ALNWICK 3 NORTHERN 8
Some matches are vividly memorable and recalled with pleasure, whilst others are eminently forgettable for very good reasons, yet continue to haunt the collective memory like a disturbing dream.
Sadly, this was one for the latter category.
Generously sponsored by Pumphrey’s Coffee, this match had the potential for a cracking local derby but was at times reduced to farcical levels by the wind and soggy pitch.
It is a credit to the ambition and resilience of the players that they managed to deal with the conditions sufficiently well to play enough rugby and prevent the game from becoming a total Christmas turkey.
With both sides making more handling errors and miskicks than you could shake a stick at, there was little to choose between them and there was a certain masochistic fascination in watching this messy spectacle unfold.
No quarter was asked or given and Northern’s bulkier personnel ultimately deserved to win because they adapted better to the conditions, defended strongly and conceded fewer penalties at crucial moments.
Things couldn’t have started better for Northern as they kicked off up the slope with the benefit of the wind. Following a Northern line-out on Alnwick’s 22, Todd tried to find space to make use of a loose ball but was penalised for crossing and Collins put over the kick for 0-3 with barely two minutes gone.
Two penalties following the restart allowed Alnwick to mount a bit of pressure down the left until a penalty enabled Northern to clear the danger.
This began a period of sustained pressure on Alnwick which was to last for most of the rest of the half as Northern’s use of the wind coupled with accurate line kicking kept Alnwick pegged well back in their own territory. As there was little hope of gaining yardage from any relieving kicks,
Alnwick’s only option was to run the ball out of defence but could rarely progress beyond half-way before running into Northern’s defensive wall.
The pattern was then repeated with minor variations, but Northern’s attacks couldn’t break through Alnwick’s commendably solid defence and the interval arrived without a further score.
The second half began with Alnwick being penalised for offside and on gaining a line-out on Alnwick’s 22, Northern’s catch-and-drive rumbled forward and although partially held provided enough impetus for flanker Kinnell to claim the touchdown for 0-8 with the conversion attempt stalling in the wind.
In this game of two windy halves it was now Alnwick’s turn to put pressure on the visitors and although their line kicking was not as effective as Northern’s had been, the forwards constantly threatened without quite managing to penetrate Northern’s well-organised defences.
An attempted tap-and-go penalty by Todd might have produced a break-through but the referee failed to penalise Northern for tackling within the 10 metres.
The industrious work-rate of all the Alnwick forwards, especially Sutheran, Gothorpe and Smith was backed up by prodigious efforts in attack and defence by centres Hutchinson and Cuthbert, the latter always looking for the break and only just being held as several promising attacks came to nought.
As well as defending keenly, Northern were constantly looking to break out and Alnwick’s defenders had to be on their toes to halt threats from a tap-and-go penalty and a chip-and-chase on the right.
In the closing minutes Northern broke downfield to put Alnwick were under pressure, but in a final effort Alnwick found enough energy to get back to Northern’s 22 and gain a penalty.
Bird gauged the wind perfectly to make it 3-8 and give Alnwick a well earned losing bonus point on the final whistle, but it could well have been more if the cogs had meshed.
Alnwick: J.Bird, P.Moralee, R.Cuthbert, F.Hutchinson (Capt.), A.Shell, C.Burn, H.Todd, P.Brown, H.Burn, R.Elliot, J.Burgess, O.Sutheran, G.Smith, B.Gothorpe, R.Ellis. Subs: A.Todd, M.Gray, D.Clayton. Referee: Jon Ash (Northumberland Society
Next match: Driffield (away) on Saturday, December 12 - kick-off 2.15pm