DURHAM & NORTHUMBERLAND
ALNWICK kept up their drive at the top of the league, giving Sunderland a fair old run around, writes Terry Owen-Smith.
Pacey running by the three-quarters, fed by a plentiful supply of ball by a solid performance from the forwards, with excellent line-out work and scavenging around maul and ruck, kept Sunderland’s forwards on the back foot.
Alnwick’s scores came from tries from Graeme Potts, Ali Gray and two from Andy Shell, with goal points and a try coming from James Bird.
Sunderland’s reply was two penalties and a pushover try, It was a cracking match throughout, with plenty of action in open play.
Alnwick drove off smartly in the opening minutes, sweeping the ball out along the three-quarters where Gray made a searing break to link up with Potts, who broke through to touch down at the corner flag (0-5).
Alnwick made a mess-up of the restart being caught offside. Townsend goaled the penalty (3-5).
But they came back strongly with the forwards driving play up the middle with Paul Dobson and Richard Ellis leading the charge.
A break by Nathan O’Grady was carried on by Ellis and another splintering run from Gray was carried on only for anxious hands to spill the ball. A sloppy clearance from Sunderland outside-half Townsend went straight into the hands of Bird, who raced through a totally disorganised Sunderland defence on a 50-metre run to touch down under the posts, also adding the conversion points (3-12).
The ball was cleared deep into the Alnwick half. Sunderland followed up and pressured while a penalty was awarded for a scrum offence, Sunderland outside-half Townsend goaling the points (6-12).
Play was fast and furious, but the opening half finished with Alnwick firmly in control.
Alnwick brought Nick Mather and Darren Oliver on, then Peter Brown early in the second half.
A long raking kick from Bird took play into the Sunderland 22. Quick ball from a line-out was spun out to Frank Hutchinson, who piled into the Sunderland midfield centres, who were then penalised for not releasing the ball. Bird thumped over the penalty to increase Alnwick’s lead after only a few minutes’ play (6-15).
A loose ball at a line-out was carried off by Stuart Allen, out to Ellis and onto Angus Todd, who linked up with Mather onto Gray, the final pass being judged a knock-on, giving Sunderland a breather. They were given a scrum, winning the ball back only for a poor kick through again by Townsend. It went straight to Bird, who put in a 40-metre run before transferring out to Shell, who put in a sharp kick and run to beat the cover defence to go over for an excellently worked try (6-20).
Alnwick went further ahead following the restart. Mather kicked back to the centre line, where a break-out from Gordon Smith and Andrew Bell saw the ball swept across the three-quarters out to Shell, who finished off a cracking bout of crisp back play with a touch-down at the corner flag (6-25).
Sunderland struck back, straight away camped inside the Alnwick 22. A dropped pass after Alnwick had won scrum ball saw Sunderland drive on to score a push-over try, with scrum-half Francis getting the touch-down under the posts. The conversion attempt was awful, with the ball ending up near the corner (11-25).
From the restart, Alnwick got the ball out to Gray, who set off on a 74-metre mazy run that had the desperate Sunderland defence clutching at air when he streaked past to out-pace completely a very tired defence and to finish off Alnwick’s try-scoring with an exhilarating move (11-30).
These three tires scored in eight minutes crushed the Sunderland team, dispelling any thoughts of pulling back a result.
Alnwick continued to press hard, driving back into the Sunderland half, where winger McLennan injured his neck in a tackle and an ambulance was sent for, with the game finishing after the referee had consulted with both team captains.
Alnwick: J Bird, A Shell, A Gray, F Hutchinson, G Potts, N O’Grady, A Todd, D Hamblin, S Allen, B Boothman, A Bell, R Ellis, G Smith, J Hamilton, P Dobson, D Oliver, N Mather, P Brown.