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Shelford inflict painful defeat on Sudbury to quash their title hopes but promotion places set to be extended



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Sudbury look set to be playing out their remaining three London 1 North fixtures to secure second place after a slick Shelford performance saw them to a thoroughly deserved 35-15 victory at Whittome Field.

The top two sides had returned from a weekend's break for what was effectively the title decider, with the Cambridgeshire outfit leading their Suffolk rivals by just a point in the table.

But a bonus-point victory, with Suds unable to get close enough for the losing bonus points, means the Peacocks were strutting the celebrations after the final whistle knowing they now have a six-point advantage, having broke the 100 barrier.

There was a big crowd at Whittome Field in Great Cornard to see Sudbury take on Shelford in a top-of-the-table clash Picture: Mark Westley
There was a big crowd at Whittome Field in Great Cornard to see Sudbury take on Shelford in a top-of-the-table clash Picture: Mark Westley

Given that they have only lost one game in their 23 fixtures, having drawn 13-all with Sudbury courtesy of a last-gasp penalty in November, it seems highly improbable they will not go on to lift the title.

But whereas second place usually carries a further chance of going up via a play-off with the equivalent from the south division, it now seems the RFU's leagues shake-up is set to promote all the top four sides in both. They would then go into a new National League 3 division next season, though it is still to be rubber-stamped.

Sudbury had gone into the game having only lost twice – winning their last outing 36-26 at mid-table Amersham & Chiltern the weekend before last with a much-changed side.

Sudbiury's James Porter sees his run blocked off by the Shelford defence. The no5 went on to receive a late red card Picture: Mark Westley (55711223)
Sudbiury's James Porter sees his run blocked off by the Shelford defence. The no5 went on to receive a late red card Picture: Mark Westley (55711223)

But aside from the Jack Dachtler (shoulder) and Jonny Taylor (unavailable) along with long-term injury victim Chris Lewis, Craig Burrows was back to a full squad to pick from.

The home head coach had outlined pre-match how he believed a vocal swelled home crowd could be their 16th man.

But it had to be said that it was the bus loads of Shelford fans who were making all the noise ahead of kick-off.

And they were first to celebrate during the game with a try arriving inside five minutes.

Austin Beckett scores Sudbury's first try after out-running the Shelford defence with a quick breakway move Picture: Mark Westley
Austin Beckett scores Sudbury's first try after out-running the Shelford defence with a quick breakway move Picture: Mark Westley

Sudbury lost the ball in the ruck and left wing Louie Tang finishing things off down the side after Tom James' darting run saw him break through. Lewis Cracknell managed to add the tricky conversion.

A few minutes later Sudbury got the ball down themselves only for the referee to call things back for a knock-on infringement.

Uncharacteristic handling errors were hindering the hosts while there was no such nerves on show from Shelford who were looking like an oiled machine. Not only were they moving the ball well but their apparent physical advantage was also being used to good effect.

Jake Thurlow scores Sudbury's third try of the day against Shelford Picture: Mark Westley
Jake Thurlow scores Sudbury's third try of the day against Shelford Picture: Mark Westley

Mid-way through the half a penalty in front of the posts saw Cracknell extend their lead to 10.

But within a minute Sudbury had their first points on the board as they broke at pace down the right-hand side with Austin Beckett arching in his run, though Sam Rust saw his kick go just wide.

Sam Rust bursts through the Shelford defence for Sudbury Picture: Mark Westley
Sam Rust bursts through the Shelford defence for Sudbury Picture: Mark Westley

Shelford responded with some strong phases that earned a penalty with Cracknell's decision to opt for a 30-metre kick proving a good one.

The hosts enjoyed some good territory late in the half but there were sighs from their supporters as the momentum was lost following a deep lineout ball not being straight.

And they were made to pay by The Peacocks a few minutes before half-time with Charlie Baker taking a quick tap and go penalty mid-way inside Suds' 22 to dart over himself. Cracknell added the easy kick to take the scoreline to 20-5.

Playing down the slope with the wind at their backs in the second period, Sudbury found themselves forced back early on.

And the third try for the visitors duly arrived in the 46th minute with a turnover ball secured before Miles Anderson had the legs to get over the line with Cracknell adding making no mistake from the tee.

A great twisting run from 30 metres from number 8 Henry Cowling saw the home fans find their voice again in the 52nd minute, though Rust was unable to convert it into seven points.

Hopes of a comeback for the Suffolk side were raised when, with 15 minutes to play, they gained a numerical advantage with Harry Rogerson shown a yellow card for swinging his fists coming out of the scrum.

After kicking away from a promising attack, Sudbury went on to score their third try a few minutes later after patiently building the phases before punishing their opponents for conceding a penalty. Jake Thurlow got over from the resultant pick-and-drive move, though Sam Bixby's conversion attempt missed to leave the score at 27-15.

Back up to 15 men, Shelford increased the gap to 15 points via a Cracknell penalty kick from 30 metres.

It left Sudbury pressing for the next try that would have bagged them two losing bonus points.

But they were reduced to 14 men late on when James Porter was shown a red card for fighting.

And it was Shelford who ended pushing hard inside their opponents' 22 as the clock entered the red. It was eventually rewarded with the ball shipped out wide left for Tang to make up the final metres for his second try of the day and the perfect ending.

The on pitch celebrations from their supporters and players made for painful viewing for the Blues, who will now need to dust themselves down before next weekend's visit to face Old Haberdashers. A trip to third-placed Harpenden is then followed by the season-ending home game with Norwich on April 9.

Sudbury head into those fixtures with an 11-point advantage over Harpenden and comfortably within the top four, being 20 points up on current fifth-placed Southend Saxons. So the reflection at the Great Cornard-based club, in the days to come, will certainly be that all is far from lost.