SUNDERLAND rounded off their 2013 fixtures with a hard-fought bonus point 29-12 victory over a plucky Barnard Castle side.
With a howling wind and persistent rain, it was never going to be one for the purists but Sunderland did what they had to do in order to come away with the points.
From the start, Sunderland applied pressure through their forwards and kept Barney pinned in their own half. It wasn’t long before that pressure told as James Hansen bust through two would be tacklers and powered over the line for the opening score. Tom Townend added the conversion.
Midway through the first half, Hansen struck again to score his second try in a man-of-the-match performance. This time it was from much closer range as he picked up from a ruck a yard out and wriggled his way over. Townend again added the conversion.
Barnard Castle didn’t let their heads drop and came back strongly at Sunderland to score a try of their own.
The visitors didn’t allow their hosts to get a foothold in the game, though, and added a third try just before half-time.
Sunderland played through a number of phases before John Drummond made a break down the right wing. With the line beckoning, Drummond seemed certain to score but unselfishly passed to Bryan Finlay, who finished the move in the right corner.
The second half followed a similar pattern. Playing into a strong head wind and with the rain increasing meant Sunderland looked to their pack to hold onto the ball and give them field position.
The conditions meant that they struggled to utilise their backline, although both Harry Levison and Matt Goforth made hard yards to aid their forwards.
Strong carrying from James Cogdon, James Hansen and Damion Martinez had the Barney pack on the back foot and good interplay from forwards and backs released Michael Heffernan, who crossed the line but was unable to ground the ball.
The resulting scrum saw Sunderland pile on the pressure and drive Barney back to their own line allowing Gav Stirling an easy touchdown.
At this point with the bonus point secured, Sunderland were guilty of getting a little bit cocky and tried to run the ball out of their own 22. A Sunderland knock-on gave the Barney fly-half a gift of a try as he collected the ball and cantered in unchallenged.
As time ticked down, Sunderland had one last try in them with a carbon copy push-over with Gav Stirling again the one to touch down to complete the scoring.
With only a couple of minutes left on the clock, the referee was forced to end the game early after a serious head injury to one of the Barnard Castle players required an ambulance to be called.