All the signs are good

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Alnwick...20 Hartlepool Rovers...12

ALNWICK put in a powerful, controlled display in the opening match of the league season, winning against a tough outfit from Hartlepool.

The forwards set up the basis of the victory with a fine display of hard scrummaging and outplaying the opposition in the loose and ruck. This served up good ball for the threequarters to exploit, the defensive tackling saw the Rovers three-quarters drawn back to deny them ground possession.

It was a solid performance that augurs well for the season.

The visitors went very quickly into the lead when Sainty goaled two penalties in the opening eight minutes after Alnwick were caught at loose play (0-6).

They struck back following a surging forward drive that forced Rovers back behind their five-metre line.

Richard Ellis powered through, but was held short of the try-line before the ball was driven over by the whole pack for a well-deserved try. James Bird added the goal points to edge Alnwick into the lead (7-6).

Alnwick’s take at the restart drop-out was sloppy. No one went for the ball, which went loose and a scrambling defence was penalised, with Gair restoring Rovers’ lead with a long-range penalty (7-9).

Alnwick followed up the restart, grabbed possession when a Rovers lock-forward was caught and the ball wrested back. A chip through was picked up by centre Evans, whose clearance pushed Alnwick back into their 22 area.

Rovers won the line-out and the spun the ball into the midfield, where Frank Hutchinson flattened Coulson, who failed to release the ball with the resulting penalty cleared, getting Alnwick valuable space in the visitors’ half.

Rovers ran line-out ball out wide into the midfield, losing control with wayward passing when in the Alnwick 22 area which saw Alnwick’s scrummaging power gain good ball.

Rover’s Glazier broke too early and was caught offside. Ian Gray took a quick tap-penalty, which saw Richard Ellis make ground only to run out of support.

Another break from Ian Gray was carried on by Gordon Smith and James Fernback. A penalty line-out catch-and-drive by Alnwick then saw James Fernback charge down a clearance from full-back Foreman. In powered the pack, led by the front-row trio of David Hamblin, Harry Sordy and Aaran Armstrong, with James Fernback touching down for a an unconverted try (12-9).

The narrow lead was held by Alnwick as the opening half came to a close.

The second half saw Alnwick sweep deeply into the visitors’ 22 area, where they were pinned against the touchline. Line-out followed line-out. Alnwick overthrew and lost the ball to Rovers number eight Dring – he was brought down and gave away a penalty for holding on. James Bird goaled the penalty from the Rovers 10-metre line to push Alnwick further ahead (15-9).

A long clearance by Sainty caught Alnwick having to clear the ball out from their 22 area, where Rovers lost possession when in an excellent position and again gave away a penalty.

The clearance failed to make touch and was brought back at pace by Rovers full-back Foreman. In a scrambling defence, Alnwick were caught handling at a ruck, only for Sainty to push the ball wide from an easy position.

Alnwick then made a change and brought on James Davidson for Nathan O’Grady at outside half.

Handling errors let Rovers back into the home 22 where another penalty allowed Sainty to narrow the points gap (15-12).

Striking back from the restart, Gordon Smith and James Fernback brought play back at pace, working maul ball out to Alnwick’s midfield centre pairing of Ed Shell and Hutchinson. Their power play took them into the Rovers 22 area.

Nathan O’Grady was hauled down and Ed Shell pounded up the touchline before he was driven out of play to give Rovers a desperately-needed break.

Tom Hall (head injury) was replaced by Duncan Napier with James Davidson coming on for O’Gray at outside half.

Rovers put in a crossfield backs move but were hammered out of play when Evans was caught and turned over for Alnwick to bring play back and from a loose ruck.

The ball was spun out across the Alnwick three-quarters. A gap opened up to give Graeme Potts room, he out-paced the covering defence to go over for a well-worked touchdown to ease Alnwick further ahead (20-12).

Alnwick continued to forge ahead, gaining ground with a penalty line-out. A catch and power drive had the visitors reeling, another line-out play saw the home forwards drive up the touchline to keep pressure on the visitors right to the final whistle.

An excellent performance throughout.

Alnwick: J Bird, A Shell, Ed Shell, F Hutchinson, G Potts, N O’Grady, I Gray, D Hamblin, H Sordy, Aa Armstrong, J Fernback, R Ellis, G Smith, C Blakey, T Hall, J Cowan, J Davidson, D Napier.