Rugby: Sunderland’s focus switches to Wednesday’s big cup final after last-gasp defeat in last league match

Sunderland (red/yellow) attack against  Whitby at Hill View on Saturday. Picture by Tim Richardson
Sunderland (red/yellow) attack against Whitby at Hill View on Saturday. Picture by Tim Richardson

Whitby snatched a 23-21 victory with the final kick of the game to deny Sunderland a final league victory of the season oin Saturday.

Promotion-chasing Whitby edged a rollerocaster of a game in front of a large crowd of home and away supporters at Hill View.

Victory took Whitby into second place in Durham/Northumberland Division Two, with a promotion decider to come against third-top Whitley Bay Rockcliff.

Whitby were certainly up for the game and took Sunderland to task in a competitive first half, running in two tries and a penalty to end the half 15-0 in front.

Despite the deficit, Sunderland’s coaches were confident that the pace of the game would favour Sunderland and a win was still achievable and they elected to maintain the status quo with no interval changes.

Their faith was justified as the ball was worked upfield as Sunderland mauled Whitby deep into their territory, and Chris Little ran a great line onto ball to cut through a despairing defence to score under the posts.

Whitby responded almost immediately, though, with an unconverted try taking them 20-7 up.

Ross Hughes took a knock and made way for player-coach Martin Watt in the back row, and fly-half Marc Edmundson pulled another score back on 69 minutes. picking his line from full-back to weave through Whitby’s back-pedalling defence to score.

As Sunderland applied pressure, Whitby incurred the wrath of the referee for indiscretions at the breakdown and had two players sin-binned.

Hooker Pete Harrison took a central pass and showed a surge of pace to run around Whitby’s stretched defence, only to be tackled by their full-back, who had been a dangerous attacking force.

Fletcher Jackson rued his missed opportunity to score out wide from a set piece, with the final pass being a little too challenging for the winger to hold onto.

Sunderland pressed hard in the closing minutes. From a Michael Heffernan chip, the elusive Jackson gathered the ball and set up a ruck.

Watt made a lung-bursting break, offloading to Craig Elstob, who retained the ball on Whitby’s five-metre line. A quick pass found Heffernan to score under the posts in the final minute. Ben Hutchinson’s conversion edged Sunderland into a 21-20 lead.

Whitby were allowed time to kick off and Pete Harrison was tackled as he gathered the restart, and was harshly penalised for holding onto the ball.

The referee picked up on some discontent, possibly from the sidelines, and marched the penalty forward 10 metres.

The Whitby full-back stepped up and, from range, squeezed the kick in to give Whitby a dramatic win.

Sunderland gained a losing bonus point, ending the season in seventh position.

But the Ashbrooke outfit’s exciting season is not over yet, and spirits remain high for Wednesday’s big Durham County Junior Cup final against Ryton at Durham City’s Hollow Drift ground (7.30pm kick-off).