The second coming of the Beast from the East is the latest hammer blow for Sunderland RFC in a campaign that has becoming more “impossible to manage”, according to Ashbrooke chairman Paul Geehan.
The club’s senior teams – both men and women – face a lengthy fixture backlog, which will see them playing well beyond the season’s normal end, well into May.
It’s a scenario which has, again, highlighted the dire need for a potential RFU-funded 365 floodlit artificial grass pitch (AGP) to enable year-round rugby in the city.
The call came as Sunderland slumped to a 43-20 Durham and Northumberland League Two defeat to North Shields on Saturday, one of only two fixtures in the league to go ahead over the weekend.
The match got a late go-ahead, with the pitch drying out in the bitterly cold, high winds.
The Ashbrooke First XV handed a debut to junior colt Fletcher Jackson, while welcoming back long-term absentees Marc Edmundson and Brad Fish.
Marc Edmundson and brother Dean both collected unconverted tries, while Leon Ryan notched a length of the field score, alongside a conversion and penalty, however the Wearsiders were outmuscled by their visitors.
Geehan said: “We never really expected to play and were a little bit too lightweight in the backs to cope with their really strong runners. We didn’t really do our best on the day.”
With seven home games still to come for the First XV, plus a Durham County Junior Cup semi-final, Geehan bemoaned the ever-lengthening season, which he said underlined the desparate need for playing facilities for all weathers.
The RFU’s nearest AGP pitch is at Billingham and is part of the RFU’s Rugby World Cup 2015 legacy of delivering over £50m investment over four years into the development of 100 AGPs across England.
Geehan continued, “At the moment the County are offering Billingham for league fixtures, but that club would take the bar receipts and everything that goes with that. Clubs can’t do it.
“To have our own AGP in Sunderland would be hugely beneficial to the city. It would help create an excellent hub for rugby not only for us, but the university, schools and college – they would all benefit.”
He added: “There have been challenges throughout the season due to the weather. We will be playing til at least the middle of May, including Easter Saturday, which is unheard of.”
With continued uncertainty ground futures, such as Hill View, and a growing female, junior and mini section, boasting over 250 players – Sunderland RFC are actively exploring deals to secure playing facilities well into the future, leaving Geehan to reflect on what has been and continues to be a challenging season.
He said, “With a cup semi final and final to play, we have rearranged Whitby to the 5th of May at home.
“That said, players have been great and have managed to get to training. Farringdon School has come to our rescue with use of their facilities for the men and Sandhill View for the women.
“This puts extra costs into our season and could easily be rectified with Sunderland’s own AGP.”