Alnwick RFC 39-3 Morpeth RFC
Two years ago, these neighbours met in the cup final which ended with Alnwick winning a closely-fought contest by 11 – 7.
In the intervening year Alnwick lost the cup to Percy Park but gained promotion to the Northern Premier where they will be joined next season by Morpeth, newly promoted as Champions of North One East.
A glorious day of warm Berwick sunshine with the lightest of breezes added to the welcome that the goodly crowd received at Berwick Rugby Club, who deserve praise and thanks in equal measure for the overall organisation of the event.
The immaculate pitch was also a credit to the club and provided ideal conditions for the idea of open rugby, which both sides espoused from the off. Friendly animosity and bragging rights aside, there was much interest to see how the two sides measured up in what was a true sporting contest played out in the best spirit of the game.
Untidy Alnwick tackling early on encouraged scrum-half Elliot to make a penetrating break following continuous quick recycling to get towards Alnwick’s 22. Moralee cleared the danger but there followed another period of sustained pressure where Alnwick were caught offside in midfield and with eight minutes gone, Hornby opened Morpeth’s tally, slotting the penalty for 0-3, which, sadly, also ended their afternoon’s scoring.
Alnwick’s response came almost immediately from the re-start when following good inter-passing between centres Hutchinson and Cuthbert the ball was swiftly moved from the breakdown and Gothorp’s pass found hooker Hamish Burn with ample room to stride over for 5-3,with the conversion missed.
The next 25 minutes leading to half-time saw plenty of enthusiastic action as the sides sought to gain an edge. Morpeth were industrious and workmanlike around the park with their pack using their weight well and giving Alnwick some minor problems in the set scrums, but Alnwick’s line speed and defence was of usual high standard with some crunching tackles limiting Morpeth’s progress.
In the dying moments of the half a promising Alnwick attack through Moralee and Atkinson led to Morpeth infringing at the breakdown and Bird’s kick from 30m stretched Alnwick’s lead to 8-3 at the half-time whistle.
Early in the second half Morpeth naively allowed an Alnwick punt to bounce only to find speedy chasers on top of them and barely time for a shabby attempted clearance. This was no help as it went to Bird whose thumping run hit a gap and the backs took play to the right where winger Atkinson made ground rapidly. His inside pass left Cuthbert with a 30m sprint to the posts for 13-3 with Bird’s conversion making it 15-3 with less than 2 minutes of the half gone.
Shortly afterwards, Morpeth were hustling up to Alnwick’s 22 but a wayward pass went into touch. From the line-out, Morpeth again allowed Alnwick’s clearance to bounce, and although initially managing to keep possession advantage played from a knock-on saw Cuthbert chase down his own hack forward and outpace the defence to score his second try in the in the corner for 20-3, with Bird narrowly missing the conversion.
Alnwick will have been disappointed by the number of penalties conceded under the eagle eye of Mr. Charlton, the result of which meant defending several line-outs close to their own line as Morpeth looked to use their forwards for the catch-and -drive option at the line-outs but failed to break Alnwick’s defensive wall.
Bustle and strive as Morpeth did, they lacked the guile and penetration so any limited progress was comfortably repelled usually before reaching Alnwick’s 22. Changes in possession and swift handling permitted Alnwick to switch play with good support sending Greer on a storming burst into Morpeth’s half. Alnwick were then required to put in a serious shift of defensive work before efficient forward recycling got the ball via Gothorp to Sean Hutchinson who outpaced the defence on the left flank and ran in to score an unconverted try for 25-3.
A disparity in class and fitness was now becoming apparent and willingly though Morpeth battled they were again turned over by a steal on Alnwick’s 22 and undone completely by a try from 75m, Moralee gathering his own clearance kick and easily beating his pursuers for a great solo try by the posts for 30-3, with Bird converting for 32-3.
The Brett Silver Horse correctly concluded that he wouldn’t be changing stables just yet when Alnwick secured the ball on the half-way line in midfield.
Excellently timed passes by the backs were rewarded by substitute Joe Weddell coming up at speed to finish the movement with a classic winger’s try in the right corner for 37-3, Bird converting for 39-3 at the final whistle.