SUNDERLAND kicked off the new year with a hard-fought 22-16 win over a feisty Seaton Carew side – but big bonus point wins for Ryton and Whitley Bay saw the Ashbrooke men slip another point behind the top two in Durham and Northumberland Division Two.
Despite the recent heavy rain, the Ashbrooke pitch was in relatively good condition with only a couple of heavy patches, but a constant light drizzle throughout the game combined with a bit of rustiness after the Christmas break, meant neither side ever managed to get going with much fluency.
Seaton started the better, quickly, taking a 6-0 lead through two long-range penalties.
Sunderland came back strongly and could have had a couple of tries, with Dom Arkley bundled into touch just short of the line in the right corner.
John Drummond went even closer when he crossed the line and grounded the ball, but the score was wiped off for a double movement.
It was the boot of Tom Townend that got Sunderland back into the game, with two penalties to level the scores.
Seaton looked dangerous with ball in hand and had a chance to score from deep inside their own half. Their pacy winger went through the middle of the home defence and but for a great covering tackle from Arkley, they would have notched up the first try of the day.
It was one of a number of covering tackles made by Arkley in a superb defensive effort that earned him the man-of-the-match nomination.
In the scramble to get back and cover, however, Sunderland conceded another penalty and Seaton again took the lead, 9-6.
With half-time approaching, Townend added another penalty for Sunderland and the sides turned around all square.
The second half started off evenly with neither side really dominating, but Sunderland were first to score.
Seaton Carew were in possession just inside their own half and spread the ball wide to take advantage of an overlap – but Sunderland winger Craig O’Donovan pushed up in defence and collected an interception before running under the posts to give Sunderland the lead for the first time.
Townend added the conversion.
Seaton fought back and when their winger again found a gap in the home defence, he raced away to score under the posts. The conversion levelled the scores once again at 16-16.
The visitors had their tails up at this point, but Sunderland nudged ahead with another Townend penalty.
Seaton had a chance to level the scores, but their penalty attempt rebounded off the post and Sunderland cleared their lines.
Townend hit a fifth penalty to take his personal points tally to 17 points, reward for his hard work over the season to improve his kicking.
Again Seaton weren’t going to give up without a fight and they pressed hard to get back in the game. Another penalty attempt drifted wide before they came close to scoring a second try when their big number eight pounced on a blocked kick but Michael Heffernan was in a good spot to cover and ground the ball.
With the last play of the game, Seaton were awarded a penalty inside the Sunderland 22. Needing a converted try, they opted for the scrum.
Sunderland had had a tough day in the scrum, so their timing for taking a first scrum against the head couldn’t have been better – and Michael Brace kicked to touch to seal the win.