According to the match programme, over ten years have passed since these two sides last met, so there was a sense of eager anticipation among both sets of supporters to see who would fare best on the renewal of the acquaintance.
With Penrith unbeaten and lying second in the league and Alnwick in third place having only lost one game, there was every reason to suppose that this match, generously sponsored by Youngs RPS, would be a close-run contest.
Such indeed was the case with the result in the balance right up to the final moments, and a goodly crowd, which included a large contingent of travelling support, were treated to a cracking match which fizzed with tension and excitement throughout.
Conditions couldn’t have been better with a firm well grassed pitch and a warm Autumn sun cooled by a light but fickle wind which faced Penrith as they kicked off up the slope.
There was little to choose between the sides in the opening phases as they each tried to mount some early pressure but it was Penrith who were first to score with only six minutes gone.
A kicking exchange ended when Moralee fielded a return from Penrith’s full-back and sought to break down the narrow side but his chip ahead was marginally too far.
Stand-off Fearon was on hand to gather the ball and evaded two follow-up tackles before releasing winger Littleton on a 60 metre sprint up the touchline, out-pacing Alnwick’s cover to score in the left corner with Fearon’s fine conversion making it 7 – 0.
Alnwick were soon back on terms as a penalty gave them a line-out on Penrith’s 22 and although their catch-&-drive was held a further penalty saw Hamilton just held up on the line.
Penrith were in danger of conceding a penalty try as they were twice penalised when Alnwick opted for scrums but at the third scrum Alnwick took play into mid-field. Although halted initially there was no stopping a second forward drive which put Hamilton over the line with Bird’s conversion making it 7- 7.
Alnwick’s lock Sutheran was laid low having been tackled in mid-air as he caught the ball at the re-start and Penrith were fortunate that the over-enthusiastic culprit escaped a yellow card. From the penalty Alnwick were able to create a period of sustained pressure with most of the play being in the visitors’ half but could not breach Penrith’s defences.
A couple of penalties helped Penrith relieve the pressure but it was still nip and tuck until a Bird penalty edged Alnwick into a 10 – 7 lead at the interval.
Five minutes into the second half a Fearon penalty made it 10 – 10 but within minutes Alnwick nosed ahead 13–10 through another Bird penalty.
Alnwick failed to take control of Penrith’s re-start which went high and deep past Alnwick’s 22 and the visitors forwards took advantage with a couple of thrusts before an inside pass enabled substitute Graham cut inside Alnwick’s defence and score near enough to the posts for Fearon to convert easily for 13–17.
Another Bird penalty brought Alnwick back to 16–17 but for the next 20 minutes Penrith were getting slightly the better of the exchanges and gaining ground before bringing in the backs to stretch Alnwick’s defence. It looked as though this ploy had succeeded when an overlap put Littleton over for a possible match-winner in the left corner only to find that the final pass had been adjudged forward by referee Manley.
The skirmishing following the ensuing scrum was intense and unrelenting but Alnwick were gradually pushing back into Penrith territory and were encouraged when a hack and chase by scrum half Todd nearly brought a score.
With some ten minutes of a strength-sapping half remaining,
Penrith seemed to be flagging slightly and Alnwick’s lighter but fitter pack found the energy to mount a series of attacks which had the visitors wobbling.
Just when it looked as though Penrith had weathered the storm, quick re-cycling from Alnwick on Penrith’s 22 got the ball to centre Callum Burn in space on the right and his electrifying acceleration broke attempted tackles for an unconverted try in the corner for 21–17.
There only remained time for Alnwick to deal tidily with the re-start before Grundy booted the ball into touch and the referee’s whistle ended a thoroughly thrilling and engrossing encounter between two evenly matched sides.
This match was a splendid advert for club rugby and both sides should be complimented for the quality of their play.
Nobody could complain if Penrith had held on to win but Alnwick can feel justifiably satisfied with the huge effort put in by the whole team, particularly the massive contribution from lock Olly Sutheran at line-outs and re-starts and his commitment around the field adding to the outstanding work by the back row of Courty, Gothorpe and Hamilton and the ever dependable substitute Gordon Smith.
Alnwick: J Bird, P Moralee, C Burn, F Hutchinson (Capt), S Hutchinson, J Warcup, H Todd,D Smith, H Burn, C Phillips, R Ellis, O Sutheran, B Courty, J Hamilton, B Gothorpe. Subs: P Brown, A Grundy, G Smith.
Referee: Anthony Manley (Northumberland Society).
Next match: Durham City (Away) Saturday, October 8. Kick-off 3pm.