Even among the elder statesmen of either camp there seemed to be no consensus as to when these two sides last crossed swords.
But for Alnwick this was the second time in two weeks they had to re-acquaint themselves with old adversaries who were now something of an unknown quantity.
With newly promoted Durham anxious to establish their credentials and Alnwick equally keen to consolidate their third place in the league, this match promised to be an interesting encounter.
Overall it was quite an engrossing affair but one which ultimately never quite fulfilled its promise and became the incarnation of the ‘game of two halves’ cliché.
Autumn had obligingly provided yet another beautifully warm and sunny afternoon and on an immaculate pitch Alnwick kicked off into a light breeze and ran in what must be among the quickest opening scores of all time.
No sooner had Durham’s forwards fielded the kick-off on their left and driven to half-way than stand-off Scot launched a huge punt towards the open spaces across the pitch.
Full-back Bird caught the ball cleanly near Alnwick’s 10 metre line and, with the referee playing an advantage for Durham being offside, strode into mid-field before cutting back through gaps on the left. With support outside him he maintained his run and despite the close attentions of Durham’s defence crossed for an unconverted try on the left for 0- 5 after one minute and 34 seconds.
A forward drive and a penalty rewarded Durham with a couple of line-outs on Alnwick’s 22, but a penalty and line-out to Alnwick followed by good work from Gothorpe and Ellis took play back into Durham territory.
Alnwick were the more ambitious side at this stage with Durham relying on the boot of Scott to make ground, but Alnwick benefitted most from these kicks as winger Sean Hutchinson made several determined runs. From one of these kicks following a Durham scrum in mid-field , Hutchinson made good ground on the left and as Bird came into the line the ball switched right to centre Robinson who had ample pace and power to cruise over for 0–10, Bird missing the conversion.
Durham were under pressure from Alnwick’s pack at two set scrums and conceded two penalties, the second of which gained Alnwick a line-out on Durham’s 22 where their
backs were penalised in mid-field and Bird slotted the goal for 0–13.
Alnwick continued to threaten and a promising situation ended with a knock-on in mid-field
but yet another defensive Durham punt only ended with a penalty to Alnwick after good work by Bird, Robinson and Sean Hutchinson. At the ensuing 5m line-out Alnwick’s catch-and-drive put hooker Burn over the line with Bird converting for 0–20 at half-time.
There was little to choose between the sides in the opening minutes of the second half but Durham were getting back into it as their backs tested Alnwick’s defences. After 10 minutes a penalty to Durham began a period of stagnation around Alnwick’s 5m line in the right corner as Durham forwards put the squeeze on Alnwick’s pack forcing four penalties in succession.
With Durham opting for scrums and referee Jones playing advantage, winger Izomor nearly scored but fumbled on the line and play was brought back for further set scrums where Alnwick somehow managed to avoid conceding a penalty try.
After 10 minutes of stalemate and a yellow card for Gothorpe reducing Alnwick to 14 men, the home side finally moved the ball to the backs and Pears burrowed under Alnwick’s defence by the posts with Armstrong converting for 7 – 20.
The re-start enabled Alnwick to get back into Durham’s half and threats from Robinson and Moralee were halted at the expense of two penalties, the second being slotted by Bird for 7–23.
Alnwick had been struggling to find the gears at times and there was an unpleasant crunching of cogs as they gifted Durham their second try against the flow of play. Having failed to gain much advantage from two penalties and with Alnwick pressing their 22, Durham launched a counter-attack from a Moralee kick. A hack ahead bobbled up the right touchline into Alnwick’s 22 where the bounce bamboozled two defenders and replacement Johnson was first to the ball as it dribbled over Alnwick’s line for an unconverted try and 12–23.
Alnwick had come close to a try from a gutsy run by replacement left winger Johnny Burn, but when Durham put a kick directly into touch Alnwick were quick to capitalise from the line-out on the home 22 and moved the ball smartly left through the backs. Although the move was held, the follow-up drive gave Hamilton the impetus to stretch over the line and snatch a bonus point try for 12 – 28, with Bird’s conversion rounding it up to12 – 30 on the final whistle.
Alnwick will have been happy to come away with maximum points, but perhaps less happy with their ‘curate’s egg’ of a second half against a side showing plenty of potential but still a work in progress.
Alnwick: J Bird, P Moralee, P Robinson, F Hutchinson(Capt), S Hutchinson, J Warcup, H Todd,D Smith, H Burn, C Phillips, R Ellis, O Sutheran, B Courty, J Hamilton, B Gothorpe. Subs: G Smith, D Clayton, J Burn.
Referee: David Jones).
Next match: Percy Park (Home) Northumberland Cup Semi-final. Saturday, October 15, Kick Off 3pm.