Durham & Northumberland, Division One
ALNWICK built up a substantial lead and were cruising to a straightforward win only to ease off the pressure in the final quarter to allow Ponteland back into the match with a brace of converted tries.
Alnwick’s points came from the three-quarters, two to Andrew Shell, one each to Frank Hutchinson, Ian Gray and James Bird, who also added four conversions and two penalty goals.
Alnwick made a fine start to open up the game. A brisk move by the home centres saw Hutchinson link with Gray back to Hutchinson, who drove over for a try, converted by Bird (7-0).
Alnwick created their own problems at the restart when they drove in illegally at a ruck to gift penalty points back to the visitors with outside-half Mullins scoring a long-range goal (7-3).
The home three-quarters broke out from their own half switching the play out to veteran winger Jon Snaith. His run was halted on the Ponteland 22 line with the move being carried on by Gray, who was held up on the try-line. In came forward support to catch Ponteland offside. Bird added the penalty points (10-3).
Loose play at the restart resulted in Ponteland making ground through number eight Mullins. Alnwick scrambled back with Nathan O’Grady clearing into touch.
Ponteland gained scrum ball after the line-out play saw Alnwick knock the ball forward. A drive by the visitors caught Alnwick reeling back and in the break up were penalised. Mullins reduced the deficit with the penalty goal (10-6).
Alnwick steamed into the Ponteland 22 and pressured the visiting defence. A back move broke down, but gained a penalty with the Ponteland back-row well offside, Bird adding the goal (13-6).
Alnwick made a bright start, spinning the ball wide to losing Snaith then switching direction out across the pitch, where Gray set off on one of his sharpish angled runs and bamboozled the Ponteland defence to touch down under the posts for an unconverted try (18-6).
Alnwick quickly added to their points haul – the forwards drove in at a maul and made ground through Hutchinson and Cowan. Smith and Blakey worked the ball back to Todd, who sent it out to Shell who rounded off a positive bout of play with a try at the corner flag, Bird adding goal points with a superb conversion (25-6).
Ponteland took advantage of Alnwick giving away yet more penalties. A five metre line-out saw their forwards charge through and, after a series of pick-up-and-drives, Harrison was forced over for an unconverted try (25-11).
Ponteland came back hard in the second half. A beakthrough by Moller forced play into the Alnwick 22, where a loose ball was kicked through and Bird was flattened by the arriving forwards.
Alnwick had scrum ball but a mix-up at the back of the pack saw Maughan snatch the ball up to link with wing Stoker, who went over for a try at the flag which was not converted.
Alnwick produced the move of the match and caught Ponteland completely cold.
Ponteland won good ball at the restart, Mullins cleared the ball deep to Shell who passed to link up with Bird who raced back fully 70 metres completely unopposed through a flat-footed Ponteland team to touch down at the posts and add the conversion (32-16).
It was a superb piece of attacking play.
Alnwick quickly added a further try when they spun the ball along the three-quarters. There was no midfield charge this time, but the ball was passed quickly to Shell, whose zig-zagging run saw him out-pace the Ponteland cover to go over for a cracking converted try. Ponteland had no answer to a pacey, well-executed move (39-16).
Alnwick then took their collective foot off the accelerator to let Ponteland back in the game, with Watson running through some sloppy tackling for a converted try (39-23).
The home side then lost their own scrum ball. Centre March bounced his way through a sleepy Alnwick defence, with not a hand laid on him.
They gave away successive penalties to hand the advantage to Ponteland, whose pack drove over from a penalty line-out, with Harrison the try scorer. Mullins goaled the conversion points (39-30).
Alnwick should have scored a further try when Potts, who had replaced Snaith, was through after Ponteland were penalised following a high tackle. The referee did not play any advantage, pulling play back for an Alnwick scrum, which saw play ended with the ball into touch.
Team: J Bird, A Shell, I Gray, F Hutchinson, J Snaith, N O’Grady, A Todd, D Hamblin, J Cowan, A Armstrong, J Fernback, D Whitehead, G Smith, C Blakey, J Normanton, P Brown, G Potts, P Dobson.
Saturday’s league match will see the club travel to Guisborough for the first ever encounter between the clubs.