Last gasp penalty gives Alnwick bragging rights in derby clash

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Alnwick 9-8 Morpeth

With Halloween just around the corner, the ‘ghosties and ghoulies’ might not have been quite ready for their nocturnal prowlings.

But the result of this encounter will surely haunt the Morpeth psyche long after the denizens of the dark have returned to their shadowy dwellings.

Alnwick were lying second in the league prior to this local derby with Morpeth in fifth, but so intense is the rivalry between these old adversaries that league positions count for little, and in this match, generously sponsored by MKM Building Supplies, the result was in doubt right up to the final whistle as Morpeth sought to erase the unpalatable memory of last season’s 11 – 13 home defeat.

With so much local pride at stake this was unlikely to be a free scoring game but there was plenty of open attacking rugby from both sides even though solid defending largely cancelled out each other’s efforts.

Both teams were evenly matched in line-out, loose and back play but for much of the game Morpeth gave Alnwick all sorts of problems in the set scrums, and with their scrum-half Elliot making a right nuisance of himself, Alnwick’s back row and scrum-half Todd had some difficult moments dealing with disrupted ball on the retreat.

Alnwick’s performance in that area improved in the second half but from early on it was apparent that Morpeth were intent on building on forward strength and momentum.

In dry, cloudy-bright conditions Morpeth kicked off down the slope into a brisk breeze and in the opening five minutes pressured Alnwick through two penalties and repeated attempts to catch-and-drive from close range before Alnwick were able to clear.

In the next five minutes Alnwick responded in similar fashion , attempting a catch-&-drive from a 5 metre scrum and gaining a penalty in loose play. Bird’s effort was narrowly off target but was successful with a further penalty to put Alnwick 3 – 0 up after eleven minutes.

It was pretty much even for the next 15 minutes and with play largely moving between the 22m lines the closest to a score was a Bird penalty hitting the post.

In the 20 minutes before half-time, assisted by a couple of penalties and with their pack making life uncomfortable for Alnwick in the scrums, Morpeth again tested Alnwick’s defences. A penalty and yellow card for Gothorpe encouraged Morpeth to use their forward power to drive at Alnwick but were unable to capitalise on the extra man and a crucial Alnwick steal from an attempted catch-and-drive helped keep the line intact.

Alnwick continued to be under pressure but with Morpeth failing to benefit from a further penalty, there was no further score before half-time.

The second half began with a Morpeth catch-and-drive from a line-out on their own 10 metre line but as their backs brought play into Alnwick’s half, a solid tackle from Alnwick’s flanker Hamilton resulted in his counterpart Calder being stretchered off with a head injury and subsequently air-lifted to hospital. Such incidents are disturbing and it is to be hoped that this injury is not serious and that recovery will be both quick and complete.

Alnwick managed to gain ground through a couple of penalties but as their pack continued to suffer in the set scrums, Morpeth were able to turn the screw and only good Alnwick defence kept the visitors at bay until a Hornby penalty brought the scores to 3 – 3.

From the re-start Morpeth were penalised for not releasing and Bird’s kick restored the lead at 6 – 3.

Morpeth backs threatened with several breaks down the right wing, finally resulting in the only try of the game as their backs countered a Todd kick over a line-out on Alnwick’s 22. Although the defence stopped the initial threat, rapid forward support put lock Campbell over for an unconverted try and a 6 - 8 lead.

Alnwick suddenly upped the pace frenetically, keeping the ball in hand and looking for a drop-goal or a penalty but it looked as if it was game over when Morpeth cleared into touch on their own 10 metre line.

With barely seconds remaining Alnwick won the line-out only for the attack to stall in midfield but a Morpeth hand in the ensuing ruck conceded a penalty and , with the last kick of the game, Bird’s nerveless effort sailed between the posts from 30m for a 9 – 8 win.

Even if the Brett Horse was none too happy, Houdini’s ghost would have been well impressed

Another trade-mark performance by Alnwick flanker James Hamilton won him the Dave Routledge Trophy for the ‘Man of the Match’. Congratulations James. Well played.

Alnwick: J Bird, P Moralee, S Hutchinson, F Hutchinson (Capt), J Burn, J Warcup, H Todd, D Smith, H Burn, C Phillips, M Gray, R Ellis, G Smith, J Hamilton, B Gothorpe. Subs: P Brown, B Courty, S Atkinson.

Referee: Graham Crozier.

Next match: Pocklington (Away) Saturday, November 5 - Kick Off 2.15pm.