Sunderland shone as brightly as the Autumn sunshine on Saturday as Jake Belfield’s hat-trick helped the Ashbrooke club to a dominant 53-0 win against Ashington.
Scoring nine tries in total in the Durham/Northumberland Division Two clash, Sunderland secured the bonus point early and led 27-0 at the break thanks to tries from Richard Arrowsmith, Lewis Swann, Nathan Forster and two from Belfield.
The number eight then completed his hat-trick after the break, before Dom Arkley, Brad Fish and Lewis Sopp then got in on the act as the hosts struggled to compete with an impressive Sunderland side.
Straight from the kick-off, it was clear to see Sunderland were going to see plenty of the ball.
And they got their first try after just six minutes. A line-out seven metres from the home line was taken by Jamie Sword, and a catch and drive saw prop Arrowsmith was at the back of the resulting maul to dive over.
That lead was extended eight minutes later when Belfield received the ball in midfield before breaking through a tackle to cross over under the posts.
Fly-half Sopp added the conversion to give Sunderland a 14-0 lead.
Bottom club Ashington found it difficult to keep hold of the ball during the first half, and struggled to get themselves into the game as the visitors remained camped in the hosts half.
Belfield bagged his second try with less than a quarter of the match played, when the Sunderland pack won a scrum against the head and then drove the Ashington pack over their own line, leaving the number eight the simplest of scores.
Three minutes later, winger Swann secured the bonus point for Sunderland. A loose ball was picked up by Arrowsmith, whose offload to Sopp then saw the fly-half break through a soft tackle before passing to Swann to score.
The hosts eventually made their first visit to the Sunderland half with half an hour played, but the visiting defence stood firm to keep their clean sheet.
Sunderland responded by adding a fifth try before the break. An attempted miss-pass from the Ashington centre was read by Swann, who intercepted before running down the pitch and offloading to Forster for the simplest of tries and a 27-0 interval lead.
The second half started as the first half ended, with the visitors continuing their dominance against the tiring hosts. And it wasn’t long before Sunderland were crossing the line again, this time Belfield clinching his hat-trick after another dominant scrum left him with another simple score.
Flanker Sword, who had a very impressive game, played a part in Sunderland’s seventh try. His steal at the line-out ended in winger Arkley handing off his opponent before crossing over as the lead stretched to 39-0.
And that became 46-0 just after the hour when Sunderland showed their quality with superb offloads from Chris Little and Luke Bryan-Victory to release scrum-half Brad Fish for another try.
But they saved their best team move until last with a string of brilliant offloads that led to Sopp bringing up the half-century.
Coach Martin Watt said: “All in all, there was a good spread of try scorers. But I think we could have been more structured, and I still think we need to work on our defence a little bit more.
“They didn’t look like scoring. But, as the old cliché says, you can only beat what’s put in front of you. And better teams will test us throughout this season.
“We have a week off now before a tasty local derby against Houghton, and competition for places will be big if we can get our injuries back.”
– Joe Pennington
In Division Three, Seaham succumbed 48-5 at home to leaders Newton Aycliffe, while Washington were sunk 31-0 at third-top Yarm.