A close call but Rock remain undefeated
By Gavin Donnelly
In what was always going to be a tough encounter, Rock survived and kept their unblemished record of straight wins intact against a youthful Sunderland outfit who gave the visitors a real fight to the death
Having cancelled last weeks cup game due to lack of numbers, Sunderland entertained Rock at a bright and breezy Ashbrook, the last efforts of storm Eric petering out over the Seaburn coast. Coaches Cunningham and Hamilton expected a tough encounter, Sunderland had run us close at Hillheads before we took total control, and minus a few key players, were able to pick a strong squad for this top of the table fixture.
Pentland, Hall, Shardlow, Hamilton C, Hayton, Reid, Bradley, and Cotton, started in the pack, Captain Leach, Webster, Purvis making his 1XV debut on the wing, Johnstone, OSullivan, Ramage, and Rapillo completed the XV with Moore, Hanson, and Thomson on the bench. Unfortunately Stu Thomson slipped a disc before the game so it was obvious he was in too much pain to contribute to the game, leaving a problem in player rotation for Darren, as it was Stu was thankfully not required.
Rock started well, playing into the teeth of Eric and brilliant sunshine, the Cardinal and Golds took the game to the hosts. Winning line out after lineout Rock progressed into the home 20 metres, and after Pentland was denied after a catch and drive, held up according to the Referee, Rock took the lead when Rapillo finished off a team effort when he completed the line and smashed over in the corner. Rock were dominating proceedings at this stage and a neat jink from Webster found himself with only the fullback to beat and he scampered through for a fine individual try, converted by Rhys Johnstone. 12 up and looking good.
The home side rallied in front of there vocal support and realising that the line out was not an option began to manipulate the conditions and use the big forwards as battering rams. This they did to great effect and their winger finished of and excellent forward drive, swift passing across the line, and under the posts he went. Minutes later the same move brought another great move and try for the home side, who had the wind in their sails.
Sunderland kept up the pressure, their Captain and 8 covering every blade of grass, ably supportrd by a powerful 4, and the young 10 and his equally young backs growing into the game. Rock were penalised for a high tackle, another 3 points, Rock then missed a few tackles and the home side capitalised to score again, at half time the the home side were certainly on top, so the whistle was appreciated by the visitors, leaving the massed Rock Ultras very shaky in their Zimmer frames.
Andrew Moore came on for a cameo performance at half time replacing Drew Shardlow, this galvanised the team and Harry Ramage scored a trademark try leaving a trail of destruction to reduce the deficit.Young Hanson joined the fray giving another attacking option, Rock now with the wind kept pressing forward, the home side defending gallantly, unfortunately incurring a number of penalties with players sent to the naughty step. A interception from Rhys saw him power forward with a Sunderland player hanging off his neck, too much for the referee who awarded a penalty try 25 24, and the tension in the crowd mounting, some Ultras thankful they had chosen their XXL Tena men, as wave after wave of Rock attack floundered on resolute and determined home defence. Spurning penalty opportunity to score Rock kept going for the line where we had total dominance, only to squander scoring chances. With only minutes to go Johnstone from inside his own have squeezed a penalty wide, the crowd thought that could have been it, but no, with 60 seconds left, another opportunity much closer to the posts. A no pressure kick then we laughed and Rhys stepped up to stroke home. In front with only seconds to play all we had to do now was to repell any Sunderland attack, and that dear reader is what occurred.
A great advert for rugby at this level, 2 committed teams smashing lumps out of each other, played in a good spirit in front of vocal support for both teams. The Rock Ultras voted Tom Reid Man of the match, he was magnificent today, and was well supported by his pack, in which Craig Hamilton had possibly his best game for Rock.
Credit to Sunderland for a cracking effort, and they have some promising young lads, keep them together and they could become major players in the league.
Next week another tough match at home to Hartlepool, another win would see us go a long step forward to securing promotion, but let’s take every game as it comes.
Training next week please, let’s keep giving the coaches selection problems.