Bradford & Bingley 19-36 Alnwick RFC
Alnwick RFC returned to league action after a long bus journey to Bradford & Bingley on Saturday, a number of cancellations in recent weeks meaning this was the first league game since early December.
A larger squad did dispatch local rivals Berwick 28-0 on Boxing Day, but the league is where all at ARFC are focused this season.
A number of changes saw the return of centre Hutchinson, refreshed from a mid-season sabbatical, hooker Green in to start his second game of the season, Fox shifted to the back row to accommodate Young at lock, Moralee and J Burn swapped shirts and began at scrum half and wing respectively, with Mallaburn on the opposite wing after an impressive performance at centre in the last league game.
They also welcomed back Messrs Hamilton and Gothorp to the squad, accompanied by Phillips on an ominous-looking bench.
Alnwick started well on a cold but bright day in Yorkshire, maintaining control of possession in the opening minutes. A good offload from Gray put Smales in the clear who surely could have scored himself but instead tried a pass outside to Warcup, which did not go to hand.
From a driving maul, Alnwick broke the deadlock as prop Clayton touched down for his first of two tries for the afternoon, the conversion from Bird missed (0-5).
An excellent restart take from Courty maintained Alnwick’s control of the ball, and after building further pressure, a loose B&B clearance kick found Burn in acres of space down the left wing. He chipped ahead and easily beat his man for speed, touching down out wide, again the conversion missed (0-10).
Alnwick continued to keep the upper hand despite a foraging run from the Bees recently imported South African fly half Lightfoot, and it was only solid defence from the home side that kept the Blue & Gold’s at bay for so long.
Eventually Clayton powered over from five yards for his second try, Bird opening his account for 0-17 after 20 minutes.
The rest of the half became rather scrappy, with inaccuracies and handling errors ensuring neither side made much headway. When Alnwick were penalised for not releasing on their 10m line, B&B 10 Lightfoot opted for a kick at the posts and scooped his kick dreadfully short and wide, but got lucky as it was knocked on just inside the Alnwick 22.
From the resulting scrum the home side pressed, their weight advantage getting them the upper hand as they pushed for the line. After a number of phases on a pitch that was cutting up all the time, they got across the Alnwick line, Lightfoot this time making easier work of the conversion (7-17).
Alnwick looked threatening once more from this point and Bird unluckily hit the post with a penalty, but Bradford finished the half on top and only excellent defence from the away side prevented any further score before half-time, Hamilton and Phillips replaced Fox and Clayton at the break.
Alnwick re-started strongly, asserting themselves very well, which, after a number of phases deep in the B&B 22 saw centre Cuthbert crash over for the bonus point try, converted by Bird for 7-24 and what looked like a routine win for the away side.
This wasn’t to materialise however, as a sustained period of pressure at the other end saw the Bees scrum marching forwards not far from the line; with the referee poised to give a penalty try, Alnwick were fortunate that at that moment the ball squirted out and was moved quickly out to full back Wilson who scored in the corner (12-24).
Gothorp came off the bench on 50mins for the industrious Courty, his first league action this season. However, he was soon seated again; hitting Lightfoot late in midfield meant he was shown a yellow card and Alnwick down to 14 men. During this period the Bees’ scrum once again came to the fore, this time awarded a penalty try after a number of penalties conceded by the much lighter and depleted Alnwick pack (19-24).
Going into the final 15 minutes the home side were still in with a shout of victory, but Alnwick managed to wrestle control of the ball and keep it for two very well worked tries.
First a misplaced kick was fielded by Mallaburn, moved inside to Smales and then Burn who drew his winger and passed inside to Cuthbert ably supported inside from Hutchinson who coasted in untouched from 15m. Bird converted for 19-31.
Finally, from another penalty awarded to Alnwick in the Bees’ half, Warcup kicked to the corner and Green completed a good day at hooker with a throw to the back which was initially mauled, and then smashed over by Smith from close range, not to be completely outdone by his fellow prop forward Clayton, 19-36 the final score.
Six tries and a five point victory away from home despite not hitting top gear, Alnwick can be pleased with their efforts. Next week they welcome fellow flyers Bridlington to Greensfield, 2.15pm KO.