Alnwick victory keeps it tight at the top in race for league title

Alnwick 26-12 Malton & Norton

If anyone is in any doubt about the competitive nature of the North One East League, they need only take a look at the league table.

With early leaders West Hartlepool, currently on 45 points, losing heavily to Pocklington, and with Penrith, second on 42 points, having their match against Guisborough postponed, the wins for Alnwick and Pocklington kept them in third and fourth respectively on 41 points apiece ahead of Bradford & Bingley on 40 points.

There is then an 11 point gap to the ever-improving Durham City, but only six points separate the sixth and 12th positions, leaving just Guisborough and Wheatley Hills hovering precariously over the relegation trap door.

In this match, generously sponsored by Village Farm Cottages, Alnwick needed no reminding of what was learned at Huddersfield YMCA , namely that the disparity in league placings can be deceptive and overall there is little difference in the quality of any of the teams in this league.

Alnwick kicked off down the slope in cold, bright and calm conditions with the surface grassy but soft and Malton & Norton immediately showed their intent of taking the game to Alnwick with some well supported drives.

Handling errors by both sides limited forward progress but two penalties to Alnwick helped build pressure and although a catch-&-drive from a 22m line-out ended with a scrum to Malton, they were caught offside and Bird slotted the penalty for 3- 0 after 11 minutes.

With Alnwick’s half-backs Todd and Warcup absent, the pairing of Simon Ord at scrum-half and Moralee at stand-off took a while to gel and although there were a few wayward passes among the backs early on, things improved as the game progressed and much of the handling was excellent.

Alnwick’s pack were once again being given a few problems by their counterparts in the set scrums but good work by the industrious No.8 Gothorpe set the backs moving with the referee playing advantage until the moved stalled in mid-field. The penalty provided Alnwick with a 5m line-out on the right and although a thrust by Hamilton was held, the ball came back quickly to the left where Bird came into the line to score, converting the try himself for 10-0.

Some very solid tackling limited the options for both sides and as a promising probe involving Sean Hutchinson, Bird and Mallaburn came to naught, Malton continued to be offend, with a Bird penalty increasing the lead to 13-0 on 26 minutes.

A further Bird penalty five minutes later made it 16-0 but although Malton had a couple of penalties and created some sustained pressure on Alnwick there was no further score before half-time.

Malton began the second half where they left off with the forwards pressing deep into Alnwick territory where they opted for a series of scrums from penalties. Alnwick survived three re-sets before clearing their lines from a penalty but when Malton repeated the process following renewed pressure, Alnwick again offended and referee Wrightson rightly awarded a penalty try which Foan converted for 16-7.

Alnwick replied almost from the re-start as Gothorpe fielded a defensive kick to set up a penetrating punt from Moralee and as the ball stayed in play near the right touchline, winger Sean Hutchinson chased hard and showed good control to touch down in the corner for an unconverted try for 21-7.

In the next twenty minutes Alnwick pressed hard and there was plenty of excitement first as Sean Hutchinson was deprived of a second try through a forward pass and then as Malton broke clear through an interception and gained some momentum from a couple of penalties.

A late tackle on Robinson earned flanker Vaughan a yellow card but the contest was very even until a Malton move broke down near halfway. Prop Duncan Smith erupted from the loose with ball in hand and, on breaking a tackle, ignored pleas to pass to the supporting Robinson, sprinting 45 metres with commendable energy and determination to be rewarded with resounding cheers as he scored an unconverted try for 26 – 7.

There was still time for a typical Bird run but all credit to the Yorkshiremen who never gave up. A mighty forward effort from a scrum on Alnwick’s 22 set up a strong drive for

scrum-half Raduvar to score an unconverted try for 26 – 12 on the final whistle. They deserved no less for their wholehearted contribution to a sporting and entertaining contest.

Alnwick: J.Bird, R.Mallaburn, P.Robinson, F.Hutchinson(Capt), S.Hutchinson, P.Moralee, S.Ord, D.Smith, H.Burn, C.Phillips, M.Gray, O.Sutheran, G.Smith, J.Hamilton, B.Gothorpe. Subs: D.Clayton, A.Ord, B.Courty.

Referee: Craig Wrightson (Northumberland Society)

Next match: Driffield (Away) Saturday 3rd December 2016 Kick Off 2.15pm