No festive joy as Alnwick lose out to title challengers Blaydon

Blaydon 47-22 Alnwick RFC

Alnwick’s tough run of matches could not have ended with a much sterner test than against third placed Blaydon who were out for a convincing result to maintain their challenge on the league leaders.

A bitterly cold, damp and cheerless afternoon with freezing rain and other winter discomforts pending, probably kept many at home but those who braved the chill were rewarded with a lively game which was nowhere near as one-sided as the score may suggest.

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Alnwick kicked off with a light breeze behind them but were immediately under pressure as Blaydon backs and forwards combined speed and accuracy to take them up to a line-out on Alnwick’s 5 metre line. Alnwick held the initial drives but Skipper Laughlin drove over for the first score and with Guy converting for 7 – 0 after four minutes.

Blaydon were awarded a penalty from the re-start and from the line-out backs and forwards again combined well before Bailey put winger Mongan through on the right for 12 – 5 with the conversion missed.

It looked like being a long afternoon for Alnwick but through a break by Calum Burn and a couple of penalties they got themselves on the front foot and, moving the ball smartly, pressurised Blaydon before a quick pass to Bird gave him space to drive over on the left for 12 – 5 with the conversion missed.

Blaydon’s response was swift. Gaining good possession from a scrum on half-way when Alnwick’s throw at a line-out wasn’t straight, they moved play sharply to the left and back to the centre where flanker Graham went in under the posts for 17 – 5 , Guy’s conversion making it 19 – 5.

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Blaydon resumed the offensive but a steal by Hamilton at a Blaydon line-out allowed Moralee to launch a siege-gun kick which was fumbled by full-back Bailey some 30 metres from Blaydon’s line. With clean possession from the scrum, a looping run to the right by Moralee caught Blaydon napping and his solo try made it 19 – 10. Bird’s conversion missed but Alnwick were back in the game and keeping Blaydon on their toes.

Alnwick pegged Blaydon back through sustained forward pressure and when Graham was yellow-carded, came close to scoring but couldn’t quite capitalise. Just when it looked as if there would be no further score before the interval, Alnwick lost Courty to a yellow card and a Blaydon line-out set up a break by Clarke who put Davidson over for the bonus point try, Guy converting for 26 – 10 at half-time.

Now facing a stiffening wind, Alnwick started the second half brightly keeping the ball in hand and moving forward with intent. From a forward thrust on the left the ball was a moved smartly to the right by Hutchinson, Young and Bird whose pass to Cuthbert set him off on a weaving 40 metre run to score and give Bird a fairly straightforward conversion for 26 – 17.

Blaydon then took a firm grip of the game keeping Alnwick in almost permanent defensive mode. Graham crossed for his second try of the day converted by Guy for 33 – 17 before a penalty try added to Alnwick’s woes.

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A second try for winger Mongan, converted by Guy to make it 47 – 17 ended Blaydon’s scoring for the day and for the remaining 20 minutes Alnwick stayed under pressure but battled hard to restrict further damage.

Smith was unfortunate to be yellow-carded, but even with a man short Alnwick pressed forward with their customary ‘never-say-die’ attitude. Keeping the ball in hand, good interplay between backs and forwards took play from their own half towards Blaydon’s 22 where Gothorp broke free from the melee on the left, outpacing the defence to score in the corner, claiming claim a noble bonus point and making the final score 47 – 22.

This was a gutsy display by Alnwick who had to contend with a well-organised side, whose direct approach coupled with slick handling and hard-running by their elusive backs always created problems.

Perhaps not quite the end to 2018 that Alnwick might have wished for but that try bonus would suggest that there are better things to come in 2019.