Blyth avoid relegation with final day victory at Sunderland

Blyth RFC's Tony Smithson makes a break during his side's win at Sunderland RFC.
Blyth RFC's Tony Smithson makes a break during his side's win at Sunderland RFC.

Blyth RFC’s topsy turvy season ended on a high on Saturday with the rugby gods shining down on them.

They had to defeat Sunderland and rely on Gateshead beating Ryton in order to stave off relegation into Durham Northumberland Division 2.

On current form both Blyth and Gateshead were expected to win and the form book remained intact with both sides having routine victories, ensuring Blyth’s safety in what has been a difficult first season.

Against a struggling Sunderland side who have had an awful season, Blyth dominated from the onset and the 36-0 scoreline does not do their dominance of the game any justice.

Blyth often tried to force the game and looked nervous at times, understandably given the importance of the game.

However, dropped balls, wayward passes and incorrect decision making cost Blyth at least four tries on a day when they could have ran up a cricket score.

Hooker Martin Stephenson was first on the scoresheet after only five minutes, forcing his way over from a good lineout catch and drive, with fly-half Andy Sutherland adding the simple conversion for a 7-0 lead.

Sutherland extended Blyth’s lead with a penalty shortly after, and it looked as though the flood gates would open such was Blyth’s dominance.

However, dogged defence and mistakes kept Blyth at bay until the final play of the half when second row Steven Long scored in the corner after a fine break by wing-forward Dean Langdown.

This gave Blyth a 15-0 lead at half-time.

One of the Sunderland players suffered a severe neck injury in the process of trying to stop Long from scoring and the game was held up for over one hour waiting for an ambulance to arrive.

This could have hampered Blyth’s momentum, however, director of rugby Darren Cunningham kept the players alert and fully focused during the enforced delay and Blyth started the second half much as they did the first, in control.

Long scored his second try, backing up a blind side break by Sutherland, and the simple conversion was added to stretch Blyth’s lead to 22-0 after 45 minutes.

Winger Andy Barker then scored after 55 minutes, dancing his way over the line to give Blyth the all-important bonus point.

Then skipper Tony Smithson scored the try of the match, sweeping around the back before cutting a beautiful line between the Sunderland centres to sprint in from half way, Sutherland completing the scoring for Blyth with the conversion to wrap up a 36-0 victory.

Blyth’s supporters had been in constant touch with the Gateshead game so there was not any anxious waiting time to get the result, and even as the players walked off the pitch they knew they had held off the threat of relegation.

Skipper Smithson said: “I had faith in this team and I’ve said for a few weeks now that we’d fight to stay in this league until the bitter end, and we’ve done just that.

“To be honest, I don’t think we deserved to be down there, we’re better than that, but we ‘ve lacked consistency this season and I know we’ll do much better next season as we’ve learned a lot this season.

“When we meet for our season overview, there’s lots of lessons to be learned.

“Staying in this league was our priority, we’ve done that and we’ll become a better team for it.

Player manager Kev Barratt added: “This season has been a steep learning curve for us and at times it’s fair to say we’ve struggled.

“However, we’ve gave every team in this league a stern test in at least one of our encounters with them, so we know if we’re consistent next season we can establish ourselves in this league.

“The difference in class between the first and second division is massive and we’ve learned the hard way that to be successful in division one the whole approach and attitude towards the game must be 100 per cent or you’ll get punished by the established teams.

“It was massively important to survive our first season in this league and we’ve done it the hard way.

“It wasn’t helped by not having a coach until after Christmas. There are lessons to be learned and we will learn them.

“These lads play with their hearts on their sleeves and their sheer will power and determination has kept us in the league.

“Overall we have to say the season has been successful and we’re already planning ahead for next season with regards to the whole coaching, managerial and playing set up.”

Interim coach and director of rugby Darren Cunningham now leaves Blyth to take up his role as head coach with Kelso.

The club thanked him for instilling a professional attitude within the Blyth camp and wished him well in his new role.