At the end of this match, Alnwick stand-off Calum Burn might well have reflected how much the downpour from his stormy namesake had affected the performance of both the team as well as himself.
Certainly the rain, which continued with varying intensity throughout the match, suggested that handling errors would make the passing game something of a lottery but both sides coped amazingly well.
The inevitable stoppages from errors continually interrupted the overall flow, and even referee Adam Morrison’s tolerance and sensible application of the advantage law couldn’t prevent the match becoming disjointed and scrappy.
The relative league positions suggested that there would be little to choose between the sides and it is to their credit that they managed to produce some entertaining and competitive rugby despite the conditions.
Match sponsors Northern Property Finance could fairly have opted to stay out of the rain but hardy souls in the packed stand and under golf brollies ensured that neither side lacked vocal support as Alnwick kicked off down the slope into a moderate wind.
A pilfered throw at a Vale line-out allowed the Alnwick backs to attack up the centre but were halted by a high tackle by Vale, Bird slotting the relatively simple kick from 22 metres for 3-0 in under five minutes.
Vale overcooked the restart allowing Alnwick to stage a brisk foray down the left from a quickly taken penalty. Vale used long, well-placed wind-assisted kicks to relieve pressure and gain territory but a scoring chance went begging as Briggs missed a penalty attempt from just inside Alnwick’s half.
Alnwick were having some problems in the set scrums but when an attack from a line-out was halted by a high tackle on Vale’s 10m line, Bird’s finely judged penalty made it6-0 after 19 minutes.
In an exchange of kicks following the re-start, Vale handed Alnwick the advantage of a line-out and a strong run by centre Cuthbert was stopped at the expense of a further penalty which Bird slotted neatly from 28m for 9-0.
An unforced Alnwick fumble on their own 22 helped Vale pressurise Alnwick into a hasty and wayward clearance kick which was well fielded towards half-way and run directly back into the home 22 before being stopped.
Centre Ayrton carried on the momentum and crossed unmolested for a simple try. Briggs converted to make it 9-7 which remained the score until half-time.
Although Vale’s pack had the better of the set scrums in the first half, Alnwick dominated after a re-shuffle at half-time and ten minutes into the second half a yellow card for Vale’s Wallbank saw Bird slot another penalty for 12-7, but they could not take advantage of the extra man until a flurry of handbags resulted in Bird’s fifth penalty and a 15-7 lead.
Where Vale yielded points from penalties in their own half, Alnwick’s misdemeanours were committed in the visitors’ territory so Vale could gain little momentum from penalties in defensive situations.
With Alnwick’s pack getting the upper hand in the set scrums pressure finally told when prop Smith burst out of loose play on Vale’s 22 to stride through tacklers and touch down near the posts. Bird converted to make the score 22-7.
The final 10 minutes brought no further scores as Vale continued to battle gallantly but Alnwick’s prop Bachurzewski, dented their ambition with some thumping charges, backed up with some threatening sorties from Jonny Burn.
Although both teams had try-scoring opportunities foiled by some committed defending.
Neither side could gain complete control in this close contest. The return fixture in January will be interesting.
Team: P Moralee, S Hutchinson, R Cuthbert, R Mallaburn, J Woods, C Burn, J Burn, D Smith, H Burn, C Greer-Bachurzewski, M Gray, J Young, J Bird, J Hamilton, B Gothorpe. Subs: C Phillips, B Courty, S Ord.
Next Match: Saturday, October 20. Ilkley (Away) Kick off: 3pm