Promising curtain-raiser to the season

Alnwick Rugby Club 1st XV against Northern..
Alnwick Rugby Club 1st XV against Northern..

Alnwick...34 Northern...23

THE ANDREW ROBINSON BELL CUP

ALNWICK welcomed Northern on Saturday for the eagerly-awaited clash for the Andrew Robinson Bell Cup.

Northern have kept a tight hold on the trophy for a number of years but their hold was prised away on Saturday at Greensfield when Alnwick turned them over in a blistering, fast-paced match which saw Northern’s early dominance steadily chipped away, with Alnwick finally outplaying their city slicker opponents to the tune of three goals, two tries and a penalty to four tries and a penalty. Alnwick’s scores came from tries by Graeme Potts, Ed Shell, James Bird, Gordon Smith and Richard Ellis with goal points being added by James Bird, with three conversions and a penalty.

Northern were the first to open the scoring, following solid driving play from their forwards, who took a five metre penalty line-out which saw their catch-and-drive for the Alnwick try-line result in Birtwhistle driven over for an unconverted try (0-5).

Disaster for Alnwick at the restart – a missed tackle saw Northern full-back James break away before sending in centre Clark for a try wide out at the corner flag (0-10).

Alnwick took good scrum possession to run the ball wide, firstly out to Andrew Shell then back to Ed Shell, who put Graeme Potts in at the corner for an unconverted try (5-10).

Northern came straight back with a cracking try. Slick passing saw the visitors gain an overlap, drawing the Alnwick defence wide. A sharp pass inside put in Walker for an unconverted try and another defensive lapse (5-15).

Both sets of forwards were battling hard to gain ground but it was from Alnwick’s quick line-out ball that saw Andrew Shell race away on one of his mazy runs. He was finally held by a desperate last-ditch tackle.

Northern gave away a penalty, Alnwick again took the line-out option and spun the ball across the three-quarters. Nick Mather found Ed Shell, who broke away to go over for a well-worked try that saw goal points added by Bird to see Alnwick trailing by three points at the end of the half (12-15).

In the opening minutes of the second half, Alnwick levelled the scores following a break by scrum-half Angus Todd, who was finally tackled out inside the Northern 22, where the visitors were caught offside. Bird added the goal points (15-15).

Northern surged back, spinning the ball wide but their three-quarters were unable to break through a determined home defence.

They threatened at a five metre line-out but Alnwick won back the ball from a ruck and fed centre Ed Shell, whose powerful break took him 50 metres deep into the Northern half.

Again Alnwick’s forwards provided good ball back for the three-quarters. Ed Shell made another break up the touch-line, drawing Northern full-back James into the tackle then shipping the pass to Bird, who had came up in support to run in for a try at the posts, adding the goal points to round off a cracking piece of play that saw Alnwick power into the lead (22-15).

Alnwick kept up the pressure. A powerful run by Frank Hutchinson, who broke through the Northern midfield, saw the forwards up to support play. Northern were thrust back in defence but secured a scrabbly line-out ball to push Alnwick back to their own half.

Northern pulled back points from a penalty after Alnwick’s poor clearance had been run back with Alnwick caught handling at a ruck (22-18).

Alnwick powered their way back. A jinking run for Andrew Bell took play to the visitors 22, where an exchange of line-outs saw Northern break out to score a try at the corner flag to put them narrowly back into the lead (22-23).

Stung by this reverse, Alnwick stormed back with a surging breakthrough. Ed Shell and Frank Hutchinson drove to the Northern 22, quick ball went out to Nick Mather, Josh Burgess and Richard Ellis, who was driven up by a rampaging set of forwards to the five-metre line. They took the right option for a penalty scrum and drove Northern back for Gordon Smith to force his way over following a titanic battle on the try-line, where Alnwick were held up on five occasions by an increasingly desperate defence (27-23).

Alnwick should have gone further ahead when Ed Shell, who had again broken through, pulled the Northern cover before passing inside to lock Harry Butters, who made a pig’s ear of catching the ball – brain working, but hands not. Still the pressure was maintained and built up to a crescendo.

Alnwick put in a series of pick-up-and-drives, heading closer and ever closer to the try-line before the Northern defensive line was swept out of sight, with Richard Ellis plunging through to finish off a powerful and sustained period of play. Bird added the conversion points.

Lots to think about and tweaking to be made, but overall a very satisfactory and workmanlike performance. At the conclusion, Andrew Robinson Bell, grandson and presenter of the cup, handed over the trophy to Alnwick club captain Andrew Shell.

Team: J Bird, G Potts, N Mather, Ed Shell, A Shell (c), N O’Grady, A Todd, Aa Armstrong, A Robinson, P Brown, J Burgess, H Butters, G Smith, C Blakey, T Hall, D Whitehead, F Hutchinson, R Ellis, AR Bell.

Saturday will see the opening match of the season when the club hosts Hartlepool Rovers, kick-off 3pm.