Rochdale 19 Alnwick 16
North One East
Alnwick made the long journey across the Pennines to Rochdale RFC with two objectives, writes Brian Lamb.
Firstly, they were looking to gain at least a bonus point away from home to a team sitting comfortably four places above them in the league and secondly, they wished to contribute to a fund set up for the family of Rochdale player Tom Thornton.
Tom lost his battle with cancer just nine weeks after being diagnosed. Before he died, the 25-year-old was able to see the birth of his son. His club appealed to the wider rugby family to raise funds for Tom’s wife and baby.
Alnwick RFC vice-captain, Frank Hutchinson, was able to present the Rochdale chairman with a cheque for £1,000 raised by players and club members.
Alnwick physio, Sophie Howliston, had also baked an impressive chocolate cake which was raffled in the Rochdale clubhouse on the day, raising £218.
The game itself was played in almost perfect conditions.
Alnwick were without regulars Boothman, Bird, Sordy and Ian Gray who were taking a winter break, but if the home team were expecting an easy game, they were to be very disappointed.
The early exchanges were fairly even before Alnwick were penalised for holding on to the ball. An accurate kick led to a five-metre line-out and a textbook driving maul by the Rochdale forwards (5-0).
After the restart, Alnwick began to show their mettle. A devastating Gothorp tackle led to an Alnwick scrum.
All the Alnwick players were to give everything they had, but by common consent Gothorp had an outstanding game, in tackling, supporting and ball-carrying, regularly punching holes in the Rochdale defence. From the scrum, the ball found its way to Gray who scythed through the centres for an Alnwick try (5-5).
The Alnwick scrum was effective without being dominant. Jonty Johnson had been brought in for his first game of the season to inject some discipline into the side and Richard Elliott is developing an old head on young shoulders at loosehead.
Burgess continues to improve and together with fellow lock Sutheran they make for a good second row, each bringing something different to the game.
By the half-hour, Alnwick were more than holding their own.
Hamilton and Gothorp were causing problems and Burn’s intelligent kicking would have seen the teams finishing the first half level except for a most bizarre try.
On their five-metre line with a Rochdale line-out, Alnwick chose not to contest, but instead took a step or two backwards allowing the astonished Rochdale forwards to walk the ball over the line.
Perhaps some were not au fait with the call. It certainly left spectators scratching their heads, 12-5 to Rochdale at half-time.
The restart brought added pressure from the home team and Alnwick found themselves kicking to relieve pressure with Burn up to the task.
However, their defence, which has been so impressive all season, held and the tide began to turn with play now taking place in the Rochdale half.
Clayton was on for Johnson, who had done a splendid job. During this period, Rochdale were forced to give away two penalties which Burn ably converted (12-11).
Unfortunately, the Lancashire team hit back quickly with full-back Flitcroft joining the line with an angled run to finish between the posts (19-11).
Not to be outdone, Alnwick worked the ball up the right wing before a five-metre scrum gave them an impressive forwards’ try to bring the score to 19-16, ensuring an exciting finish, but one without further score, which meant Alnwick claimed a well-earned bonus point.
Over the 80 minutes, Alnwick were the better team thanks not least to those drafted in for this difficult game.
Elliott, Isaacs, Smith and Weddle all gave their best. A mention also to James Oliver who made the long journey without getting on the field. However, he seemed to enjoy the return trip a great deal.
Alnwick – Tries: Gray, Hamilton. Penalties: Burn (two).
Team: R Mallaburn, J Weddle, A Gray, F Hutchinson, A Elliott, C Burn, P Moralee. R Elliott, A Isaacs, A Johnson, O Sutheran, J Burgess, D Smith, J Hamilton, B Gothorp.
Alnwick now have four games remaining, the next being Bradford and Bingley away. They lead seven teams in the bottom half of the league, making this a potentially valuable bonus point.
l Alnwick Seconds have reached both the County Cup and the Candy League Plate Cup finals, playing Percy Park in both competitions.
The thirds are also in the final of their cup against Novos’ second team.