Promotion target hit as Sunderland RFC bounce straight back

Durham and Northumberland One rugby awaits Sunderland next season, having clinched promotion at the first attempt.

Peter Carter scores Sunderland RFC's winning try against Whitley Bay
Peter Carter scores Sunderland RFC's winning try against Whitley Bay

Relagation might be on the minds of the city's football club, but Sunderland RFC are celebrating promotion into Durham and Northumberland One.

The Ashbrooke outfit pipped Whitley Bay Rockliff to claim second spot in the Division Two climax, winning 20-6 at their promotion rivals in the Hillhead decider.

Coming only a year after they dropped down a league, coach Fraser Kennedy said: “There was a real determination to bounce back from last season, because our relegation came as a bolt out of the blue.

“We had some choice words and regrouped. We got our team spirit back, and when we look back now relegation was not the worst thing that could have happened to us. It has revitalised us and brought everyone back together.”

Making no apologies for the pragmatic manner in which his side approached their decisive day at Whitley Bay Rockliff, the Scot recalled: “We went into it with a very clear gameplan.

“We had six backs missing from the game, and we knew Rockliff liked to fling it around. We had to just suffocate the life out of them, and I described it to the older guys as playing like England in the 1990s.

“We kept it quite close and let the game get played in front of our fly-half. It wasn’t pretty and we had two forwards playing in the back-line, but we did what we had to do.

“Discipline has been a problem and we went down to 13 men at one stage, but we stuck rigidly to the plan and it worked for us.”

Hoping for a more ambitious style of play next season if he has the personnel to move the ball around, Kennedy added: “Our biggest problem last year had been a lack of backs, and again this season we have struggled a little bit there.

“We have had four or five lads rejoining us who have made a big difference. We have a forward pack who can compete with the guys in the league above, and probably a lot of teams in North One East if I am totally honest.

“We have been pretty consistent, overall. We got turned over a couple of times by Redcar, where we never really turned up, and away to Ashington. Ryton, the champions, only just beat us late on when we were down to 13 men, and we beat third-placed Whitley Bay Rockliff home and away.

“We have played some pretty good rugby, and the guys are starting to show some of the things we want them to. When it is grass roots rugby it takes time to get certain things across, but the lads are pretty focused.”

Once a powerhouse of North East rugby with an illustrious history including England internationals, Kennedy said: “It is our 140th anniversary this year, and that has played its part. Everyone’s attitude has been spot-on, and the commitment has been there.

“People have been having a good time, and that is what you want from your rugby. We didn’t enjoy getting hammered by 50 and 60 last year, but this season has been fun and people are looking forward to their games.

“After the final whistle we like to have a good time, and we are traditional rugby club in every sense.”

Realistic as to Sunderland’s goals next season as he aims to avoid the yo-yo tag, the coach said: “Whenever you get promoted you have to consolidate the next season, unless of course you have got loads of money to spend.

“Clearly that is not the case for Sunderland, so I will be looking for a mid-table or slightly below mid-table finish – basically avoiding that relegation scrap.

“We have a couple of back-line players coming back to the club, which will help, and we don’t want to lose anyone in the forwards because we have been really effective there. We might gain a couple from the universities, and we are looking forward to it.

“The likes of Morpeth have never been down as low as Durham and Northumberland One, and it should be an interesting season.”

Improving off the field as well as on it, he added: “Our changing rooms are getting done at the moment. The pitch is getting new drainage installed, the bar area now has a restaurant and everything is set up well.

“Any team coming here knows they will get a competitive game, and I am sure a few beers afterwards!”

Journalists

David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer