Alnwick 18-9 West Hartlepool
After a frustrating loss at Pocklington and with competition at the top becoming increasingly tight, it was important for Alnwick to get back to winning ways to maintain their third place in the league.
With league leaders West equally keen to continue their unbeaten run, this match, generously sponsored by Alnorthumbria Veterinary Group, turned out, as anticipated, to be a highly competitive affair with the result in the balance almost to the final whistle.
On a pitch just beginning to show the effects of recent heavy rain, both sides showed a willingness to run the ball and produced some enterprising and entertaining rugby.
The contest between the two packs, in particular the back rows, was intense and combative and with West’s centres Myers and Youll always looking dangerous, Alnwick’s defence had to be at its best to contain the threats from backs and forwards alike.
It was here if anywhere that the battle was won and lost and the unrelenting commitment and tackling throughout the Alnwick side was epitomised by some top-drawer first-up tackles from Skipper Hutchinson and the back line of Mallaburn, Sean Hutchinson and Moralee.
On an unusually mild day for November with scarcely a breath of wind, Alnwick kicked off up the slope and were awarded two penalties in close succession in the opening minutes. The first produced a line-out where West were caught offside and although a rare Bird miss let them off the hook he was on target with a further penalty to put Alnwick 3 – 0 up after eight minutes.
West were unable to seize the initiative as Alnwick made a couple errors at the re-start but when Alnwick lost a line-out on half-way, West’s backs were quick to move play left then right then left again where full back Southern was up in the line. With a two man overlap a try looked almost certain but Moralee’s attempt at an interception was deemed by referee Stokes to have been a deliberate knock-on resulting in a yellow card for the winger but no penalty try.
Alnwick had a second narrow escape minutes later as, with a man advantage and close to the home line, West opted to scrummage the penalty. Scrum-half Ryan Painter finally crossed the line after the third consecutive scrum, but knocked on and Alnwick were able to clear their lines.
Neither side could gain a clear advantage but after West wasted a penalty by kicking it dead in going for touch, they drew level on the half-hour through a straightforward penalty from Gavin Painter after Alnwick handled in the ruck on their own 22.
West continued to mount pressure and were unable to benefit from two further penalties but as Alnwick failed to retreat 10 metres Gavin Painter had a golden opportunity to put his side ahead only for his kick to miss the target.
As an Alnwick attack gained them a penalty and West were offside at the ensuing line-out, Bird made amends for his earlier miss with a fine kick from 35 metres to give Alnwick a 6 – 3 lead at half-time.
West kicked off the second half and were awarded a slightly puzzling penalty for a high tackle as Alnwick ran the ball out of their own 22 in the opening play and Gavin Painter’s kick made it 6 – 6.
Some good Alnwick handling followed a break by Hamilton from a scrum on half-way, forcing West to concede a penalty. A drive from the 5 metre line-out gained a further penalty and Alnwick opted for the scrum where forward support for a Gothorpe thrust put hooker Duncan Smith over for an unconverted try and a 11 – 6 lead.
It was now West’s turn to put on the pressure but Alnwick’s defence was again in top form and kept West at bay until a Gavin Painter penalty reduced the gap to 11 – 9.
At the re-start West players got ahead of a relieving kick and from the penalty Alnwick kept them under pressure. From a scrum in midfield on West’s 22, Alnwick took play to the left before switching back to the right where Bird came up with a strong finish to break the defence and score in the corner, converting the try himself with a superb kick from the touchline for 18 - 9.
In the remaining minutes, Alnwick’s defence was totally uncompromising as West tried vainly to recapture the losing bonus point. Who can tell how much that point may matter at the end of the season and West may feel that they should have done better with an immense all round performance of which they can be justifiably proud.