relegated along with Luton. At the same time 12th-placed Fullerians host 11th-placed Ruislip.
Diss, with just one win in 23 games, will be seeking revenge for the 52-3 defeat at Sudbury in December.
With three games left, Sudbury, who did themselves no favours against relegation rivals Fullerians last Saturday, are on 43 points. Ruislip have 42 and Fullerians 36. Ruislip visit Sudbury for the final game of the season on April 13.
Head coach Ben Scully is confident Sudbury will avoid the drop, despite the disappointment of defeat in Saturday’s crunch game.
Scully said both he and the team were ‘deflated’ after the defeat, which saw their worst home performance followed by their most disappointing display on home turf as they allowed themselves to be bullied off the ball at the set pieces.
“I think we will be safe. But this was one we targeted that we could and should win,” he said.
“They came with a definite game plan which was to play to their strengths, which is a big forward pack and two big centres.
“They are very confrontational and direct, but I also think their game plan was to get under our skin and to frustrate us; lots of cheering penalties, cheering scrums.
“I think we forced things. I said half-an-hour into the game we were playing into their strengths by playing too narrow in attack.
“At half-time we spoke about working the ball wide, playing the width.”
He added: “There were times when we got the ascendancy and we pulled them into exactly the right areas, but we didn’t execute. So we’ve got to go back and work on those areas of the game; skills under pressure. I think we were our worst enemies at times.”
The home side seemed to rush things when they were in possession making basic errors in handling, squandering at least five try-scoring opportunities with last pass mistakes.
Playing down the slope and with the breeze in the first half,two Sudbury lineouts were taken by Fullerians and the first real attack came from them. But a try-saving tackle from Harry Maile only delayed the inevitable when they rumbled over from close range after six minutes of play, going against the general run of play.
Poor handling was already creeping in to Sudbury’s play and the Blues were fortunate not to concede again.
The home side stepped things up a gear with a good move by the backs in the 17th minute seeing Jonny Taylor go over to level the score.
From the restart Sudbury attacked again but knocked on, having beaten most of the defence and at the ensuing scrum, the first of the match, Fullers pushed the Blues off the ball easily.
Sudbury were then caught in possession in their own dead ball area and the visitors pushed the scrum back over the line to score and convert.
The Blues tried to steady the scrum by bringing on Sam Conning and a penalty on the half hour saw Tom Summers reduce the deficit.
At this point the Fullers pack were dominating the set pieces and forcing errors from the home side.
A penalty lineout midway in the Sudbury 22 metre area allowed the visitors to spin the ball from left to right across the park for Curtis Woodham to touch down.
Chris Whybrow scored for Sudbury just before the break after the hosts had worked their way into the 22 before he slipped two tackles to take the reduce the deficit to 17-13 at half-time.
The second half was a fractious affair with scrappy play from both sides, lots of penalties and only one score near the end from a penalty kick by Fullerians.
Sudbury did their best to get things moving and put together some nice moves from the backs. But these always seemed to fizzle out with a handling error on the last pass and frustration was beginning to show.
Both sides defended well and the second half seemed to slip away with lots of stoppages for handling errors and injuries.
The late penalty sealed Sudbury’s fate but they must now hope Fullerians do them a favour on Saturday by beating Ruislip.
Scully, who has always been reluctant to criticise officials, spoke to the referee and assessor after the game.
“I hate to say it, but I was a bit disappointed at how certain areas of the game were managed,” he said.
“I don’t think we were allowed to play positive rugby. I think they were allowed to slow down the ball a lot. It just frustrates me that we seem to get penalised for trying to be positive and obeying the law.
“If this league wants to progress referees have got to be more positive in their refereeing of the breakdown, certain areas of the game, the scrum. Fullerians scrummaged straight on their ball, and went across on ours, but it was allowed to happen.”
More by this authorRussell Claydon