Alnwick 22-20- Bradford & Bingley
Alnwick snatched a last gasp victory when they stole a home win with the very last kick of the game on Saturday.
Alnwick were looking to continue their season’s unbeaten home run whilst Bradford & Bingley hoped to add to their run of seven wins and do the double over the Greensfield side having won the home fixture 25 – 13 back in September.
In this match, generously sponsored by William Hackett Ltd., injuries to some Bees players meant that they were having difficulty in fielding the same side consistently and their problems were added to when Copsey pulled up in the warm-up obliging Mountain to abandon his Christmas lunch in the clubhouse for a place on the bench.
This Bees side looked anything but the makeshift squad that they claimed to be, and certainly gave Alnwick the sternest possible test, looking likely winners until the closing minutes when Alnwick’s combination of fitness and resilience finally saw them home against the depleted and tiring visitors.
On a cool, gloomy afternoon with a light cross-field breeze favouring neither side and the going underfoot between firm and soft, Alnwick kicked off down the slope and almost immediately were awarded a penalty as Bees were caught offside but Bird’s long range effort missed the target.
Bees set the pace from the drop-out and with backs and forwards hustling and bustling and linking well, attacked on both flanks keeping Alnwick’s defence on their toes. As an Alnwick penalty missed touch, strong running put the Bees up to Alnwick’s 22 where a further thrust from a scrum gained them a penalty for a high tackle which stand-off Oosthuizen slotted for a 0 – 3 lead.
Both sides were prepared to run the ball and when Oosthuizen missed a kickable penalty Bees kept up the pressure calling for some stout defending by Alnwick who benefitted from several penalties to help clear their lines. Alnwick’s backs showed plenty of zip to take play into Bees territory but some booming kicks from Oosthuizen repeatedly pegged them back on the defensive and it was a monster penalty kick by the stand-off from within his own half that gave them a 0 – 6 lead after 30 minutes.
Alnwick’s scrum-half Todd limped off to be replaced by Ord and although both sides had a fair share of possession, Alnwick backs were never quite able break clear of the Bees defences whilst Bees attacks often flattered to deceive and foundered in the face of determined tackling.
Although Bees had the better of the first half, it was largely thanks to Alnwick’s generosity and two further penalties from Oosthuizen’s boot that they led 0 – 12 at half time.
The second half got off to a promising start for Alnwick when their backs attacked briskly on the left from a line-out on Bees 22 and as play stalled in the centre, quick re-cycling to the right saw centre Robinson drive through strongly to touch down with Bird converting for 7 – 12.
Almost immediately the visitors replied with an Oosthuizen penalty for 7 – 15 and were gifted a try when centre MacDonald intercepted a wayward pass and romped in for an unconverted try and a 7 – 20 lead.
With 15 minutes left and Alnwick finding it hard to create some forward momentum the prospect of even a losing bonus point seemed pretty remote but this Alnwick side know the value of grit and heart and found the extra gear required.
Several stoppages indicated that injuries to Bees players were taking their toll and disrupting their play. A cross-field kick from Warcup was marked but as Bees tried to escape Warcup again found himself in possession. His half-break was carried on by Hutchinson and followed up with a series of drives in loose play, from which Robinson was driven over for his second try for 12 - 20 with the conversion missed.
The play from the Bees re-start produced an Alnwick line-out on half-way where Bees were caught offside and the quickly taken tap-&-go yielded another penalty which Bird put over for 15 – 20.
With only minutes left, the pressure increased on Bees who had no replacements left as MacDonald had to leave the field and a penalty to Alnwick from the re-start gave them a line-out in the Bees half.
A further penalty was put into touch by Warcup near the left corner flag and although the Bees linesman signalled touch-in-goal, referee Wrightson, presumably with a clearer view of the angle, over-ruled the call to vociferous indignation from the Bees technical area.
Bees held Alnwick’s initial catch-&-drive but from the scrum conceded a penalty in front of the posts. With nothing to be gained from taking three points, Alnwick forwards drove towards the posts from the tap-&-go, quickly re-cycling the ball to find Robinson coming up at pace to feed Bird on his left, and the full-back’s speed and strength carried him through the last despairing tackles to score for 20 – 20. There was an audible silence as Bird lined up the conversion before sending the ball between the posts to Alnwick’s cheers of joyous relief and Bees understandably anguished sighs of extreme disappointment.
Alnwick: J Bird, P Moralee, P Robinson, F Hutchinson (Capt), R Mallaburn, J Warcup, H Todd, D Smith, H Burn, C Phillips, M Gray, O Sutheran, B Courty, J Hamilton, B Gothorpe. Subs: D Clayton, S Ord, G Smith.
Referee: Craig Wrightson.
Next match: Percy Park (A) Saturday, Dec 17 - KO 2.15pm.