Alnwick victory dents play-off hopes of opponents Billingham
Alnwick RFC 22-15 Billingham
Prior to the start of this match, Billingham were handily placed third in the league and looking strong contenders for a play-off spot. How things changed in an afternoon.
Although not now out of the race entirely, Alnwick severely dented Billingham’s ambitions while results elsewhere favoured the other two contenders, Blaydon and Harrogate.
Based on their comprehensive home victory over Alnwick earlier in the season coupled with the fact that Alnwick had lost their previous four matches, Billingham probably came to Greensfield fairly confident of another comfortable win. A big mistake because, Alnwick, boosted by a 17 - 34 cup win over Percy Park in the week, were never going to be easy pickings.
As has been the case in many of Alnwick’s matches, the foundation for their success lay with their defensive qualities and total commitment from the entire team but this win had everything.
The earlier showers cleared before kick-off leaving the pitch firm under overcast skies and, with only a light cross wind, conditions were ideal for open rugby which both sides readily embraced.
The opening three minutes set the tone as Billingham retrieved possession to attack from their own 22 after kicking off up the slope. Employing the expansive long passes favoured on their extensive home ground was considerably less effective on Alnwick’s narrower pastures and resorting to some slick inter-passing and direct running made little headway whilst a couple of crunching tackles from centre Sean Hutchinson helped keep the visitors honest.
Aided by a couple of penalties, Billingham pushed into home territory and from loose play settled for a smartly taken drop-goal from stand-off Evans for a 0 – 3 lead after five minutes.
An air of complacency among the Billingham supporters suggested that a flood of tries would soon follow but it was 20 minutes before they added to their score.
During that period Alnwick were very competitive, edging the set scrums and with parity in any line-outs pressed deep into the visitors 22 for lengthy periods without quite being able to find a gap before an unfortunate knock-on at the base of a 5m scrum allowed Billingham to clear.
A competitive spell in midfield ended with Billingham pressuring Alnwick’s line through forward drives and jinking runs helped by some handling errors from the home side.
Switching play from a set scrum, stand-off Evans put in a pin-point cross- kick to the right corner where the ball was tapped back inside to winger Lawson who touched own far out for 0 – 8 with the conversion missed.
Alnwick then came close as a searing break down the left from Smales took him over but a despairing defender’s hand prevented the grounding before his momentum took him over the dead-ball line. No TMO to call at this level, but referee Bloomfield, who operated very creditably throughout, was on the spot and his verdict brought no complaints.
On the stroke of half-time, Callum Burn put over a 40m penalty, reducing the deficit to 3 – 8 .
The second half started well for Alnwick when a storming burst from Greer took play well into Billingham’s 22 where continuing pressure gained a penalty. Alnwick opted for the scrum and from the ensuing loose Ellis drove over for an unconverted try making it 8 – 8.
The next 20 minutes were fairly even but some quality inter-passing between Smales and Atkinson kept the opposition awake. Billingham weren’t exactly unravelling but looking edgy as confidence waned slightly. A clearance attempt was well taken by Smales whose swift counter set up an attack by the backs. When that was halted, Courty was driven over from the loose and Callum Burn’s excellent conversion from wide out made it 15 – 8.
Billiingham responded rapidly but when an Alnwick boot hacked on a loose ball Moralee easily outpaced his pursuers over 50m to gather a kindly bounce and score by the posts giving Callum Burn a simple conversion for 22 – 8.
With the prospect of leaving empty handed now looming, Billingham, again helped by penalties, came pounding back. In the aftermath of some mildly feisty handbags, referee Bloomfield felt obliged to give Greer a yellow card for late involvement whilst leaving the original miscreants uncensured.
Although undermanned, Alnwick resisted but couldn’t prevent Wilson scoring by the posts with Evans conversion making it 22 – 15.
The final five minutes was something of an arm-wrestle but Alnwick’s 14 held out firmly before a series of Billingham thrusts died with a knock-on and the final whistle.
Saturday’s game was sponsored by Baldwins Accountants.
Alnwick: J Smales, P Moralee, S Hutchinson, F Hutchinson, J Weddle, C Burn, J Burn, D Clayton, H Burn, C Greer, J Young, R Ellis, B Courty, W Pettifer, B Gothorp. Subs: D Smith, A Robson, S Atkinson.
Referee: Chris Bloomfield.
Next match: Rossendale (Away) April 6. Kick Off 3pm.