Earlier in the season, Durham had given Alnwick some awkward moments before losing 30 – 12, so Alnwick were well aware that this could be a tricky encounter.
Following their defeat at the hands of Penrith a fortnight ago Alnwick needed to win this game in order to maintain contact with the league leaders and despite the unfavourable conditions ran out convincing winners with a quality team display.
From Alnwick’s point of view, one of the most pleasing aspects of this match, generously sponsored by long-term supporters of Alnwick RFC, MG Courty (Building and Joinery Contractors), was the encouraging performances from the young players, Harry Annett, Jamie Oliver and Owen Davidson, who, along with the ever-dependable veteran Ian Gray, were drafted in to plug the gaps caused through injury and non-availability. They all stepped up the plate admirably and deserve great credit for their contribution to the team’s success.
On a grey, calm day in an unpleasantly cold and persistent drizzle, Durham kicked off up the slope and were almost immediately penalised for not releasing as Alnwick drove forward. Alnwick’s attack from the line-out ended with a knock-on but Durham’s attempted clearance went straight into touch. Alnwick’s drive from the line-out took them to Durham’s 22 where a lightning break to the left by Moralee gave him the opening score for 5 – 0 inside 5 minutes with the conversion missed.
Durham’s re-start went straight into touch and Alnwick gained some momentum from the scrum and possession from a further scrum on Durham’s 22. Following a penalty an attempted catch-&-drive by Alnwick from a 5 metre line-out was held and Durham cleared their lines when Alnwick were penalised.
Some positive running by Durham’s backs earned them a further penalty and a line-out on Alnwick’s 22. Again the visitors’ backs tested Alnwick’s defences who repelled a catch-&- drive from a 5m line-out but conceded a scrum as an attempted clearance was charged down. A quickly taken Durham free kick at the scrum required some good cover tackling from Moralee and Davidson but play was brought back for a penalty where Durham opted for points and Armstrong’s kick made it 5 – 3.
During an exchange of kicks after the re-start, an Alnwick punt went direct to touch allowing Durham to build some momentum. Two strong runs from Bird came to naught but as a Durham attack broke down in mid-field a break by Gothorpe was well supported towards the right. Play moved back infield where Moralee was on hand to score his second try and give Bird a straightforward conversion for 12 – 3 on 25 minutes.
Armstrong missed a kickable penalty as Durham responded but as Alnwick moved into Durham’s half, a high tackle yielded a penalty which Bird struck well to stretch Alnwick’s lead to 15 – 3.
The re-start was dealt with by Bird and Moralee and from a line-out on Durham’s 10 metre line the ball was moved slickly to the right along the backs. Outside centre Mallabun straightened the attack to draw in defenders and delayed his pass to give winger Davidson some space. The colts captain took full advantage, scoring in the corner for 20 – 3 with Bird’s excellent conversion giving Alnwick a 22 - 3 lead at half-time.
Durham put themselves under severe pressure in the opening minutes of the second half conceding three penalties in rapid succession but Alnwick failed to capitalise. Durham finally cleared with a kick to half-way from a scrum on their 22 but not before Warcup was tripped as he chased his own chip ahead, referee O’Neill discounting the case for a penalty try and bringing play back.
A penalty to Durham gave them a line-out on Alnwick’s 22 and a strong secondary shunt after the initial catch-&-drive put Reeder over to make it 22 – 8 with the conversion missed.
Alnwick’s re-start went directly into touch and they gave themselves more problems by not dealing with a Durham clearance up the left touchline, only just managing to prevent a score but at the expense of a yellow card for No.8 Ellis.
Durham couldn’t take advantage of their field position and Moralee changed the balance by twice hacking on a loose ball from his own 22 to outpace both the opposition and referee O’Neill only to be tackled without the ball as he crossed the line and be rewarded, rather puzzlingly, with a scrum rather than a penalty try.
However, a try was not long in coming after good support for a determined run by Mallaburn saw Warcup cross for a smart try with Bird’s fine conversion making it 29 – 8.
As Alnwick’s fitness began to tell, Durham’s discipline became ragged with a forward getting a red card at the second of two penalties. Alnwick now used their man advantage and a catch-&-drive from a 5 metre line-out put the industrious hooker Hamish Burn over the line with another excellent conversion from Bird bringing he score to 36 – 8.
Durham’s 14 men stuck to their task bravely but had no answer to the speed and efficiency of a determined Alnwick squad, who scored a carbon copy of the previous try from a 5 metre line-out after the second of two penalties. Burn’s second try from the catch-&-drive made the score 41 – 8 and was fair reward for the hard afternoon’s graft put in by the entire Alnwick pack as Bird’s splendid conversion made it 43 – 8.
The last five minutes must have seemed an eternity for Durham and although they held out as Alnwick pressed through two tap-&-go penalties, they had no answer to the third as the ball was moved swiftly along the backs for Harry Annett to dive in at the left corner for 48 – 8.
Bird’s superb kick from the touchline rounded off a laudable afternoon’s work with a personal tally of 15 points and sealed Alnwick’s wholly deserved 50 – 8 victory.
Alnwick: JBir, O.Davidson, R Mallaburn, F Hutchinson, I Gray, J Warcup, P Moralee, D Smith, H Burn, P Brown, M Gray, O Sutheran, G Smith, B Gothorpe, R Ellis. Subs: H Annet, B Courty, J Oliver.
Referee: Sam O’Neill.
Next match: Dinnington (away) Saturday, February 11, Kick-off 2.15pm.