WATCH: Alnwick scrape a one-point win

Alnwick 15 Old Crossleyans 14

North One East

Action from Alnwick v Old Crossleyans. Picture Colin Boughen

Action from Alnwick v Old Crossleyans. Picture Colin Boughen

As a result of this match, supporters of both factions who were at Greensfield last Saturday will be easily recognisable by virtue of the fact that they no longer have any finger nails left after a tense contest between two sides anxious to improve their lowly league positions, writes Gwyn Thomas.

Alnwick must have felt mightily relieved to have scraped home by the narrowest of margins in this match, while Old Crossleyans travelled south wondering how they ended up with only one bonus point when, with more clinical finishing, they might easily have been out of sight by half-time.

That they came up short was not only due to their inept completion of several promising attacks, but also to the fact that some commendably determined scrambling cover defence by Alnwick kept them out and compensated for the less than adequate tackling elsewhere, which had put them under pressure in the first place.

The opening phases following Alnwick’s kick-off up the slope with the benefit of a chilly wind, were, as might be expected, a series of fairly cautious probes as each side tested the other for possible weaknesses.

Rugby'Alnwick v Old Crossleyans.'Picture Colin Boughen

Rugby'Alnwick v Old Crossleyans.'Picture Colin Boughen

For most of the early stages, Alnwick were able to keep play mainly in Crossleyans half of the field.

Alnwick appeared to have scored from a scrum as Crossleyans were driven back over the line, but the referee decided otherwise, awarding Alnwick a five-metre scrum.

Alnwick were unable to capitalise from this or another penalty-scrum option and conceded a penalty themselves allowing Crossleyans to ease the pressure.

Crossleyans’ backs always threatened with the ball in hand and from a scrum after an Alnwick knock-on some 35 metres out, centre Jack Hammond burst through some hideously fragile tackling to put winger Sutcliffe over under the posts and give Vine an easy conversion (0-7).

Rugby'Alnwick v Old Crossleyans.'Picture Colin Boughen

Rugby'Alnwick v Old Crossleyans.'Picture Colin Boughen

Crossleyans now had their tails up and despite a couple of breaks by centre Ali Gray, Alnwick had some seriously gutsy defending to do to counter some direct and well supported running from the opposition backs, but the line held before pressure was eased as Crossleyans were penalised for holding on.

A promising attack through Mallaburn and Gray ended as Gray’s pass went into touch rather than the hands of the support, but gaining a line-out of their own after forcing Crossleyans into touch, Alnwick were awarded a penalty as Crossleyans’ backs were offside in midfield and Bird put the kick over (3-7).

From the re-start and with half-time looming, scrum-half Moralee was laid low by a high tackle which might well have deserved a more severe sanction than just a penalty, and certainly both the offence and its consequences should have been dealt with more promptly by the referee, but Alnwick were unable to benefit from the penalty and an accidental offside at the line-out brought the half to a close.

The second half started badly for Alnwick as full-back Bird was injured as he came up to counter-attack from the Crossleyans kick-off and while he was receiving treatment, Moralee moved to full-back with Todd on at scrum-half.

Rugby'Alnwick v Old Crossleyans.'Picture Colin Boughen

Rugby'Alnwick v Old Crossleyans.'Picture Colin Boughen

During his brief absence, neither side gained any positive advantage, but following his return, a sharp break from Moralee after a penalty and line-out ended with a knock-on 10 metres short.

Two Crossleyan scrums either side of a tap-and-go penalty by Gothorp ended with a further Alnwick penalty as Crossleyans infringed at an Alnwick line-out on half way.

With the momentum going Alnwick’s way, this was taken quickly and the ball whipped out smartly to find centre Gray who thumped through at full bore to gain just reward for his efforts in attack and defence. Bird put the conversion over (10-7).

From the restart, Crossleyans started to build pressure as Alnwick were disrupted slightly by seeing Bird go off, with Moralee and Todd resuming their earlier positions.

Some unproductive phases of thrust and counter-thrust saw several dangerous-looking attacks by the strong running Crossleyan backs end in mis-handling or neutralized by some solid Alnwick tackling, until a sparky run by left-winger Burn ended with a scrum on the Crossleyans 10 metre line.

Todd caught the opposition napping with a nifty break and was able to finish it off himself by scooting through to make it 15-7 with the conversion missed.

With Crossleyans now needing two scores to win, Alnwick supporters began to breathe a little more easily but not for long.

The restart went straight out, a re-set scrum in favour of Crossleyans was followed by a penalty to set up a Crossleyans line-out on Alnwick’s 10 metre line.

A penetrating run by full-back Greaves evaded several would-be tacklers before finding good support on the left to finally undo an over-stretched defence and put flanker Billy Hammond over for 15-12.

The nail-biting began in earnest as Vine put over the conversion for 15-14 but went into frantic overdrive for the remaining few minutes until Moralee was able to clear to touch.

The final blast of the referee’s whistle was almost drowned by the groans of disappointment from Crossleyan supporters and the sighs of relief from their Alnwick counterparts.

A just result? The visitors might disagree but, on balance, yes. Crossleyans wasted too many chances while Alnwick, despite some hairy moments, had the desire to win, battled hard, held firm at crucial times and ultimately deserved the points – just about.

Alnwick: J Bird, C Burn, A Gray, F Hutchinson, R Mallaburn, J Warcup, P Moralee, B Gothorp, R Thompson, R Ellis, J Burgess, O Sutheran, B Boothmans (C), A Isaacs, P Brown. Subs used: R Elliot, M Grey, H Todd. Referee: Dave Charlton (Northumberland Society). Alnwick scores – Tries: A Gray, Todd. Conversion: Bird. Penalties: Bird. Old Crossleyans – Tries: Sutcliffe, Hammond. Conversions: Vine (two). Match sponsor: Alnorthumbria Veterinary Group.

Next match: Driffield, away, Saturday. Alnwick first team also hosts Morpeth on Thursday, December 18. Kick-off is 7pm.The sides will compete for the Brett Horse Trophy.