North One East Division: Pocklington 26 Alnwick 10
Although Alnwick had won both encounters last season, beating Pocklington on their own turf was always going to be a big ask.
On this occasion, with Alnwick fielding a team containing seven enforced changes from the previous week, it turned out to be just a bit too much of a hurdle.
The final score of 26-10 was probably a fair reflection of the game as a whole, but make no mistake, Pocklington had to fight every inch of the way.
Everyone in the Alnwick side gave a good account of themselves with a 100 per cent team effort from start to finish and, although they couldn’t quite manage to come away with a losing bonus point, there was much to cheer about in this gritty performance.
The light drizzle which accompanied most of the long journey down had lifted slightly by kick-off but persisted throughout most of the match, keeping the grass moist on a good-looking pitch and always adding an element of chance to passing and handling.
Alnwick made a bright start as they kicked off with the benefit of a light intermittent breeze and, for the third time in three games, were ahead within five minutes.
Following some fruitless opening exchanges, Alnwick possession gave scrum-half Moralee the chance to zip through after a well-placed kick out on the right to touch down, with Weddell adding the conversion (0-7).
Pocklington came straight back on to the attack and a kick and chase on their left saw the ball just go dead.
A chip from Warcup took play to Pocklington’s 22m, where Alnwick were penalised for not releasing at the tackle.
Pocklington then displayed their power and support play as they surged upfield, enabling skipper Rees to slip a pass to Nixon for a try near the post with centre Hardy adding the points to level the score (7-7).
Obliged to make the ball dead from a long restart, Pocklington followed up on the drop-out to surge to the halfway line but knocked on and, following an Alnwick attack from the ensuing scrum, referee Morrison incurred the displeasure of the vocal home supporters by giving Pocklington number eight Davies a yellow card for going over the top.
Finding touch near the Pocklington 22m, Alnwick were unable to capitalise as they were caught offside and driven back for the line-out near their own 10m, from which Pocklington forwards drove up to the 22m with the ball again going dead from a kick-and-chase.
The Pocklington forwards were now coming into the game more and putting pressure on Alnwick, who missed touch from a penalty.
This was returned with interest but the ball skidded from winger Ian Gray’s grasp on his 10m line as he tried to take the ball on the run.
From the scrum, Pocklington powered up the narrow side but were halted and awarded a penalty 10m out as full-back Bulmer was given a yellow card for a deliberate knock-on.
Opting for the kick and line-out, Pocklington rumbled over from five metres for flanker Holborough to score for a 12-7 lead, Hardy being unable to convert.
Undeterred, Alnwick were soon back on the attack with forwards competing fiercely and the backs running any ball which came their way and forcing Pocklington into handling errors in their own half.
A high Pocklington clearance saw winger Gray take the ball on his 10m and elude the Pocklington chasers to get the ball out via Bulmer to Foy on the wing who showed good speed and determination before being stopped on the Pocklington 22m.
Two penalty attempts by Weddell were missed by the narrowest of margins before he put a third effort over to make it 12-10 coming up to the interval, with Alnwick still on the attack.
From the start of the second half, Pocklington were determined to play to their forwards’ strength.
The lighter Alnwick pack were able to hold their own in the set scrums, but in the loose, Pocklngton’s heavier forwards were getting the upper hand with a series of driving mauls, gaining metres at a time to allow the increasingly effective Pocklington half-backs space to get their backs moving before the process was repeated.
Despite determined defence from Alnwick, pressure finally told as flanker Holborough stretched through for his second try with a fine conversion by Hardy (19-10).
Alnwick were still prepared to take the game to Pocklington, with number eight Hamilton, who had yet another colossal game all around the park, putting in some storming runs but the secondary phases couldn’t quite penetrate a solid Pocklington defence.
Hopes that a losing bonus point might be salvaged were thwarted as a Weddell penalty attempt bounced high off the left-hand post to be cleared by Pocklington.
In the closing stages, an element of fatigue, inexperience and a wrong choice of options, all combined in just one instant and a turnover in front of the posts allowed Pocklington to whip the ball smartly out for a Hardy try, which he then converted (26-10).
With little to gain at this late stage, Alnwick still didn’t give up, but there was barely time for a couple of thrusts up to Pocklington’s 22 and for substitutes Smith, Potts and Gray to come on before the referee’s whistle ended Alnwick’s valiant effort which certainly deserved a huge collective pat on the back.
Saturday’s match is at home to Percy Park.
Alnwick: J Bulmer, B Foy, J Weddell, F Hutchinson, I Gray, J Warcup, P Moralee, R Elliott, J Grey, B Boothman (C), J Burgess, M Gray, W Fawcett, A Ord, J Hamilton. Subs. Used: D Smith, G Potts, A Elliott. Referee: A Morrison (Durham Soc).
The seconds managed a pleasing 32-22 win against county rivals Morpeth (picture by John Spark is inset into the above report), while the thirds lost 37-26 in another good game.