Stylish Alnwick leave the best to last
Doncaster Phoenix 10-43 Alnwick
Make no mistake about it, this last match of the 2015/16 season will enter the folklore ofAlnwick Rugby Club and be talked about for many moons to come.
Those supporters who trekked down to East Yorkshire, were privileged to see their side produce the finest performance of the season in inflicting a thoroughly comprehensive and crushing defeat on the league champions.
At the beginning of the season, coach James Hamilton had targeted a 3rd place finish and on Saturday morning the Alnwick faithful were speculating how their side might secure the point needed to guarantee that spot, little dreaming of what was about to unfold.
Having lost a close contest to Phoenix at the start of the season, this Alnwick team, which has since grown in confidence and self-belief, knew precisely what was needed to reverse the earlier result and to a man helped deliver the coach’s promise, demolishing a shell-shocked Phoenix in the process.
This was an immense performance and every player can be proud of what they have achieved.
Many teams might have been intimidated by the impressive stand and the wide, immaculate pitch but kicking off in bright sunshine and into a brisk, chilly breeze Alnwick immediately took the game to Phoenix and were 0 – 3 up in as many minutes through an excellent Bird penalty into the wind.
There was a delay when Phoenix full-back Porter suffered a nasty ankle injury and had to leave the field but much of the early action took place between the 10 metre lines. With little to choose between the packs in set scrums or the loose neither side ventured much beyond initial probing. Doncaster backs had opportunities but, as in the game at Alnwick, their handling was poor and Alnwick were quick to pounce on their mistakes.
With 13 minutes gone Doncaster tried to clear their line after winning a line-out near their 22. The ball came back to their centres under their posts but was spilled backwards over the line following a thumping tackle from Hutchinson who was quickly on his feet to dive on the ball for the opening try, with Bird converting for 0 - 10.
From the re-start, Phoenix backs made ground into Alnwick’s 22, switching play left and right, before Peacey got the touch down through a catch-and-drive from a 5 metre line-out , with Lennard’s conversion making it 7 – 10.
Not to be out-done, Alnwick were straight back on the attack and a storming run from the outstanding James Hamilton produced a penalty which Alnwick opted to kick to touch.
Duncan Smith got the touch-down from a well-organised catch-&-drive from the line-out for 7 – 15 with the conversion missed.
Scrum half Todd had to go off with an elbow injury, with Moralee taking over and Will Smith coming in on the right wing.
Phoenix now began to move the ball along the backs where solid Alnwick tackling consistently halted their ambitions, but using their forwards they gradually worked their way back in into Alnwick’s half finally getting a penalty seconds before the interval which Lennard put over for 10 – 15.
With the wind now behind them, Alnwick kept Phoenix pegged back through some well-judged tactical kicking from stand-off Burn, but for the opening 15 minutes it was honours even. Phoenix had plenty of possession yet none of the training ground ploys came off either through poor execution or uncertain handling in the face of Alnwick’s tackling, but with a quarter of the match still remaining, three tries in ten minutes completely destroyed Phoenix’s hopes.
From an Alnwick scrum just inside the Phoenix half, Bird drew in the defenders with a powerful run before releasing Hutchinson who scored his second try for 10 – 20, with Bird converting for 10 – 22.
There was some evidence of panic in the Phoenix ranks when in a matter of minutes Alnwick pressure forced a 22 metre drop-out and Burn, who until then had patiently concentrated on kicking and distribution, spotted his chance and scythed past stunned defenders with a searing break from 40 metres to score by the posts, with Bird’s conversion making it 10 - 29
The next try demonstrated Alnwick’s alertness as from a Phoenix clearance, they took a quick throw-in which went directly to Bird who strode in from 35 metres through some weak midfield tackling to score between the posts and it was all over bar the shouting as he added the extras 10 – 36.
In the dying minutes, Phoenix tried everything they could think of in an effort to give the score-line some semblance of respectability but Alnwick’s defences were rock solid and when their pack secured a turn-over following a Phoenix line-out, Bird was left free to stroll over unmolested and score between the posts, 10 – 41, and the fat lady was singing lustily as he converted it himself for 10 – 43 on the final whistle.