A ‘game of two halves’ as gritty Alnwick stage late recovery

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Percy Park 24-17 Alnwick

Earlier this season, Alnwick had twice defeated Park in league and cup fixtures so it was little wonder that for their third meeting Park were all fired up and eager to boost their credentials.

This was certainly a match which merited the cliché ‘a game of two halves’ because Park caught Alnwick cold and took the first half with such alarming ease for a 24 -0 lead that the visitors faced the unhappy prospect of a humiliating defeat.

Deprived of the services of several first choice players, Alnwick’s back line had an unfamiliar look to it with players short of first team experience or returning from injury without sufficient game time. It is to their credit that they overcame the shortcomings of the first half to almost achieve parity in the second.

Alnwick kicked off into a chilly breeze and after an opening thrust up the right, Park’s forwards linked rapidly to carry play past half-way. Before Alnwick could blink, quick ball found centre Pike who thundered through Alnwick’s lines untroubled by any tacklers to score with Grove converting for 7-0 in under two minutes.

Ominously, Alnwick’s restart failed to go 10m and Park immediately put on the pressure. Alnwick were then penalised as Park attacked on the left and from the ensuing 5m line-out there was no stopping the catch-and-drive of the bulky Park pack with Hedley claiming the touchdown for 12-0, Grove again converting for 14-0.

Despite conceding a penalty after the re-start Alnwick, were beginning to show some signs of progress towards the home line when scrum-half Scott was injured and the game was halted for 45 minutes before he could be stretchered off the field and subsequently taken to hospital.

At the resumption Park carried on where they left off and quick constructive handling was rewarded when Alnwick were caught offside in front of the posts on their own 22, Grove having no trouble to make it 17 – 0.

As Park backs attacked from the re-start they were awarded a penalty for a high tackle and from the line-out near half-way a mighty catch-&-drive took Alnwick back some 30 metres before being again penalised for collapsing the maul. Alnwick came under further intense pressure on the left but an attempted clearance kick following a 5 metre scrum ballooned straight up in the air and was snatched by Langlands to score for 22-0 , Grove making it 24-0 with a fine conversion.

Alnwick threatened briefly in the 10 minutes before half-time but failed to make significant progress beyond Park’s 22 and the half ended with Park still controlling matters.

The second half saw a total change in the flow of the game as, in the immediate aftermath of the opening exchanges, Alnwick took a ball against the head around Park’s 10 metre line in midfield. A superbly weighted cross kick from stand-off Warcup was caught in full flight by the speeding Moralee who still had work to do but beat the tackle to squeeze in at the right corner flag for 24-5 with Bird’s quality conversion making it 24-7.

Alnwick were straight into the attack from the re-start with Hutchinson, Cuthbert and Bird making ground and a forward drive gaining Alnwick a scrum before another powerful drive got prop Duncan Smith the touchdown with Bird converting for 24-14 with 10 minutes played.

Alnwick were now on a bit of a roll and although a successful Bird penalty from in front of the posts put them on a losing bonus point at 24-17, it also cost them some of the momentum they had built up.

Park were quick to seize the initiative and helped by three penalties laid siege to Alnwick’s line with forward drives and a catch-&-drive from a 5m line-out. Alnwick’s defence held out at the expense of a yellow card for substitute Courty before clearing their lines.

The final 10 minutes were spent mostly in and around Park’s 22 as Alnwick battled for a score but there was to be no ‘Great Escape’ this time. Bird narrowly missed a penalty which would have reduced the margin to a single try but handling errors in the face of Park’s determined defending deprived them of any further reward.

It would have been no injustice to either side had the game ended in a draw or indeed had Alnwick nicked an improbable victory but only the meanest Christmas spirit could begrudge Park their victory and Festive cheers.

The result sees Alnwick slip to 3rd in the table but with only 5 points covering the top five places 2017 could be very interesting and something to look forward to after the Festive Season.

Everyone would surely wish the injured John Scott a complete and speedy recovery and may he and all of us enjoy a very Happy Christmas..