Sunderland leapfrogged Darlington in Durham/Northumberland Division Two as they snatched a priceless 21-20 away win against them on Saturday.
The Ashbrooke side moved up to eighth spot with a performance at Blackwell Meadows which drew heavily on youth, particularly 17-year-old Junior Colts Ben Hutchinson and Dean Edmundson in their starting debuts, plus 19-year-old Cam Grimwood at fly-half.
Both clubs observed a minute’s silence to mark the recent unexpected death of young Durham Society referee Tony Jenkins.
Sunderland were ahead within seven minutes as player-coach Martin Watt showed a clean pair of heels, offloading to Dean Edmundson then looping around to take a return pass.
He popped the ball to ever-improving winger Leon Ryan, who broke through two tackles and made yards into Darlington’s 22 before passing back to Watt, who had continued his supporting run to score out wide left.
It was a fantastic example of committed running.
Darlington responded with a try under the post to go 7-5 up two minutes later.
Hooker Pete Harrison’s accuracy and Andy Wordsworth handling in the lineout provided Sunderland with a solid platform to maul the ball into Darlington territory.
Sunderland struck again from a five-metre scrum on 15 minutes. As the scrum wheeled, Watt broke off and forced his way through Darlington’s defence to score after offering a pass to Ben Hutchinson and exploiting the hosts’ momentary hesitation.
Harry Connell added to the tally as Sunderland worked the ball to the right wing and Hutchinson found Cam Grimwood, who put a pass behind tough tackling Dom Younger to Edmundson, who outpaced the opposition then released Connell, who, with 40 yards to go never looked like being caught as he scored out wide to make it 15-7.
A Darlington penalty closed the gap to five points, but Ryan’s penalty put Sunderland 18-10 ahead at the break.
With injuries hitting Sunderland in the second half, Darlington got within a point with a converted try on 50 minutes, and – after Ryan hit the post with a penalty – the hosts went ahead with a penalty, needlessly conceded in the 58th minute.
Sunderland then had a score disallowed. From a Darlington lineout, Watt gathered the overthrow and, as he broke tackles with only the try line to cross, the referee pulled play back to award Sunderland a penalty, as there may have been some dissent from a Darlington player, to the visitors’ disbelief,
Fortunately, that decision did not cost Sunderland dearly, though it did deny them a try-scoring bonus point. Sunderland, though, still won it as Ryan slotted a late penalty.
Sunderland’s second string were not able to match a much better Alnwick side, who ran out convincing winners at Ashbrooke.