Alnwick battle bitter wind to sneak up on league leaders

Alnwick V Ponteland rugby
Alnwick V Ponteland rugby

Ponteland...9 Alnwick...19

Durham & Northumberland Division One

A BITING cold and blustery wind played havoc with any thoughts of open rugby on Saturday – handling errors were there by the bucketful.

But the scrappy victory took them to within three points of league leaders Darlington, who are this weekend’s visitors to Greensfield (kick-off 2.15pm).

The forwards would have enjoyed the close contact work, with the Ponteland pack showing great resolve and purpose in driving forward on their support play. This was the spearhead of their playing approach and it worked well for them.

Alnwick missed out on a couple of try-scoring chances, dropping passes with the try-line beckoning, but they came through scoring a goal and four penalties to Ponteland’s reply of three penalties.

Neither wing three-quarters had much chance to show their pace. In Andy Shell, Alnwick have a flying machine and a potential try-scorer every time he gets hold of the ball, but he was used sparingly.

Alnwick weathered an early storm and cleared the ball downfield. A driving maul fed it back to Angus Todd then along the three-quarters. Ponteland tackled the ball carrier, only to get penalised for driving through over the Alnwick player. The kick for goal, though, was pushed wide.

Alnwick won the restart drop-out, with the forwards battering on with successive pick-up-and-drives. This caught the Ponteland defence out of position. They were penalised for a flying high tackle and James Bird was on target to put Alnwick on the scoreboard (0-3).

After a long kick into the Ponteland half, the ball was brought back at pace by the home full-back Newbiggin deep into the Alnwick 22 area. The Ponteland forwards steamed in to pin Alnwick on their try-line.

Alnwick finally lifted the siege and a storming run from Frank Hutchinson was carried on by Ali Gray. From broken play, Stuart Gray powered away up the touch-line with Shell in support. The try-line was open but the final pass was a shocker and what looked an odds-on try was gone.

Alnwick won a line-out for Frank Hutchinson to race forward. In came the forwards to pop out quick ball. Two swift passes saw lock-forward Darren Oliver crash over for a try at the posts, conversion points being added by Bird (0-10).

Ponteland broke back through White and gained ground following a series of penalties that pushed Alnwick back into their 22 area, where the home forwards were hammering away. A sharp back move threatened the Alnwick try-line but was snuffed out but Ponteland were awarded another penalty and this time, number 10 Mullens was successful (3-10).

Alnwick replaced prop Peter Brown with Dave Hamblin.

A Stuart Gray run was held, Ponteland kicked deep into the Alnwick half, won the line-out and drove for the Alnwick try-line. This was held up and, after battering at the Alnwick forwards, Ponteland moved the ball along their three-quarters. This caught the Alnwick midfield offside, giving Mullen an easy penalty goal (6-13).

Alnwick won the restart ball then a break from Harry Sordy and Richard Ellis was backed up by Gordon Smith. A rare old battle by the forwards saw Alnwick work their way forward, catching Ponteland offside and Bird added the penalty points (6-16).

Ponteland struck back after Gordon Smith had swept into the Ponteland cover. Alnwick players drove in but were caught handling at the ruck. A long-range penalty by Mullens brought Ponteland back into the frame (9-16).

Alnwick brought on Andrew Bell and Toby Davison as the forwards continued to go at it hammer and tongs.

Ponteland tried to run the ball out but were denied by crashing tackles from the Alnwick centres. The home side were again offside and back-chat to the referee saw them marched back 10 metres, giving James Bird an easy penalty (9-19).

Alnwick: J Bird, A Shell (C), A Gray, F Hutchinson, G Potts, N O’Grady, P Brown, H Sordy, B Boothman, D Oliver, A Alexander, G Smith, S Gray, R Ellis, D Hamblin, A Bell, T Davison.

l Reports from the Seconds and Lions – Page 27

League leaders Darlington will be the opposition in Saturday’s match at Greensfield, kick-off 2.15pm.