Bedford Athletic fell just short against league champions Sutton & Epsom going down by 38 points to 31.
However, the two bonus points gained in defeat meant that the side finished in 6th position and in the top half of the league table in their first ever season in the London and South East Premier Division.
Needing just a bonus point to secure the league title Sutton & Epsom started the game on a mission and completely dominated the opening proceedings. A penalty kicked to touch and a subsequent lineout catch and drive opened the scoring on 3 minutes as hooker Chris Farrell touched down. Fly half Jacob Knight converted and one try became two on nine minutes as the visitors exploited the blindside from a scrum and captain George Drye touched down for a 12-0 lead. Bedford Athletic were yet to touch the ball in any meaningful fashion and when they did launch an attack of their own they were cruelly undone when an intercept allowed inside centre Jamie See to sprint away for a third try on 15 minutes, converted by Knight. This did not deter the home side and they continued to work their way back into the game. Hard running in the forwards notably from Ben Middleton, Ben Thompson and Nick Thomas meant that they were regularly getting in behind the visiting defence and the try scoring chances quickly followed. Good support play saw Stephen Woodhead benefit from the first of these on 19 minutes and with the visiting defence visibly in retreat Harry Sawford-Smith scored from the second on 24 minutes as he crashed over for the try. Two conversions from Steve Smith with fly half David Simpson already an injury victim saw the score narrowed to 19-14. A mis-kick straight to touch put the home defence on the back foot and Sutton seized the initiative to power forward in the home 22 on the half hour mark. Eventually another lineout catch and drive proved too powerful for the home side and Stefan Cooksammy was on hand to score the bonus point try and secure the league title for the visitors. Knight converted but they may then have been distracted. Running play off a line out deep in Sutton territory, Bedford Athletic went over for a try through Sawford-Smith with Smith’s conversion making it 26-19 at half time.
Sutton started the second half in determined fashion and early penalties certainly helped their cause. Their fifth try came from a seamless backs move across the pitch that wing Andy Matthews touched down and the sixth came from another rolling maul that no.8 Matt Whitaker scored from. One conversion from Knight advanced the margin to 38-19 on 46 minutes. Bedford Athletic were far too error prone to convincingly work their way back into the game and one move in particular between Smith and Sawford-Smith should have led to a try but for a knock on. On the hour mark Bedford Athletic did make inroads with Sawford-Smith punching through the defence and Josh Cassell on hand to finish off the scoring opportunity for a try that Smith converted. A couple of half chances that might have resulted in further scores came and went particularly down the left wing before a careless knock on at a ruck and a lost lineout throw put the home side under serious pressure. That they survived the league champions onslaught on their line was all to the home team’s credit and when the pressure was relieved they stormed back with a lightening counter attack eventually finished off by Josh Cassell for his 93rd try in 93 appearances with minutes to go. Trailing 38-31 Bedford Athletic threw everything into a final attack to draw the game but knocked on just short of the line and the league champions had just held on.
The season ends with the Bedfordshire Cup Final at Leighton Buzzard on Thursday kick off 8.00pm, the second team league plate final at Enfield Ignatians on Saturday 27th April and the East Midlands Cup Final at Goldington Road against Peterborough on 30th April at 7.30pm.