Alnwick 42 Wheatley Hills 10 – North One East
In the earlier encounter between these sides, Wheatley Hills emerged comfortable winners as a below-par Alnwick team failed to register a score of any kind for the only time this season, so this match, sponsored by Quasam Ltd, represented an opportunity for Alnwick’s dented pride to be restored and at the same time narrow the points gap on their opponents, currently one league place above them, writes Gwyn Thomas.
Although a threatening drizzle kept away throughout the afternoon, a strong wind was inevitably going to have an unpredictable effect on the passing and kicking elements of the game.
Wheatley Hills claim that their side was weakened by injury could initially be given little credence as they got off to a flying start and were a try to the good within the space of three minutes. Kicking off up the slope with the benefit of the wind, they were quickly onto the front foot, winning a line-out on their right well into Alnwick’s half.
Alnwick’s tackling was up to task as the ball was moved quickly left, but the forward drive up the centre pulled in the defence, giving centre Dunn room to get through for a try on the right, 0-5, with the conversion missed.
This initial setback did not faze Alnwick who set about building some pressure in business-like fashion, moving up the field through probing runs by Bird, Ali Gray and Hutchinson, aided by a couple of penalties and backed with solid forward play in both set pieces and the loose.
Although conceding a penalty to Wheatley, Alnwick gained another penalty after winning a scrum on halfway and from the ensuing line-out on Wheatley’s 22, the ball was moved smartly out to Bird on the left, and although he was held, the forwards were quickly in support with lock Burgess getting the touch-down to level the scores at 5-5, Bird’s conversion stalling in the wind.
Wheatley’s restart was the first of several to go pear-shaped during the afternoon, going out on the full to give Alnwick a scrum on halfway from which Foy made ground on the right.
A knock-on halted progress, but Alnwick were awarded a free-kick at the scrum, and stand-off Burn followed his alert tap-and-go by sliding a clever chip between the Wheatley backs, following up sharply to collect the bounce and cross for a quality individual try, for 10-5, the wind again foiling Bird’s conversion attempt.
Wheatley then tried to put some pressure on Alnwick, but were unable to capitalise on a penalty or a severely-sliced clearance attempt by Moralee, and the pursuit by Ali Gray and Bird of an astute clearance by Burn ultimately gave Alnwick a scrum on halfway.
Gothorp made good headway and from an Alnwick line-out on halfway, Ali Gray linked well with Foy and on being held was able to put Bird through for a try which he then converted for 17-5.
Gothorp came close to scoring with a superb solo run of more than 60 metres from his own 22, but as the defence caught up, Foy couldn’t quite take the final pass.
Alnwick maintained the pressure and on gaining a five-metre line-out from a penalty, an unstoppable drive by the forwards gave Gothorp just reward as he touched down for the half-time score of 22-5, the wind again thwarting Bird’s conversion.
Neither side was able to take control after the resumption until Wheatley got two penalties in quick succession and with a controlled catch and drive from a five metre line-out following the second, Ryan Craswell touched down for 22-10 with the conversion missed.
Alnwick responded by getting the better of the skirmishes in the next 10 minutes with flanker Hamilton continuing to do outstanding work in defence and attack, forcing Wheatley to concede a penalty after an Alnwick line-out, which Bird put over for 25-10.
That Wheatley were fielding a weakened side was now becoming apparent as their restart again went direct to touch, and from Alnwick’s scrum on halfway, Moralee used his speed from a characteristic break to scorch past Wheatley’s defenders up the right-hand touchline and touch down for 30-10, with Bird’s conversion off target.
A different restart ploy was safely dealt with by Elliot, allowing Burn to put in a penetrating kick which Wheatley knocked on.
A scrum and a penalty kick gave Alnwick an attacking five-metre line-out and once more Alnwick’s indomitable forwards powered over the line for replacement Ellis to claim the try which Bird converted for 37-10 and effectively put the game beyond Wheatley’s reach.
Although gaining a scrum on halfway as another woeful Wheatley restart failed to go 10 metres, Alnwick conceded a penalty plus a further 10 metres for dissent, but after a knock-on, gained a free-kick at the scrum.
Burn was again alert to the situation and, determined not to be outdone by his fellow half-back, took the tap quickly and rocketed up the right hand touchline past flailing defenders for a carbon copy of Moralee’s earlier solo effort, and a final score of 42-10, with Alnwick’s seventh try of the day, Bird missing the conversion from wide out.
There was still time for yet another sorry restart and some loud cheers as a Sutheran gallop up the touchline gallop ended with a forward pass, but not even two penalties and a late yellow card for Ellis could help boost Wheatley’s fortunes or mar a comprehensive victory which this ever-improving Alnwick team thoroughly deserved.
Team: J Bird, B Foy, A Gray, F Hutchinson, R Mallaburn, C Burn, P Moralee, R Elliot, H Sordy, B Boothman (c), J Burgess, O Sutheran, M Grey, J Hamilton, B Gothorp. Subs: J Grey, R Ellis, I Gray. Referee: Gregg Dawson (Northumberland Society).
Next match: Rochdale, away, Saturday.
After last Saturday’s match club president Danny Hodgson presented full-back James Bird with a club tie to mark his 50th league appearance for the club.