Alnwick to fore as talent shines through during routine victory

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Percy Park’s record against Alnwick so far this season might well have suggested that they would have their hands full in the rain and mud at Preston Avenue.

Following their narrow victory in the Northumberland Cup before the start of the league season, they were defeated comfortably at Greensfield in September, and while this Alnwick team have developed and matured considerably since then, Park seem to have progressed very little.

Not without good reason are Alnwick fourth in the league, and on Saturday, they displayed clear evidence of the talent, fitness and team ethic that have put them there.

With several first-team regulars, not available, some of Alnwick’s less experienced players were called in, and to a man, they stepped up to the plate, making the most of the opportunity with encouraging performances.

With the gentlest of cross winds favouring neither side, Alnwick kicked off and were immediately on the attack, penning Park in their own territory.

Once again, sterling work by Alnwick’s relentless forwards, both in the loose and at set-pieces, had the opposition repeatedly on the back foot, while the astute play of half-backs Ian Gray and Calum Burn brought their backs into action at every opportunity.

Park’s attacking options seemed largely limited to grinding mauls by their bulky pack which gained them little reward apart from a missed penalty attempt from 35m.

In truth, there was only one team in it, and but for a few handling mishaps, Alnwick could have been out of sight by half-time as several try-scoring opportunities went begging.

No 8 Ellis crashed over from close range following a 5m scrum, but referee Dawson ruled that he had lost control in grounding the ball.

With Park down to 14 men following a yellow card for Pike, the first try was not long in coming. ,Stand-off Burn made the most of secure ball from an Alnwick line-out on halfway, and though his speed beat the initial defence, the support play could only produce a 5m scrum, where Alnwick knocked on.

The referee played the advantage to Park as they kicked clear, but this worked in Alnwick’s favour as full-back Shell took the catch cleanly and ran straight into the heart of the defence, where support from Hamilton put Burn over for an unconverted try, making it 5-0 after 25 minutes.

Park threatened briefly as half-time approached and, helped by a couple of penalties, achieved a line-out near Alnwick’s line.

From the catch-and-drive, the ball only got to Park’s stand-off, who was penalised for holding on to the ball after being halted by a trademark Hamilton tackle, with Burn’s touch-kick ending the half.

If Park had any hopes that a mere five-point deficit gave them a sporting chance, they received a sharp reality check within three minutes of the re-start.

From an Alnwick scrum on halfway, Ellis broke clear before getting the ball to Burn, who opened the defence like a tin of sardines, and centre Smith had ample pace to elude the defence and score to the right of the posts to make it 10-0, with Burn scuffing a fairly simple conversion attempt.

Park tried to mount pressure through a couple of penalties, but at the second, they lost the ball at the line-out on halfway, and Alnwick’s tack-sharp scrum-half Gray darted through the smallest of gaps at the tail of the line-out, gaining a penalty on Park’s 22, which Burn slotted home for 13-0.

Given the conditions, Alnwick’s handling had been exceptional, and some intelligent inter-passing between Burn and Smith up the right deserved a try but ended with a knock-on as the ball came back to the midfield support.

Despite their best efforts, Park couldn’t find a way out of Alnwick’s grip and went further behind when Burn kicked another penalty for 16-0.

Alnwick added a further try as a Park attack broke down in Alnwick’s half, and right-winger Maughan, normally a flanker, took advantage of a rebound from his grubber kick by gathering the ball and breaking up the pitch to halfway.

There Shell took over and scorched beyond the defence to score by the posts and give Burn a straightforward conversion for 23-0.

Park battled gamely into the dying seconds as Alnwick, reduced to 13 following yellow cards for back-rowers Gothorpe and Smith for questionable misdemeanours, couldn’t prevent No 8 Langlands from ploughing over the line for an unconverted consolation try, making it 23-5 at the final whistle.