Saturday was supposed to be the day that Alnwick attempted to defend their crown as Northumberland County Cup champions.
But with the beast from the east putting a halt to all league games earlier in the month, Alnwick welcomed local rivals Northern FC to Greensfield in this rearranged fixture.
These two teams found themselves in very different situations heading in to the encounter and even though Alnwick were 50 league points better off than their visitors, both teams were in desperate search of points, Alnwick in their bid to try and advance out of the league, while Northern needed nothing less than a victory to try and stay in it.
Alnwick applied the pressure after a kick to the corner by Warcup rolled into touch just 5m out. Although Northern managed to clear their lines, Bird was soon lining up his first attempt at goal following a scrum just outside the Northern 22, the Alnwick front-five dominating the first pushing contest to win a penalty, which Bird knocked over for the opening points of the game.
The home team soon found themselves building phases inside Northern’s half again, and Duncan Smith and with no one in front of him, touched down in the corner for the opening try of the game.
Within five minutes the home side had crossed for their second, this time Jonny Burn showing quick feet and good strength to brush off two tacklers and dive over in the corner.
Alnwick’s third followed a similar pattern, with the forwards doing the donkey work up front and the backs finishing off out wide, Burn, who pinned his ears back to sprinting in from 25 yards, Bird adding the extra two.
Northern had struggled to retain possession in the opening 20 minutes and things were not about to change as Alnwick’s relentless attack kept asking questions of the visitor’s defence. From 30m out Mallaburn’s knees showed no sign of any ailments and the centre palmed off two defenders to sprint away for Alnwick’s bonus point try with little over a quarter of the game played.
Try number five soon followed and it was one of quality, with Callum Burn sprinting down the touchline. Burn offloaded out the tackle to Atkinson, who in turn exhibited real class to find Moralee with a behind the back, flick pass and the scrum-half accelerated down the touchline to score on the stroke of half time, making 30-0 at the break.
Northern started the second half brightly and found themselves deep in Alnwick’s half but Alnwick held firm and Lance Green just outside the Northern 22, showed impressive pace to race away from the pursuing defenders and dive over for his first try of the season.
The home side soon added another five points when from a line-out Alnwick executed a training-ground move that saw the ball move from touch-line to touch-line, with forwards and backs linking well across the park. The ball eventually found lock Jonny Young just five metres from the try line and the big red bus wasn’t going to be stopped from that distance, parking up for a try in the left corner.
Alnwick’s next try belonged to the props, coming after sustained pressure in Northern’s half, with Smith making the space and running in his second try of the afternoon from 15m
. Callum Burn was on hand to score the next, spotting a miss-match in the midfield and easily rounding the prop in front of him to slide over in the corner for try number nine.
Number ten belonged solely to the forwards who had dominated their opposing eight players in the scrum all day and after a big push five metres from the try line, Jonny Young was the beneficiary, sneaking over for his second of the day after some pick-and-go action from the big men up front.
Alnwick’s final try caught everyone off guard after Atkinson returned a box kick back up to the Northern 22. As a maul was just beginning to form, the ball popped out and it was Alnwick songbird Courty who reacted before anyone else, gathering the ball and jogging under the posts to score Alnwick’s 11th of the game, Bird slotting the extra two as the final whistle blew, taking the score to 68-0.
This was the second consecutive week that Alnwick have ran in 11 tries against their opponents with forwards and backs linking well in the midfield. They exploiting space in the wider channels where players such as Callum and Jonny Burn and Cuthbert prove to be too much for opposition defences to handle.
Equally as satisfying as the 68 points scored was the fact that Alnwick had managed to nil their opponents. The men in blue and gold never looked like conceding a try throughout the 80 minutes, Bird, Young and Gray as always, leading the defensive effort and dominating the contact area.
Next week Alnwick head south to Malton and Norton in another crucial encounter where a victory would leave Alnwick only one game away from winning the North East One league.
However, Malton has always proved to be a testing place to play rugby and Alnwick will have to produce one of their best away performances of the season if they are to emerge victorious on Saturday.
Alnwick: C Burn, S Atkinson, R Cuthbert, R Mallaburn, J Burn, J Warcup, P Moralee, J Bird, B Gothrop, B Courty, J Young, M Gray, C Phillipps, L Green, D Smith. Subs: A Blackett, D Clayton, S Ord.