North One East Play-off
ALNWICK’S season-long drive for promotion finally came to naught when they so narrowly lost by a couple of points to a tough outfit from Yorkshire, writes Terry Owen-Smith. But it could have been so different if Nick Mather’s drop-goal attempt hadn’t bounced off the post.
Alnwick’s scoring points came from a try from Ali Gray and a conversion and three penalties from James Bird to the Yorkshire club’s two tries through flanker Scott Dyson and prop Craig Spencer with points from the boot of Alex Brown completing their scoring.
This match attracted considerable support with the visitors arriving with 120 vociferous fans.
Alnwick had arranged a 90-place pre-match lunch to set the scene and had their own band of supporters together with many from local rugby clubs.
After early Keighley pressure inside the Alnwick 22 area, the home side worked the ball out of the 22 area, drove on from a penalty line-out and through a break by Ian Gray who fed Gordon Smith.
He linked up with Ed Shell whose power saw him release Gray who raced through for a well-executed try with Bird adding the goal points for an early lead (7-0).
Following the restart drop-out both teams showed signs of pressure with passes going adrift and hard hands dropping the ball.
Eventually Alnwick won scrum ball which saw Richard Ellis break away, the move was halted when the referee penalised a number of Keighley players for coming through too early, and Bird slotted a thundering kick from the centre-line (10-0).
In the battle for ball and ground both sides exchanged penalties, Alnwick for a high tackle, and the visitors for offside (13-3).
Following a ruck both teams lost their number eights when Richard Ellis and Leigh Sugden were sent off for 10 minutes following a heated exchange of views. Alnwick though were awarded the penalty which was kicked to the Keighley 22 line.
The visitors won the ball back for outside-half Brown to clear – straight to Bird who raced play infield to link up with Gray, a knock on halted the move.
A dropped pick-up following a scrum saw Keighley clear their lines but straight to Ed Shell who broke away infield, linked up with Ali Gray whose pace and break back opened up a huge defensive gap by Keighley, but tragedy struck – the line was open only for him to lose his footing. The chance was lost, though Alnwick won the ball back, moved back to attack with Nick Mather chancing a drop at goal. The ball was on song only to drift off at the last moment and strike the goal post.
Keighley were desperate in defence, again they were caught offside, Bird adding the goal points to complete the first half knowing Keighley would have wind advantage on the turn-round (16-3).
In the opening minute, Keighley took advantage of a penalty line-out following Nick Mather’s break, got the ball out to the centres, and forced Alnwick back to their try-line. Keighley hammered on, edging ever closer before flanker Scott Dyson forced his way over for a try, converted by Brown (16-10).
Keighley took the restart ball and Alnwick defended strongly but were kept on the back foot, with Keighley driving on and taking advantage of a strong wind to kick deep. When a break-out by Alnwick broke down, Keighley won scrum ball to catch Alnwick offside. Brown scored for 16-13.
Alnwick won back the ball following the restart, James Hamilton broke away up the touch-line with Andy Shell in support, a try looked likely but a foot in touch halted the move. Keighley won the line-out and promptly drove play back 60 metres into the Alnwick 22.
Another penalty, this time Keighley went for a scrum, won ball and drove to the try-line, got another scrum and prop Spencer driven over for the try that saw them take the lead, (16-18).
Alnwick made positional chances that changed their play in the last 20 minutes but they were guilty of too many errors and time finally ran out.
Disappointing, yes, but a cracking finale to one of the best seasons since the league started. Thank-you lads.
Alnwick: J Bird, A Shell (c), A Gray, F Hutchinson, Ed Shell, N Mather, I Gray, D Hamblin, H Sordy, P Brown, A Alexander, D Oliver, G Smith, J Hamilton, R Ellis, Aa Armstrong, A Johnson, J Fernback, A Todd.
Congratulations to Darren Oliver who played for the RAF against the Army and was awarded his cap.