Sunderland’s fighters ready for tough test

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SUNDERLAND are enduring a season to forget, and the games do not get any easier this Saturday when promotion-chasing Gateshead visit Ashbrooke.

The Wearsiders, struggling at the bottom of Durham and Northumberland Division One, will look to harness the spirit they showed in last week’s defeat at Guisborough and build on their improved performances of recent weeks when they entertain a side they have not played in a number of years.

On the selection front, things look a bit brighter and, barring any cry-offs like last week, Sunderland should put out a dangerous back line.

Matt Francis returns at scrum-half, while Sam Jordan and Tom Townend make up the centre partnership.

Brad Fish returns at full-back after missing last week’s game through illness with Jamie McLennan and Dom Arkley completing the back three.

In the forwards, Sunderland are forced to change the core of the side that has played all season, with John Drummond, Craig Elstob and Ryan Buckley all picked up injuries last week and missing out.

Ross Finch is still missing, Joe Arrowsmith is unavailable and Andy Wordsworth will undergo a late fitness test before his place on the bench is confirmed.

Into the pack come Adam Reay, Jake Belfield and Clive Fish, who all were part of Sunderlands makeshift back line last week. Tom Hirst comes into the front row in place of the injured Ryan Buckley.

Sunderland seconds travel to Gateshead, and Tony Watt bloods another youngster, with Jamie Emmerson making his senior debut

Sunderland I (home to Gateshead, meet 1pm, KO 2.15pm): T Hirst, P Harrison, R Arrowsmith, P Carter, C Fish, A Reay, G Edmundson, J Belfield, M Francis, I Dobson, J Maclennan, S Jordan, T Townend, D Arkley, B Fish. Reps: C Geehan, A Wordsworth, M Heffernan

Sunderland II (away to Gateshead, meet 12.30): Hall, Summers, Ross, Bengochea, Cogden, Hanson, Mackie, Marshall, Parker, Finlay, Donnelly, Brace, Blackburn, Sopp, Padgett, Bain, Turner, Tolley, Hinder, Wardle, Crawford

Sunderland III (v Gateshead, meet 1pm): Marshall, Wright, Turnbull, Belfield, Laverick, Edmundson, Jackson, Harrison, Richardson, Grainger, Jones, Reah, Logan, Garrimore, Emmerson, Stevenson, D Turnbull, Brebner, Clinton, Cowans, Ditchburn, Simpson

H Alex Corbisiero will replace Joe Marler at loose-head prop for England’s international against South Africa on Saturday.

He is one of at least four changes coach Stuart Lancaster has made to the side that went down 20-14 to Australia. Potentially half the pack could be changed.

Tom Wood will start at blindside flanker for Tom Johnson while Ben Morgan should replace Thomas Waldrom at No.8.

Dynamic Wasps lock Joe Launchbury is pushing hard for a first Test start in the second row in place of Tom Palmer.

South Africa named an unchanged side today that included Eben Etzebeth, their 21-year-old lock who coach Heyneke Meyer described as the Springbok “enforcer” and one of the best in the world.

In the backs, Mike Brown is expected to be selected on the wing in a bid to combat the Springboks’ kicking game.