Alnwick have the edge in derby against local rivals Morpeth

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Morpeth RFC 17-23 Alnwick RFC

Once again, the rivalry between these old adversaries ensured that this was another memorable local derby which went right to the wire.

With neither side able to claim clear superiority, the pendulum swung back and forth in this lively encounter which was fairly contested in the best traditions of the game.

Morpeth came into this match on the back of three successive wins, the latest being the notable defeat of an ambitious Penrith side, so there was some optimism that they would manage to reverse the trend of narrow defeats endured in recent meetings with Alnwick.

On a cloudy, bright day with the pitch soft but in good condition, Morpeth kicked off towards the clubhouse with the benefit of a brisk but variable breeze.

The opening action was lively with a penalty to Morpeth countered by a strong run from Mallaburn on the left resulting in a 5 metre scrum. An Alnwick line-out on the home 22 and a half-break by Warcup kept up the pressure until Morpeth’s clearance kick ended 5 minutes of breathless activity.

With the breeze making throw-ins tricky, Alnwick lost a line-out and Morpeth’s pack took play to half-way with quick re-cycling at a series of well-supported drives. A penalty to Morpeth gave them a line-out on Alnwick’s 22 and further forward drives released the sprightly backs. Alnwick’s defence was solid but another Morpeth penalty gave them a 5 metre line-out where a catch-&-drive put flanker Grieve over for a try with Hornby converting for a 7 – 0 lead with 10 minutes gone.

Looking a little off the pace, Alnwick came under pressure after the re-start through a Morpeth penalty and line-out but the throw went askew and a couple a penalties helped relieve the pressure.

The next period of play saw Morpeth getting marginally the better of the exchanges as their forwards continued to work well to keep their backs moving but were to be frustrated as Hornby missed a kickable penalty from 30 metres.

The balance of play began to swing in Alnwick’s favour from the drop-out and they gradually worked their way up-field encouraged by some strong probing runs from Bird. The second of two penalties provided them with a 5 metre line-out on the right and although Morpeth contained the close-quarter phases following the initial catch-&-drive, there was no stopping centre Cuthbert who picked a good line to take Warcup’s delayed pass and clattered over for a try near the posts, Bird’s conversion into the wind making it 7 – 7.

Nearing the interval, skirmishing in the central zone saw Alnwick take a quick free kick following a scrum but Robinson’s run ended with a knock-on and Morpeth returned to Alnwick’s 22 through a penalty. As Morpeth’s backs attacked from a line-out, Alnwick conceded another penalty which Hornby put over for a 10 – 7 lead at half-time.

Minutes into the second half, a good take by Gothorpe ended with a penalty for a high tackle which Bird put over for 10 – 10.

The breeze which had dropped to near calm before the interval now increased in strength and Alnwick’s half-backs of Moralee and Warcup used the elements sensibly with strategic kicks restricting Morpeth largely to their own half.

Continuing Alnwick pressure ultimately yielded a penalty far out on the right on Morpeth’s 22 and it took an excellent kick across the wind from Bird to make 10 – 13.

Alnwick were now in the ascendancy and when Moralee supported a strong break by Gothorpe a try looked to be on but a despairing ankle tap rescued Morpeth.

A penalty to Morpeth briefly eased their situation but yet another driving run from Bird took play into the home 22 where Ward misjudged a finely weighted cross-kick by Warcup and Mallaburn swooped to touch down for 10 – 18 with Bird slotting the conversion for 10 – 20.

Morpeth now came back at Alnwick through some determined play helped by a penalty. As sustained pressure following the line-out caught Alnwick offside, referee Maughan allowed a long advantage for a series of drives before live-wire scrum-half Elliot found a gap to score with Hornby’s conversion making it 17 – 20.

It was now nip-and-tuck and with Alnwick holding the balance of power it looked all over when Bird put over another penalty for 17 - 23 with time running out.

Morpeth knocked-on from the re-start and with seconds left all Alnwick needed was to secure their scrum ball and retain possession. A solid shunt from Morpeth’s pack obliged No 8 Gothorpe to cope with untidy ball but as he drove forward and tried to pass to his backs to clear the lines, his life must have flashed before his eyes as he saw his pass intercepted by Hornby whose sprint for the corner was halted on the line by a last-ditch tackle from the flying Warcup.

The legality of the tackle and the grounding of the ball will be debated for some time but the referee awarded a 5m scrum to Morpeth. Moving the ball wide to the right through a cross kick Morpeth put everything into a series of rucks as referee Maughan called ‘advantage’ several times before coming back for the original penalty.

With the losing bonus point already secure and the clock showing 45 minutes, Morpeth went for broke and opted for a scrum but knocked on as they drove for the line and the referee’s whistle ended a real thriller.

Alnwick’s James Bird was awarded the Dave Routledge Trophy for Man of the Match and although the Brett Silver Horse will stay in Alnwick until next season, in this most entertaining of matches rugby was the real winner.

Alnwick: JBird, R Mallaburn, R Cuthbert, F Hutchinson(capt), P Robinson, J Warcup, P Moralee, C Phillips, H Burn, D Smith, M Gray, O Sutheran, R Ellis, O Hamilton, B Gothorpe. Subs: S Ord, D Clayton, G Smith.

Referee: Martin Maughan.

Next match: Pocklington (Home) Saturday, March 4, KO 3pm.