WESTCLIFF suffered a painful 27-25 defeat against title rivals Sutton & Epsom on Saturday.

Third-placed Westcliff had been hoping to close the gap on the London & SE Premier Division leaders and raced into a 22-0 lead at the Gables.

But Sutton hit back to triumph with a last gasp try to leave Westcliff’s director of rugby Rick Compton feeling frustrated at the final whistle.

“Having led from the 10th minute to the 85th and having not been behind until the final kick of the game it was a hugely frustrating and bitter result,” said Compton.

“We have to take it on the chin and take the loss with good grace, congratulate Sutton who played well and took their opportunity and do our best to shrug it off.

“That, though, isn’t easy.

“The result and the outcome of our season were massively impacted not only by the decisions and rulings made by the referee but as well by those things that were overlooked and missed that resulted in us conceding crucial scores.

“The importance of the game was crying out for a team of three to be appointed which would have been able to help a good referee who had a bad day get more things right.

“But never mind, we must move on.”

The defeat means Westcliff are now six points behind Sutton.

But the hosts looked like narrowing the gap with a bright start.

Jim Smith put Westcliff in front with a try after just 10 minutes before Ian Dartnell, Seb Reynold and Jake Spivey also touched down in quick succession to put the home side firmly in control.

Sutton replied with a try of their own five minutes before the break to cut Westcliff’s lead to 22-7 at half-time.

However, Sutton had the wind at their backs for the second period and immediately began to enjoy better territory and possession.

They were able to capitalise after 47 minutes with a converted try and carried a constant threat for much of the time.

A successful penalty brought the score to 22-17 but Westcliff drove upfield and converted a penalty of their own some 10 minutes later to establish an eight point gap once more.

The game was intense and regularly fractious with Westcliff finding themselves frequently falling foul of the referee’s whistle.

They were down to 14 for half of the half as the referee brandished two yellow cards for Rob Smith and Chris Marsh.

Although defending stoutly and threatening to break out and score a decisive try, Westcliff became increasingly frustrated by a stream of bewildering decisions and puzzling interpretations by the referee and Sutton converted a further penalty to bring them once more within a score with less than 10 minutes to go.

Westcliff appeared to have seen out the closing stages but a hugely disappointing turnover at a set scrum enabled Sutton to score the converted try they need to win.

Westcliff: Bannister, O Jones, Reynolds, R Smith, Merrick, J Jones, Spivey, Brown, Morrant, Lane, Scogings, Dartnell, Vandermolen, Hatton, J Smith.

Replacements: H Morrant, Maloney & Marsh