Alnwick 7 Cleckheaton 40
Northern Division, North One East
There is on old saying in any sport where physical prowess is required, that ‘a good big ’un will beat a good little ’un’ and so it proved on Saturday.
Cleckheaton are top of the league with only one loss all season, and they accomplished the double over Alnwick with a display of powerful rugby from a big pack and some very useful backs, who have field-kicking down to a fine art.
It took them three minutes to get their first score after some good running by Bird ended with a penalty for holding on and the visitors capitalised by kicking deep into the Alnwick 22.
The catch-and-drive manoeuvre was classic and the visitors drove over with their big number eight Richard Piper going over mid-left.
Hayden kicked the conversion (0-7).
With four Piper brothers on the team-sheet, it was no surprise when one of them bagged a second with 10 minutes gone.
This time, the ball was spun left and Matt Piper dummied the Alnwick defence and Hayden doubled the score (0-14).
Alnwick were not in the game at this stage, although their defence was improving and in true Alnwick style, they made forays deep into the visitors’ half.
Strong runs by Bird and opportunistic snipes by the speedy Moralee came to naught with poor passing and dropped balls enabling the visitors to regain the initiative.
Cleckheaton’s field-kicking set up their next score when they regained possession and Hayden put a long and accurate kick deep into the Alnwick 22, forcing Shell to concede the line-out. Again Alnwick had no answer to the catch and drive, and Richard Piper was driven over for his second try, wide-right, but the reliable Hayden added the points (0-21).
Alnwick’s response was their best period of play in the half. For the next 10 minutes, they laid siege to the Cleckheaton line, the visitors were forced to defend in depth and only occasionally managed to clear their line, although when they did, the home side ran it straight back. Sean Hutchinson was unfairly upended and a Yorkshireman was yellow-carded for the offence.
Alnwick kicked for the corner and applied pressure. They obtained the put-in at a scrum and, for the first time, drove the visitors backwards, but Cleckheaton held on and eventually eased their way into the Alnwick half.
Winning a line-out deep right, they spotted an opportunity wide-left and a deft kick enabled their outside-centre to gather and he fed his winger Marshall who cut inside to score. The kick failed and the half-time score was 0-26.
Alnwick restarted the game with another good spell of pressure which saw them camped in the visitors’ half.
Some elusive running from Warcup got them close to the Cleckheaton line and with the forwards winning more ball, they laid siege, eventually forcing the visitors to offend.
Moralee took a tap-penalty and his forwards charged linewards and Smith was driven over to score by the posts. Bird slotted the conversion (7-26).
Several periods of pressure ensued as Alnwick tried to add to their tally, but the Yorkshire side, who have the best defensive record in the league, dug in and would not yield.
As the half progressed, they gradually came back into the game and gained territory, particularly by exploiting Alnwick’s errors combined with sound field-kicking.
Penning Alnwick back in their left corner, the visitors came close, but were denied. However, they swung the ball midfield where some poor tackling saw Dawson score by the posts and Hayden slotted the extras (7-33).
Alnwick again pressed with some good attacking play, but errors broke the pattern of play and allowed the visitors to kick Alnwick back into their own half.
With the game drawing to a close, Cleckheaton had a line-out five metres from the Alnwick line, the catch and drive was expected, however, the move was adapted after a poor throw and passed wide where Wilson went through some poor tackles to score close in. Hayden didn’t miss to close the game at 7-40.
Another brave and willing performance by Alnwick against a bigger side that has learnt winning ways.
Alnwick were not helped by enforced changes, however, their younger players must have taken inspiration from Matthew Currie, whose appetite for the fray is as large as ever. The penalty count was greatly reduced, but whether this was due to better behaviour or inattention by the referee is hard to say.
Next up is Sheffield who are bottom of the league, but, ominously, won only their second game last Saturday. This is a must-win game for Alnwick if survival at this level is to be achieved.
Alnwick: J Bird, A Shell (c), S Hutchinson, F Hutchinson, I Gray, P Moralee, J Warcup, A Johnson, H Sordy, R Elliott, A Alexander (D Clayton), M Currie, G Smith, R Thompson, W Fawcett (A Ord – blood). Sub not used: G Potts. Official: Matthew Riley, Manchester Soc.