Drama and controversy marked the end of this otherwise mundane game, as Sussex Men’s 2nd narrowly lost out to a late Imperial Medic try, to lose 10-7. As Sussex trudged off the field of play after being condemned to an eight successive defeat in the South Eastern Conference, there was evident rage at referee Jim Knight who it appeared had denied them their highly sought-after victory.
The match had begun positively for Sussex and for the first quarter of an hour the Imperial Medics could do little but ruck, scrummage and defend their try line; Sussex were making all the running and had the added strength and flair of returning back David Owen in the attacking line. However, as is apparent from their form so far this season (barring two fifty-point defeats), Sussex Men’s 2nd haven’t been losing out by many points each week, and it is perhaps in the attacking department that things need to improve most.
Despite this concerted period of pressure it was indeed the Medics that made the first impact on the scoreboard. Furthermore, it was a simple display of forward power. The Medics’ half-back had chosen to kick into the corner from a penalty, and from the resulting lineout the forwards mauled the ball over the line from five metres out. With the kicker failing to convert, the score was 5-0, and although Sussex had perhaps had more of the possession and territory, the Medics certainly made the most of their first opportunity.
Things got worse for Sussex five minutes later as Tom Nicholls was sent to the sin-bin for a scuffle after the ball was dead. As he sat out for ten minutes anyone watching might have presumed the Medics would capitalise on the one-man advantage, but in fact it was Sussex that began to make the running; even if real fluidity and breakthroughs were hard to come by. Full-back Owen, and scrum-half Tom Croft were performing well, breaking the Medic line and organising his forwards well respectively. The forwards began turning the ball over excellently, and this strong base was where the equalising Sussex try came from. A scrum routine saw the ball pass through Owen’s hands and out to Chico (as he is affectionately known as by his team mates) on the wing. He beat his man, raced to the line, and backed up by team mates, he crashed over the line; a few minutes later, half-back Mark Montague made it 7-5 with a conversion.
Just before half-time, one of the controversial incidents that would have Sussex incensed at full time occurred. The Medics conceded a penalty very central and in good range for Montague. Sussex decided to take the three points that would put them five points clear at the interval. The kick was taken, and it appeared good; however, the linesmen were in disagreement as to whether it was over, and Mr. Knight sided with the Medics. The score stayed at 7-5 for the interval, after all.
The second half began similarly to the first, but different in that it was the Medics this time that piled on the pressure immediately. However, just like Sussex in the first half, they failed to make anything count. The half settled down into a battle of attrition, with kicking, scrummaging and lineout ball being the order of the day, and with very little pattern in the play of either team. Owen did make a few exciting bursts from the back to raise the spirits, and there was a sequence of hard tackles that repelled the Medics from the Sussex line (much to the enjoyment of some onlooking 1st), but Sussex appeared to be content to settle for what they had and couldn’t really trouble the Medics.
As time was ticking down, the Medic half-back had two team-mates on his shoulder against one Sussex winger; a try seemed certain, but in an attempt to offload he threw the ball out. It seemed like the end was in sight for Sussex, until the point of all the controversy on the other side of the pitch. Once again, the Sussex defence suddenly seemed stretched as the Medics used the full width of the pitch. The Medic winger went over the try-line in the corner, and the whole Medic team jumped up in celebration. Then the Sussex team rejoiced as the player was given in touch. In the confusion and intensity of the moment, passions over-spilled and a punch was thrown, reportedly at a Medic player filling in as linesman who had first given the man as out, and then in, and the referee was harangued in a football-style attack. In the end the try was given by the referee and the Medics won the game by three points.
The moment was not lost on referee Mr. Knight as he described the event as, “disgraceful considering the spirit of the game [of rugby as a whole].” Onlooking 1st captain Pete Holmes seemed to agree as he dissuaded the team from any further discussion with Mr.Knight about the incident, instead leaving 2nd team captain Adam Hobbs to talk alone with him. Club captain Ben Coleman did speak to me after all the drama had died down and commented that, “despite the intense pressure of the last twenty minutes, the defence had been resilient. It is always difficult to take when the last act of the game is a game-winning try against you, but this is rugby. In the end, some of the ref’s decisions went against us, and perhaps that cost us the game.”