It’s hard work, but at least it’s a win for Sunderland in Rugby Union

Sunderland v Ponteland Rugby Union
Sunderland v Ponteland Rugby Union
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IT was a good day all round for Sunderland on Saturday, with all three teams recording good victories.

Sunderland firsts held on to beat Ponteland 27-25, the seconds overcame Westoe thirds 18-0 and the thirds beat Houghton seconds 52-12.

The first team didn’t get off to a great start when scrum half Matt Francis was injured during the warm-up. David Bains stepped in at scrum half and with the seconds having already left for Westoe, Sunderland were forced to name coach Fraser Kennedy on the bench.

It didn’t get much better when Ponteland opened the scoring with an early penalty following a 20-metre drive from a lineout.

Sunderland came back strong, though, and Martin Watt was the beneficiary of some good work by the pack as he threw a dummy and darted over in the corner to give Sunderland a 5-3 lead.

Sunderland’s scrum was dominating their opposition at the set piece and Martin Watt again benefited as he picked from the base and crashed over, taking two tacklers with him and extending Sunderland’s lead to 10-3.

Both teams scored another penalty each before half-time as the sides turned around with Sunderland leading 13-6.

Jamie Maclennan gave them the perfect start to the second half, hitting a fantastic line before beating two defenders and giving Sunderland what should have been a comfortable 20-6 lead.

But true to form, Sunderland refused to do things the easy way as a slack 10 minutes allowed Ponteland back into the game with two tries.

The first came through good forwards pressure and the second before the Ponteland scrum half darted down the blind side to bring them to within two points.

The conversion would have levelled the scores but it drifted wide and Sunderland maintained a lead of 20-18.

Tom Townend settled Sunderland’s nerves with an interception on the Ponteland 10-metre line, with the conversion giving Sunderland a 27-18 lead along with a four-try bonus point.

Once again, though, Sunderland switched off, thinking the game was won and the Ponteland second row broke through two Sunderland tacklers to score under the posts.

After a nervy last couple of minutes Sunderland held on to record a 27-25 victory, but were once again disappointed to let their opponents grab a bonus point in the dying minutes.

This victory sees Sunderland half way towards captain Martin Watts’ target of achieving four victories from the first four games of the year against their rivals in mid- table.

If Sunderland can continue their run then they can start to eye a place in the top half of the table.

SUNDERLAND seconds squad was boosted by the inclusion of a number of players stepping up from the colts, so they travelled to Westoe with a strong squad of 22.

The elements were a major factor on the day, with a vicious wind blowing from end to end.

Playing into the wind, Sunderland got off to the better start, with their pack giving them good field position inside the Westoe 22.

Despite some good driving play from the forwards they were repeatedly thwarted by Westoe infringements at the ruck area.

With the penalty count reaching double figures, Sunderland were flabbergasted no Westoe player was sent to the sn bin and unfortunately that set the tone for the day around the ruck.

Sunderland had to make do with a solitary penalty converted by Michael Heffernan for their efforts.

For the rest of the half it was a rearguard effort of great proportions for the Sunderland.

Westoe made a good break through the centres and looked to be in the clear, only for a great covering tackle from debutant Elliot Lewandowsky at full back to dash their hopes.

Westoe camped in the Sunderland 22 for the majority of the remaining 30 minutes as Sunderland were unable to get any meaningful distance on their clearance kicks.

Sunderland’s defence proved rock solid as they made tackle after tackle to keep Westoe at bay.

Westoe came close as their big number eight powered towards the line, but a superb team effort from four Sunderland defenders saw him stopped agonisingly short of the line.

The second half was an entirely different affair as Sunderland had the advantage of the wind and took full advantage.

Able to gain good field position, the Sunderland pack came into their own and led by man-of-the-match Andy Hall, with able assistance from Chris Geehan and Kristian Summerside in the front row, Sunderland were able to drive Westoe back over their line from a scrum, allowing scrum half Stu Matthews the easiest of scores.

Heffernan took advantage of the wind at his back by adding a long range drop goal shortly after to give Sunderland an 11-0 lead.

Youngster Dom Watson was unfortunate not to record a score on his first senior appearance, having pounced on a mistake by the Westoe full back to touch down, only for the referee to harshly judge he had knocked on in the action of grounding the ball.

Sunderland introduced young fly half Callum Meechan into the fray in the second half and Westoe sensed a potential weakness as they repeatedly sent their big runners up the ten channel.

But Meechan was up to the test and repeatedly tackled the big men while remaining calm going forward with ball in hand, despite not really having a great deal of ball to work with.

Andy Hall was then sin binned for his part in sparking a 20-man brawl, but was possibly a little unfortunate to be the only one in the bin considering it was a Westoe player who threw the first punch.

Sunderland held firm despite being down to 14 men and with Hall restored to the field Sunderland rounded off the game with another try as Westoe’s defence seemed to disappear, allowing Craig Elstob to make a great 10-yard run and score with the last play of the game for Sunderland to run out 18-0 winners.

H Sunderland thirds rounded off a good week for the club with a 67-12 victory over Houghton seconds.

Like the seconds, the third team blooded a number of youngsters from the colts, with James Collins and Danny Hinder both bagging tries on their senior debuts.

The other tries came through Stevie Graham (2), Andy Turnbull (2), Glen Jackson, Clive Fish, Michael Simpson, David Ditchburn and Wallace.