Close game but Alnwick lose to league leaders Pocklington

Alnwick RFC 3-7 Pocklington

With league leaders Pocklington coming into this game after nine straight wins since mid-November and Alnwick hoping to consolidate their third place in the league, this encounter had all the makings of a cracking match.

Alnwick also had the added incentive, were it needed, of defending their season’s unbeaten home record whilst at the same time seeking to avenge their narrow last gasp defeat at their meeting earlier in the season.

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Early on Saturday morning there was some doubt that this match would go ahead as heavy overnight rain had left the pitch waterlogged. After a late inspection once the rain had abated the pitch was declared playable but was inevitably very soft with boggy patches in places.

Such conditions were better suited to Pocklington’s heavy pack and they played to their strength keeping Alnwick in defensive mode for much of the first half. Once again the home side contested vigorously throughout and it would have been no injustice if their tenacity had edged a victory.

With much of the trench warfare being played out in the muddy ‘grey zone’ of midfield there were very few moments of sparkling rugby but it nonetheless proved to be a tense and engrossing encounter.

The generosity of long-term club supporters G.F.White (Land, Property and Business Advisers) in sponsoring this match was amplified by their provision of new post protectors and line marker flags. Although the rigidity of these new-style flags hinted at a Force 10 gale, conditions were calm as Alnwick kicked off up the slope.

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The inconclusive exchanges of the first 5 minutes ended with a penalty to Alnwick but although Moralee broke away at speed with a quickly taken tap-&-go, he wasn’t quite able to escape the defenders and this, the only time that Alnwick really threatened in the first half, ended with a penalty to Pocklington on their 22.

From this point Pocklington built continuous pressure on Alnwick using their forwards in a series of pick-&-go drives which Alnwick countered well but Alnwick were also having problems at the set scrums were Richie Ellis dealt well with some untidy ball on the retreat.

.Pocklington’s backs looked threatening when in possession but any big hits by Alnwick were matched by Pocklington on the few occasions Alnwick tried to run the ball and play was often fragmented as the conditions inevitably lead to handling errors by both sides.

Alnwick got some respite at intervals as they benefitted from penalties but the relief was only short lived as Pocklington kept them pinned in their own half.

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With under ten minutes to go to the interval and just when it looked as though there would be no score before the break, a penalty kick to Pocklington gave them an attacking line-out some 10 metres short of Alnwick’s line on the right.

Alnwick countered the catch-&-drive and their close-quarter defending contained further drives, but as the ball was worked wider to the left, lock Durkin found a gap to score by the posts with Procter adding the conversion for 0 – 7.

Pocklington kept up the pressure from the re-start and came close through an attempted long-range catch-&-drive but with the help of a couple of relieving penalties Alnwick saw out the half without further damage.

The second half began with Pocklington looking intent on pressurising Alnwick as they took play up to Alnwick’s 22 where they conceded a penalty. Stand-off Warcup, ignoring the expected touch-line option, quickly thumped the ball into the open spaces deep in the visitor’s half, gaining ground and a line-out as Pocklington cleared.

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Pocklington had clearly marked Bird’s strong running as a danger and his run following the line-out was ended but at the cost of a penalty by the Yorkshiremen.

Alnwick began to create a period of pressure and although they lost a line-out following another penalty, their pack pressurised Pocklington’s put-in at the ensuing scrum to gain a further penalty which Bird slotted for 3 – 7.

Alnwick then had their best opportunity to take the lead. Helped by several penalties where they opted to go for attacking line-outs, they mounted sustained pressure on the visitors through a series of close-range drives.

After laying siege to Pocklington’s line for some 15 minutes an Alnwick try looked almost certain but Pocklington’s excellent defending managed to keep the line intact and finally clear the danger.

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Pocklington now pushed Alnwick back to their 22 and it now required Alnwick’s defence to be at its best particularly to counter a 5 metre line-out following an astute grubber kick.

At the last knockings, Alnwick twice nearly broke out from their 22 but Pocklington were alert to the danger and snuffed out the threats with the referee’s whistle for a knock-on ending the mud-larks.

In a match where the defences of both sides were the dominant factor, Pocklington just about deserved the spoils and although a losing bonus point will be little consolation to Alnwick as they drop a place in the league, they should still hold their heads high after putting their all into a courageous effort which so nearly carried the day.

Alnwick: J Bird, A Gray, R Cuthbert, F Hutchinson(Capt), R Mallaburn, J Warcup, P Moralee, C Phillips, H Burn, D Smith, M Gray, O Sutheran, G Smith, J Hamilton, R Ellis. Subs: D Clayton, A Blackett, S Ord.

Referee: John Ash (Northumberland Society).

Next match: West Hartlepool (away) on Saturday, March 11. Please note the early kick-off time at 2pm.