West Hartlepool 2-22 Alnwick RFC
Having narrowly lost to league leaders Pocklington the week before, Alnwick went into this match against second placed West Hartlepool perhaps feeling that they had a point to prove.
Hitherto, results of matches between the two sides had always gone with the home advantage, so to buck the trend and come away with a win on this occasion was no small achievement particularly as it was Alnwick’s first ever league win on the ground and also West’s first home defeat of the season.
This was a tough, closely fought match where West were not helped by the absence of first choice players through injury and were further hindered by the departure of No.8 Miller and centre Edwards through injury in the first half.
Handling errors and poor choice of options in attack didn’t help either but even so, Alnwick had to contend with periods of intense pressure at times and it was not until the final quarter that they looked secure.
Ultimately it was Alnwick’s defensive qualities which laid the foundation for their success. Excellent line-speed and solid tackling kept West honest and Alnwick’s committed defending on their own line was of the usual high standard, lapsing but once as West got their only score. Elsewhere, when West looked to stretch Alnwick by attacking wide from deep their options were continually restricted by a very effective drift defence.
On a mild, cloudy-bright afternoon, Alnwick kicked off towards the club-house with the benefit of the gentlest of breezes and got off to the best possible start. As West opted to clear to touch, secure line-out ball went quickly along the backs allowing winger Mallaburn a run and forcing West to concede a 5 metre line-out.
A penalty to Alnwick from a catch-&-drive prompted a repeat effort, ending with a scrum to West, but an attempted clearance by their backs was charged down in their 22 and flanker Hamilton pounced to score for 0 - 5 with Bird converting to make it 0 – 7 after six minutes.
From the re-start West’s attacks were thwarted as they conceded a couple of penalties and a third penalty following an Alnwick line-out on the home 22 was put over by Bird to make it 0 – 10 with 11 minutes gone.
Alnwick tried to re-establish pressure from the re-start, but for the next 20 minutes West looked increasingly dangerous as their backs moved play right and left into Alnwick’s 22. Catch-&-drive attempts either side of a penalty ended with a scrum where Alnwick repelled the threat but it required some strong tackling and a steal at a maul before gaining relief through a penalty.
The respite was brief as Alnwick put themselves back under pressure by twice wasting good attacking positions through errors at the tail of line-outs allowing West to make huge gains with driving runs before being stopped.
Alnwick managed to contain the drives from a 5 metre line-out following two penalties but a further penalty resulted in a yellow card for prop Duncan Smith for a technical infringement. West opted for the scrum and as they broke to the left, took advantage of the extra man to put prop Carr over for 5 - 10 on the half-time whistle as Painter’s conversion went wide.
Alnwick replaced Ellis with Gothorpe at the start of the second half and for the first twenty minutes it was all hands to the defensive pumps with West only omitting the kitchen sink as one onslaught followed another. As ever, Alnwick’s defence was uncompromising at the rucks and in the tackle and fiercely competitive at the breakdown. The titanic defensive effort required in weathering the storm is testament to the heart and honest endeavour of this Alnwick side.
With a quarter of the match to go and helped with the aid of a penalty, Alnwick worked their way into West’s half and when Moralee fielded a clearance kick to scorch up the right touchline a try look on but his chip ahead went directly into touch. Alnwick promptly made amends for previous errors by stealing the line-out ball and a series of forward thrusts took play into West’s 22 where the ball was shifted rapidly left and Bird took the final pass to run round and score near the posts, giving himself a straightforward conversion for 5 – 17.
With Alnwick now gaining some forward momentum from a couple of penalties, replacement scrum-half Johnny Burn had more scope for probing runs than had his precursor Simon Ord but it was a beautifully weighted grubber kick down the right from Bird that produced the final score. The ball seemed in danger of rolling dead but Moralee had the speed to beat the defence and the rolling ball to get the try, unfortunately injuring himself in the process. Bird ’s conversion from wide out narrowly missed the target leaving the score at 5 – 22.
In the remaining 5 minutes Alnwick went in search of a bonus point try but West found the energy to peg them back and what had been an exciting nail-biter ended rather tamely as West were awarded an unprofitable penalty which they could only put into touch as time ran out.
Alnwick: JBird, P Moralee, R Cuthbert, F Hutchinson (Capt), R Mallaburn, J Warcup, S Ord, C Phillips, H Burn, D Smith, M Gray, O Sutheran, G Smith, J Hamilton, R Ellis. Subs: D Clayton, B Gothorpe, J Burn.
Referee: Lewis Harrison (Durham Society).
Next match: Alnwick will play Huddersfield YMCA (Home) on Saturday, March 25. kick-off 3pm.