North Shields RFC 28-19 Sunderland
With a number of fixtures in the Durham & Northumberland divisions falling foul of the winter conditions, it was a cold crisp day at Preston playing fields for the visit of Sunderland on Saturday.
Sunderland knocked on from the kick-off and the Blue & Whites began to put together some decent phases of possession. Sunderland’s defence was well organised and they got an attacking lineout in a good position. The Mackems took advantage and a converted try gave them a 0-7 lead..
Shields attempted to respond but ill discipline and several handling errors allowed Sunderland another opportunity to use their set piece to good effect. From a five metre scrum they walked the ball over the line, the conversion making it 0-14.
Shields remained positive and they reduced the arrears when Simon Ayre found Ricki Hasnip who delivered a great cut out ball to put the speedster in space for him to go around the outside and touchdown in the corner, Ayre’s conversion attempt drifted wide.
The visitors were getting more and more frustrated as they seemed unable to find a way to break through the Blue & White wall which was now withstanding everything that Sunderland threw at them and then in turn found themselves on the wrong side of the young match officials decisions, undoing a lot of their hard work with needless penalties. Shields capitalised on this when Leitch drew his man and found Richie Sampson, the interchange man going airborne to dive over in the corner. His effort, a 5 pointer came at a cost however and it was his last contribution to the match resulting in a dislocated thumb and an injured ankle and his next stop was A&E, wishing him a speedy recovery. Following a slight delay Ayre stepped up to attempt the conversion but again was unable to do so.
This was exactly the response that Christie and Houston had asked for from their team and if they thought it couldn’t get any better Sunderland kicked out on the full from the very next restart. This gave even more belief and motivation to a Shields side in the ascendency and once again they pressed but were just unable to convert this into points. Almost on the stroke of half time Simon Ayre, one of the smallest players on the field typified the defensive efforts of the Blue & Whites racing out of the line and coming up with a huge shot on his opposite man forcing him to lose the ball in the process. Sunderland were penalised moments later and skipper Dave Anderson elected to kick the goal and bring the home side within 1 point at the interval. Jack Rendles stepped up and duly obliged with a well struck penalty from just outside the 22 as the ref indicated the break.
North Shields 13-14 Sunderland.
Sunderland started the second half in much the same way as they’d began the first and posted the first score following some sloppy defence by the home side, the conversion attempt missed this time. The Blue & Whites refused to lay down and responded immediately, with Christie introducing fresh legs in the form of Brooks and Willcocks North Shields seemed to click up a couple of gears. Ben Marshall came up with a massive hit and stole the ball in the tackle then Jack Rendles made a fine individual break but when the ball was recycled the final pass was just off target.
Lively scrum half Andrew Maxwell was becoming more and more prominent in the game with some fine sniping runs and delivering nice clean ball from which to launch some decent attacking plays but he demonstrated his tactical awareness and pinned Sunderland back with a number of neat box kicks, giving Shields good field position, with the visitors only real answer to this being to clear their lines and get the ball off the park. North Shields took the lead for the first time just before the hour mark and it turned out to be a lead they would not relinquish. From a breakdown in the middle of the field about 35m out Ciaran Wrightson looked up and saw enough space in front of him to decide to have a go. His blistering pace off the mark left the Sunderland defence planted on their heels and once he was in open space there was only going to be one winner, despite the best efforts of the Sunderland fullback who could only grasp at fresh air. Sam Brooks’ first contribution since he’d come on the field was to step up and kick the goal which put Shields in front.
He was then called upon minutes later when Shields were awarded a penalty 30m out and despite the windy conditions skipper Anderson put his faith in Brooks and elected for the shot at goal which the winger stepped up and struck, his aim was true and the ball sailed between the uprights. This score seemed to knock the wind out of the Sunderland sails and this only gave Shields more confidence. The final try, and the one which brought up the Bonus Point was the score of the game. Sunderland kicked long from the restart, Andre Leitch caught it in his own 22 and found Simon Ayre. Ayre shaped to clear his lines and spotted a gap in the kick chase, he scythed through the line but was dragged down about 30m out, from the quickly recycled ball Maxy put another box kick into space and Jack Rendles was quickest to react, he picked up the loose ball and set off into space. The cover tackle dragged him down so Maxy picked up and popped a neat pass to Willcocks coming at speed who then found the skipper who crashed over for an outstanding full length team effort. Unfortunately this time Brooks’ aim was slightly off and his conversion attempt went wide but Shields had secured the maximum 5 points and the Wearsiders went home empty handed.
With solid performances across the board from 1-18 and collectively the best performance of the year Man of the Match was awarded to Andrew Leitch