DURHAM & NORTHUMBERLAND
ALNWICK powered their way to record a double over Ashington, running in eight tries.
Andy Shell led the way with three, Jim Hamilton bagged a brace with Nick Mather, Gordon Smith and Nathan O’Grady coming through with one apiece.
James Bird was on song, adding seven goals.
Captain Shell, with 28 tries, is closing rapidly on the 31 he scored last season, this being the club record for league games.
Alnwick applied pressure from the kick-off.
Ian Gray robbed a home flanker of the ball, Hamilton seized onto his chance and broke away, brushing off several Ashington would-be tacklers to race through to touch down under the posts after a 60-metre run.
Bird increased the points with a conversion (0-7).
The Ashington pack drove through from a penalty line-out to threaten the Alnwick five-metre line but lost possession, which saw Gray dart away. His link with Smith ended with play being forced into touch.
Ashington lost the ball at the line-out to give Alnwick scrum ball. This was switched out into the three-quarters with full-back James Bird coming into the line.
Alnwick swept up-field only for the final pass to float into touch. It was careless and too casual by half.
The forwards were battling to gain the upper hand. Tackles were going in hard with Alnwick having to pull out all the stops following successive five-metre penalty line-outs.
Ashington hammered away but could not break the Alnwick defence.
Ashington again lost the ball from their own scrum. Richard Ellis broke away with Smith in support out to Gray and into O’Gady, who kicked through into space.
With the Alnwick players catching the home full-back, the ball was quickly switched out to Mather who broke away for a try and again Bird converted with an excellent kick from wide-out, (0-14).
Play became a bit disjointed with far too many breakdowns, not helped by some fussy refereeing with very little advantage play being given.
Alnwick again had to defend a series of five-metre line-outs and held firm until Smith broke away.
His support took the game into the home 22 area.
The three-quarters swept in but were held short of the try-line. In drove the forwards with Smith powering through for another converted try (0-21).
Alnwick steamed back from the restart. O’Grady broke away and linked up with Mather whose inside pass saw Shell streak through for the first of his hat-trick of tries, again the Bird boot adding the conversion (0-28).
Ashington kicked deep on the restart, got to the Alnwick try-line and were driven back with the visiting backs running the ball wide and deep.
The Alnwick pack drove Ashington off their own scrum, repeating it a few moments later with Ellis feeding the ball off to Ian Gray and out to Shell who outpaced the home defence for an unconverted try (0-33).
Alnwick made a number of changes with Ed Shell, Jonty Johnson and Pete Moralee coming off the bench.
Every time Alnwick worked their ball out to the three-quarters.
Alnwick were under threat, but some over-exuberant play, together with some causal passing, let Ashington off the hook.
The pressure of having to stem the Alnwick attacks finally told. Ed Shell made a strong run to split the home cover, back to Moralee and on to O’Grady, who rounded off a cracking run with another converted try (0-40).
Alnwick went further ahead after the Ashington pack again lost the scrum ball, winning the ball back where Johnson battered his way into the Ashington defence.
The ball went out to Andy Shell, a quick link to Andrew Bell, out to Hamilton and finally Andy Shell was on hand to round off a splendid piece of play with another converted try (0-47).
Ashington’s poor resultant drop-out gave Alnwick the advantage of a midfield scrum.
Moralee broke away and linked up with Ed Shell, whose pace and power caused havoc with the Ashington defence. Andy Shell fed the ball off to Hamilton, who crashed through for another converted try (0-54).
Alnwick secured the restart ball to drive play towards the home try-line. But time ran out with a very tired Ashington very much on their uppers.
It was a workmanlike showing by Alnwick whose winning performance secured their promotion play-off place which would be at Greensfield against Yorkshire sides from either Keighley, Driffield or Bridlington.
Team: J Bird, A Shell (c), N Mather, F Hutchinson, G Potts, N O’Grady, I Gray, S Bremner, H Sordy, P Brown, A Bell, Aa Armstrong, G Smith, J Hamilton, R Ellis, A Johnson, P Moralee, Ed Shell.
Saturday’s league match at Greensfield against Gosforth, ko 3pm.