Rugby Union: Early start for Ashbrooke men

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Sunderland get their season underway on Saturday with both first and second team making the journey to Durham and Northumberland Division One newcomers Blyth.

There’s an unusually early 12.30pm kick-off, too, due to Blyth’s skipper getting married on the afternoon.

Sunderland – with Peter Harrison the new captain – go into the game full of confidence despite not having a full squad to choose from and having had to play both of their pre-season friendlies with a mix-and-match squad.

The Ashbrooke club’s backline is bolstered with the return of a number of players who were unavailable for last week’s County Cup defeat to Consett.

Tom Townend slots in at outside centre, while Jamie Maclennan and Dom Arkley are selected on the wing, with Guy Kingsley Smith at full-back.

Lively youngster Brad Fish gets the nod at scrum-half over veteran Michael Brace, who will start from the bench.

There is only one enforced change to the pack that dominated the Consett forwards last week, with No.8 Jake Belfield unavailable. Adam Reay comes in at openside flanker, with Andy Black switching to the blind side and John Drummond starting at eight.

In the front row, Ryan Buckley is rewarded for an excellent pre-season, getting the nod over Chris Geehan to line up alongside Richard Arrowsmith and new captain Pete Harrison.