The North Premier season kicked off at the weekend and saw Alnwick travel to The Wirral for the first ever league meeting between the sides, departing on Friday night given the distance between the two clubs.
Alnwick had new signing Craig Bachurzewski in the starting side at prop, with Alex Robson making the step up from second team rugby last year, following an excellent pre-season. Those aside it was a very similar side to that which won promotion from North One East last year, with some tight selection calls made and some players unlucky to miss out on the trip.
The game started at a fast tempo on a warm day, both sides showing an eagerness to start their season well. From the kick off Hamish Burn was unlucky to get his timing slightly wrong and concede an early penalty, which gave the home side territory, but as had been the case last year Alnwick remained strong in defence to keep them at bay.
After 10 minutes Alnwick won a penalty on the Wirral 10m line, which Robson struck to give the away side a 3-0 lead.
A few minutes later however, it was the concession of another penalty which allowed Wirral to kick deep into the Alnwick 22 for a lineout. They set up a rolling maul and were able to drive over for an unconverted try (5-3).
The game was proving a little bit stop-start and neither side managing to put together too many phases without losing possession. Alnwick’s lineout had grown into the game and on 20 minutes they were deep in the Wirral half when awarded a penalty. Scrum-half Simon Ord took a quick tap and offloaded to Robson who crashed over from short range. He converted the try himself and Alnwick had a 10-5 lead. At this point, Jonny Burn replaced Atkinson who had suffered an injury.
This is how it stayed until half-time, only a yellow card apiece the other incidents of note in the first half. Duncan Smith replaced Phillips at half-time.
In the second half, Wirral exerted more pressure on their visitors and with a penalty advantage managed to squeeze over in the corner for a try which was well converted by kicker Annetts for 12-10.
Once again Alnwick quickly got themselves back in front. Maintaining pressure in the Wirral half following a successful kick-off chase, referee Hurdley penalised the home team for offside and Robson obliged the Alnwick travelling support, adding a further three points (12-13).
From this point, however, the promoted side were not able to push on. Wirral wrestled control of the ball and maintained it for longer periods. Kicker Annetts added three points, taking the score to 15-13 in favour of the home side, and though Robson had one chance to add to the Alnwick total from long range, it was not to be.
On 65 minutes, Wirral scored the try which settled the game. With advantage from a scrum they first attacked through the back row and then broke the defensive line after an unfortunate slip to score under the posts, converted again (22-13).
Alnwick did have one more opportunity after an excellent break from centres Burn and Cuthbert, but despite some excellent support play from Robson and hooker Burn, the final pass did not go to hand.
Unfortunately for Alnwick, that was the end of the day’s scoring, who can feel a little harshly done by in not getting a losing bonus point.
Although the performance was not a bad one away at a more established side in the division, they must quickly learn that to be successful at this level they must make the most of fewer opportunities, and maintain possession for longer than they did here.
Overall a promising first outing, but the task gets no easier as next week the local rivalry with Blaydon renews, at Greensfield, 3pm KO.
Alnwick: Phillips, H Burn, Bachurzewski, Gray, Sutheran, Fox, Hamilton, Gothorp, Ord, Robson, Atkinson, C Burn, Cuthbert, Mallaburn, Moralee. Subs: Smith, Courty, J Burn.