Alnwick RFC 44-31 West Hartlepool
Alnwick welcomed West Hartlepool to Greensfield on Saturday looking to rediscover their early season form after a poor performance in defeat at Northern last weekend.
Changes in the pack saw experienced-head Swordy return to the front row, Fox for Sutheran in the engine room and Bird in at 8; Mallaburn replaced Gray in the centres and Smales was back at 15. It was a crisp, dry day perfect for running rugby.
In the early minutes it was the away side who seized control, making good ground into the Alnwick 22. It was only good work from Fox in the air at the lineout and from the rest of the pack on the ground that prevented West initiating their driving maul, and kept the scores tied.
It was from another West foray into the Alnwick half that the first try came; Alnwick turned the ball over in midfield and spun it quickly wide to J Burn who beat two players, and when faced with the covering defence, passed inside to Smales who strolled in untouched. Bird added a simple conversion for 7-0.
Almost immediately from kickoff Alnwick scored a very similar try. This time Burn beat his man on the outside and passed inside to industrious flanker Richardson who took his turn putting Smales in from the edge of the Hartlepool 22; again Bird slotted the conversion (14-0).
On only 15 minutes Alnwick centre Cuthbert carried hard into the midfield, smashing through tackle after tackle as he forced his way into the Hartlepool 22. Eventually two tacklers managed to pull him down simultaneously, but only as he offloaded well to Richardson who crashed over from a few metres out. Once again Bird added the extras and Alnwick were three tries up and coasting.
However, West were soon back in the game when a long pass destined for winger Hilditch on the overlap, was deliberately knocked on by Smales. Referee Ollie Wickes, who had an excellent game on exchange from Surrey, gave a penalty try and a yellow card completing an eventful opening quarter for the Alnwick full back (21-7).
Now a man up, the away side continued to press and some good tactical kicking as well as quick ball from a scrum 15m out meant that they soon took advantage of another overlap on the left wing, this time Hilditch taking the final pass to score (21-14).
Little further action happened in the first half, except for the award of three penalties to the home side. Kicker Bird maintained his 100% record, notching all three for a 30-14 Alnwick lead at the break.
Early in the second half the sides traded penalties - West Hartlepool’s Painter adding three points to their total, before Alnwick fly half Warcup kicked deep into the corner in search of the try bonus point.
Swordy demonstrated excellent throwing ability added to Gray’s calling, and the maul well set up. From 10m out the home pack drove over the try line, with Bird the man at the back touching down, before converting again (37-17).
Alnwick brought on all three subs, Courty, Ellis and McGloughlin at this point and pushed on as play became increasingly broken up. Making good yards up the right side through Moralee, they recycled, and following excellent offloading play from Smith, Courty, Bird and Mallaburn, the ball reached Burn who opened his account for the afternoon finishing off a great team move under the posts; 44-17 after Bird’s conversion.
West Hartlepool came back into the game with a try from a rolling maul, and then again after some tired Alnwick defence close to the death, both converted by Painter, which gave them a try bonus point of their own (44-31).
That was to be the end of the scoring - a late penalty from Bird the only kick of the afternoon missed in a game played in good spirits and thoroughly enjoyed by the vociferous home crowd who retired to the clubhouse following the final whistle.
A short break next week means Alnwick will hope to get some of their absentees back before heading to Huddersfield, a ground where they have never previously tasted victory, the following week.
Alnwick: Brown, Swordy, Smith, Gray, Fox, Smith, Richardson, Bird; Ord, Warcup, Moralee, Mallaburn, Cuthbert, Burn, Smales. Subs: McGloughlin, Ellis, Courty.