Alnwick RFC coaching coordinator George Robson hailed the spirit of the first team as they climbed to the summit of Durham/Northumberland Division One after beating Guisborough in Saturday’s table-topping clash.
The Northumbrians won 15-7 in the battle of the high-fliers and moved above their North Yorkshire opponents in the process.
The victory also extended the Greensfield side’s 100 per cent start to the league campaign, having won all nine of their fixtures. It keeps the blue ‘n’ golds, who boast the division’s best record, on course for achieving their target of winning the league and playing in North One East next season.
And after seeing the promotion pushers open up a three-point gap at the top, Robson said: “We were delighted with the win. They were a very good side but we stood up to them well.
“We were solid defensively and we took our chances when they came along and came away as deserved victors.”
Alnwick took the few chances available to them and Guisborough were thwarted by a magnificent Alnwick defence who matched the heavier visitors man for man, and when it counted beat them in the scrum, the loose and surprisingly won a lot of their own ball in the line-outs.
In the end Alnwick won by a converted try, a try and penalty, to a converted try on a Greensfield pitch that was in surprisingly good condition despite the recent weather.
Alnwick were the first to score when the North Yorkshire side were penalised just inside their own half and Nathan O’Grady hit tremendous boot to put the ball plumb between the posts (3-0).
Alnwick were soon defending and a kick through saw Frank Hutchinson just out-run the advancing attack to touch down for a 22-metre drop-out.
Alnwick were soon back under pressure but they held strong and then came the best move of the game.
Alnwick won good line-out ball it went along the line, Hutchinson hit a hole in the defence at speed, made 40 yards before passing on to Ed Shell who had brother Andrew outside him and he went over between the posts. O Grady converted (10-0).
Alnwick had two chances to go further ahead when Guisborough were penalised, one for a high tackle, but O’Grady’s long-range efforts went either side of the posts.
Prop Hamblin came on for the injured Brown as Alnwick had to make tackle after tackle.
But relief came when the ball was worked out to veteran winger John Snaith, the years seemed to roll back as he jinked his way forward, the ball went out to Hutchinson, then Shell before Todd was tackled short of the line. At half-time Alnwick lead 10-0.
Guisborough started the second half strongly. They were awarded a penalty when Alnwick held on illegally in a scrum and eventually the Guisborough pressure told when Corcoran finished off a series of mauls and drives close to the Alnwick line. McClusker converted (10-7).
But this only seemed to energise Alnwick. They swept up the field in a series of handling moves before full-back Angus Todd joined the line on the wing to go over in the corner.
O’Grady was wide with the conversion but it gave Alnwick breathing space and meant the visitors again had to score twice. (15-7).
Guisborough were penalised but as Ord tried to take a quick penalty, he was impeded, out came the yellow card and 10 minutes in the sin bin for the number eight.
Try as Alnwick might they could not take advantage of the reduction in the visitors’ numbers.
Guisborough kept thumping long kicks into touch any time they had to defend, and then tried to use their forwards to drive Alnwick back, but the home eight were up to anything that was thrown at them. If they did not win the ball and Guisborough tried to drive it, they were driven into touch or held up.
In the only serious individual break of the game from the visitors, their winger seemed to have evaded everyone and appeared to have the Alnwick line at his mercy until captain Andy Shell hurtled across the pitch from the opposite wing to hammer him into touch. A try-saving moment.
From then until the final whistle Alnwick held out with some superb tackles. This was a great team effort and it is a long season ahead and teams will now be looking to knock Alnwick off top spot. It will take some doing on this performance.
Team: A Todd, A Shell (c) E Shell, F Hutchinson, J Snaith, N O’Grady, S Ord, S Bremner, S Allen, P Brown (replacement D Hamblin), J Burgess (replaced A Alexander), J Fernback, G Smith, J Kelly, R Ellis. Replacement not used: R Mallaburn.
Alnwick are away to Gosforth on Saturday in the league (kick-off 2.15pm).