Sunderland RFC seek vital win in survival chase – as concern grows over future of Hill View pitch

Sunderland RFC (red/yellow/black) take on Acklam at Ashbrooke last weekend. Picture by Kevin Brady
Sunderland RFC (red/yellow/black) take on Acklam at Ashbrooke last weekend. Picture by Kevin Brady
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Rugby Union

Sunderland aim to focus on securing breathing space in the league, as they head into a vital clash with Newton Aycliffe on Saturday, according to chairman Paul Geehan.

Coming just a week after their encouraging performance in a 39-12 defeat to runaway champions Acklam, the Ashbrooke first XV are now 10th in Durham/Northumberland Division Two, and still not mathematically safe on 45 points.

On Saturday, they host the struggling South Durham outfit, with five more home games and a home cup semi-final to squeeze in before the season’s end.

Having already beaten Aycliffe in cup and league this term, optimism is high.

Geehan, said of Saturday’s game, “The lads are really up for this.

“Most are back to full fitness, which leaves us with a bit of a selection headache.

“They want to go out there and put on a performance to be proud of.

“We have to keep reminding ourselves that it’s a very young team, with just three or four players aged over 30.

“Most of them are under 23 and, on top of that, we have 20-dd players available for the second XV, which just shows what we have in place.

“We just need the assistance and support to maintain this.”

This was a pointed reference to the chronic lack of playing facilities available to the club.

Hill View – an historic home to rugby – has been earmarked for housing by Sunderland Council, leaving the club with just one pitch at Ashbrooke to host 20-plus teams, 250-plus juniors from Under-7s up, women/girls, seniors and veterans rugby.

“It’s unsustainable,” Geehan admitted.

“There is so much we could do at Hill View.

“There is a lack of rugby pitches in Sunderland and this could be developed into an all year round hub for junior, mini – all age rugby.

“At the moment, we are still waiting to hear what is being planned, but, even with this, there are not enough rugby pitches in Sunderland.

“Without it, we would struggle to meet the huge demand that would benefit everyone.”

Sunderland Council, currently embroiled in controversy over plans to dispose of playing fields across the city, have given no official steer as to their plans on the Hill View pitches at Stannington Grove.

But Geehan is convinced the site could be a key to sustaining and growing rugby in Sunderland.

“We just need the support,” he said.