Alnwick hit back to claim County Cup with close win over Morpeth

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Alnwick RFC 11-7 Morpeth RFC

Northumberland Cup Final

Thirty three years ago , Wednesday 18th April 1984, was a memorable day for Alnwick Rugby Club when they won the Northumberland Challenge Cup for the first time.

Their team took on Gosforth at the Northumberland County Ground and scored two penalties to a try to win 6 – 4.

In those days, Gosforth were a top-flight club who had won the cup 18 times in 19 years and Alnwick’s win ended their run of 13 successive victories.

On the day of the final, Gosforth fielded no less than three full internationals, an England trialist and a host of county players.

Alnwick had been losing finalists on four previous occasions so this performance, described as a triumph for ‘brave hearts’ and ‘grit’, was something quite special.

Many of the Alnwick participants on that day have continued in various capacities to devote time, energy and support to help the club grow, develop and succeed.

Now they can look with some pride at what has been achieved in the intervening years but there can surely be few moments more rewarding than to see the ‘brave hearts’ and ‘grit’ that current generation displayed to take the cup for the second time.

The years may roll by but local rivalries continue and the passion and commitment on and around the Novos ground last Saturday were as intense as ever.

Morpeth had twice been narrowly defeated in the league by Alnwick but both sides felt that they had a point to prove and served up an exciting cup final worthy of the occasion.

A strong buffeting westerly wind affected play throughout the game and was almost directly behind Alnwick as they kicked off on a hard pitch in bright sunshine.

Alnwick were on the attack immediately as the forwards tidied up a Morpeth chip out of defence and quick handling saw Cuthbert put Moralee away on the right but his chip ahead just rolled dead before he could reach it.

Morpeth were unable to gain much ground from an early penalty and a second penalty shortly afterwards lost them some 10m as the kick ballooned backwards into touch on the wind.

Two further penalties helped Morpeth towards half-way, but then were penalised at a scrum and Bird judged the wind well to put over a superb kick from some 45m for a 3 -0 lead.

Almost from the re-start Alnwick gained another penalty in a similar position and Bird’s judgement was again spot-on, his excellent kick making it6-0 after 15 minutes.

Morpeth found it hard going into the wind but from an attack on the left a bobbling grubber into Alnwick’s 22 gave the defence some awkward moments before Bird was able to clear.

A penalty to Morpeth gave them a line-out on Alnwick’s 22, but were a mite unfortunate to be penalised as they peeled round the tail of the line-out and referee Ash was comprehensively flattened by the bulk of a rampaging Morpeth forward.

This was as near as Morpeth got to Alnwick’s line in the first half and although both sides had their share of penalties, neither could gain much advantage.

Alnwick’s sensible tactical kicking was a critical factor in keeping Morpeth contained and probably helped them get the better of the exchanges as the rest of a scoreless half was played out largely between the 22m lines.

Due to injuries, Alnwick had to re-shuffle their back line at half-time, but showed great adaptability and started the second half brightly.

Managing the windy conditions better than Morpeth, Warcup was happy to gain modest amounts of ground by keeping two penalty kicks low under the lee of the club-house to keep the pack going forward.

The second of these gained a line-out on Morpeth’s 10m line followed by a scrum, and as Alnwick moved the ball left along the backs things looked promising until Moralee was mortified to see his pass intercepted by winger Ward who galloped in for a try which Ball converted for a 6-7 lead 10 minutes into the half.

With the wind behind them, the odds now favoured Morpeth but attack and counter-attack were nullified by solid tacking from both sides. A penalty to Morpeth from a similar position to Bird’s earlier successes might have settled the match but the kick went adrift on the wind. Alnwick carried the game back to Morpeth continuing to make headway to Morpeth’s 22 through quick and determined driving support.

On 35 minutes, Alnwick’s best chance appeared to have gone when they conceded a scrum on Morpeth’s 22, but instead of booting the ball out of danger, Morpeth made the error of trying to run out of defence.

They might have succeeded but for a tackle by the redoubtable Cuthbert on the 10 metre line, who kept on his feet and as the ball was spilled popped it up to Warcup who appeared from nowhere on his left shoulder.

With Morpeth’s players in attacking mode, there was no cover to hinder Warcup as he rocketed down the touchline to score in left corner for 11 – 7, with the wind defeating Mallaburn’s conversion attempt.

Alnwick now sensed that they had one hand on the cup and were not going to be denied.

Next match: Guisborough (Away) Saturday 22 nd April. Kick off 3.00pm.

On Saturday 22 nd April at Greensfield Alnwick 2nds play Percy Park 2nds in the Candy Cup Plate Final. Kick off is 2pm.