Alnwick RFC were crowned champions of Durham/Northumberland Division One on Saturday, winning promotion in the process.
The Greensfield side secured the championship trophy thanks to a final-day-of-the-season 28-10 victory at Medicals.
It meant the blue ‘n’ golds finished four points clear of second-placed Guisborough, who recorded a massive 50-0 win over Acklam at the weekend.
Alnwick can now look forward to playing higher-level rugby next season in North One East.
The success also helps banish the painful memories of last year’s play-off defeat to Keighley.
Club chairman Ken Fairbairn hailed the achievements of the side, which won 23 of its 26 league matches this term.
He said: “I am delighted for the players. It is exactly what they deserve.”
Looking ahead to next season, in a league which will pit Alnwick against sides such as Morpeth, Northern, Sheffield and Middlesbrough, Ken added: “We are going to have to step up, it will be a challenge.
“I believe we can compete against sides in the bottom end of the league, but the top will be a challenge.”
Alnwick were clinical against a Medicals side that made them fight all the way.
It was not until late in the second half that Alnwick scored their fourth try and gained the vital one-point bonus that ensured their promotion and it was fitting that Gordon Smith, the most consistent forward of the season, should be the man to get it.
With both sides built for speed rather than comfort this was always going to be a fast and furious affair and so it proved to be.
Medicals started brightly and a clever chip ahead by Swetman saw him make good ground and test the visitors’ defence.
However, Alnwick were first to score when their rugged defence produced a turn-over ball which was kicked ahead. Todd won the race for the loose ball and streaked line-wards to score at the posts. Weddell was given the kicking duties and obliged with the additional points (0-7).
Stung by this reverse, Medicals renewed their offense with vigour. A strong run infield by the dangerous Swetman was halted on the 22-line and resulted in a scrum to Alnwick which Medicals overturned. They moved the ball wide right for Backshaw to score in the corner on the quarter-hour. Swagman’s kick failed (5-7).
Both sides were going at it hammer and tongs and the Alnwick defence was particularly robust with centre Hutchinson being outstanding in the tackle and it was he who set up the next try.
Receiving the ball from a set-piece, he burst through two tackles to feed his centre partner Ed Shell, who put in a strong run to the line and scored some way out. The difficult kick was slotted by Weddell (5-14).
There were no further scores in this half which was a long one as the referee played 48 minutes. The visitors had a torrid time of it as Medicals tried to close the gap, however, the defence was strong, with Hutchinson to the fore and he and Todd saved the day with a fine cover tackle to stop a Medicals score just before the half ended.
Just prior to this, luck was with Alnwick as a Meds penalty struck the post and a charged-down kick was tidied up.
Alnwick made changes at half-time with prop Hamblin and wing-forward Alexander making way for Johnson and Oliver respectively, although both players were to reappear as the furious pace took its toll later in the half.
Alnwick made a good start to the half and pressed Medicals but the home side made a long break through Backshaw to remind the visitors of their strengths, however, a long clearance kick by O’Grady pushed them back and was a precursor to the next Alnwick try.
From the line-out, strong play by Oliver drove Alnwick forward and he found Andrew Shell outside him.
The winger made enough space and distance to release Ian Gray on the Medicals 22-metre line and he burst through the home defence to score under the posts with 47 minutes gone. Weddell added the points (5-21) and Alnwick were closing on the league championship.
Medicals, however, had no intentions of making it a smooth passage for Alnwick and for the next 20 minutes, both sides fought a war of attrition the length and breadth of the field with Alnwick being forced to defend more than attack.
It must be said that Alnwick’s progress was not helped by their poor discipline in the loose and some mysterious and clearly incorrect decisions by Mr Manley, but this should not detract from the spirited performance of the Medics.
Alnwick scored again on the 67th minute. From a line-out, Alnwick drove on before Gray fed the estimable Ellis, whose strong break was supported by Gordon Smith and it was fitting that Alnwick’s most consistent tackler of the season, who had some great hits in the game, should score under the posts.
Weddell maintained his 100 per cent strike rate to add the points (5-28).
The pace of the game was showing and Alnwick made replacements. Ord came on for Todd (72) and Alexander appeared for the injured Ellis (72). Hamblin was recalled for the veteran Currie for the last five minutes.
Medicals deservedly got the last score of the game when Backshaw crossed wide left after some sustained pressure by them and stout defence by Alnwick. The kick failed (10-28) and Alnwick saw the game out to the great relief of their large following.
This was a fine team performance against a very good side whose league position and occasional poor results belie the quality of the squad as a whole under their coach, former Alnwick player Garry Hodgson.
Captain Andrew Shell proudly led his team to the pavilion steps where league secretary Bill Scott (Ryton RFC) presented him with the Northumberland and Durham League One Championship Trophy, Alnwick’s first trophy since the leagues began.
So after playing 26 games, losing only three, scoring 763 points, with only 340 against, and adding 17 bonus points, a total of 107 for the season, the champions finished four points ahead of runners-up Guisborough.
Team: J Weddell, A Shell, E Shell, F Hutchinson, H Todd (S Ord 72), N O’Grady, I Gray, D Hamblin (A Johnson 40), P Brown, B Boothman, M Currie, J Fernback, G Smith, R Ellis. An Alexander (D Oliver 40). All subs used. Ref: Antony Manley (Northumberland Soc).