It was late, but in the end it was great, as Alnwick RFC snatched a last-gasp victory at Gosforth, writes Terry Owen-Smith.
With only five seconds remaining, and Alnwick losing by five points, the referee blew his whistle.
But not to end the game.
Instead, it was to award Alnwick a penalty in front of the posts, when a Gosforth forward was caught offside.
Taking a penalty would be no good. At this stage, three points wouldn’t even be enough to level the contest.
So Alnwick went for victory.
It proved a good decision, with a tap and a pass to Darren Oliver, who was driven over the try-line by a rampaging Alnwick pack. His touch-down squared the game at 20-20.
Pressure on then for Nathan O’Grady to score with the boot.
Keeping his composure, he did just that.
His match-winning conversion was followed by the final whistle.
The last-gasp heroics ensured this table-topping Alnwick team, who had fought hard, scrapping for every ball and yardage, kept their 100 per cent record in Durham/Northumberland Division One intact.
As for Gosforth, they were left wondering how they came to lose this match.
They even went into an early lead, capitalising after Alnwick drove over a ruck and were penalised. Clarke goaling the points for the hosts (3-0).
Alnwick came back, only to be thwarted by the Gosforth defence.
At the other end, Gosforth swept into the Alnwick half, spun the ball across their three-quarters only to lose contact with the final pass.
It wasn’t long before the hosts extended their lead.
Once again, Alnwick went over the top at a ruck and, once again, Clarke scored a straightforward penalty goal to put Gosforth 6-0 up.
Alnwick came back hard and their efforts soon resulted in getting onto the scoresheet.
The Greensfield side won quick line-out ball and stormed back through a Shell, Gray, Todd move.
Gosforth stopped the move but were penalised for an illegal tackle at the ruck. O’Grady duly goaled the penalty (6-3).
Gosforth powered back and took advantage of the extra man after an Alnwick player was sent to the sin-bin for 10 minutes at a scrum to force their way over for a try by prop Woodhams. The goal was added by Clarke right at the end of the first half (13-3).
Alnwick made changes with Darren Oliver and Dave Hamblin replacing Josh Burgess and Steve Bremner. Table-topping Alnwick were the next to score.
An Ellis/Oliver charge through saw Alnwick battling away short of the try-line, a half-hit kick rolled out to Andy Shell, a gap opened up, he shot through for an opportunist try – the conversion attempt was pushed wide (13-8).
Gosforth struck back, a clearance penalty from O’Grady failed to make touch, winger Foster brought the ball back, out to Debenham to Clarke who went through to touch-down at the posts, also adding the goal points (20-8).
Sprung by this reverse, Alnwick drove the Gosforth pack off the ball at scrum, maul and ruck to gain ground. Gosforth stole loose ball to set their backs away, Jurowski racing up the touch line, he was driven into touch by a splendid tackle from Angus Todd. The Gosforth lock forwards Tucker and Reid took the line-out ball out to Clarke who kicked behind the Alnwick line only for the ball to run out of play.
A missed penalty by Clarke saw Alnwick drive up-field through Peter Brown and Gordon Smith out to Jon Snaith whose run was halted by three Gosforth defenders.
Alnwick’s fight back began when they stole the line-out ball, worked it out to Frank Hutchinson whose pacey angled run saw him slice through the Gosforth back-line to touch down for an excellent try under the posts, O’Grady added the goal points (20-15).
Alnwick kept up the pressure, driving hard at ruck and maul, Ellis was injured following a heavy tackle and was replaced.
Gosforth edged further and further back, a Oliver, Brown and Snaith attack was held up.
Alnwick then drove Gosforth off their scrum ball, ball went out to Andy Shell who raced up the touch-line before being tackled by Gosforth full-back Liddell.
Gosforth cleared to the centre-line where Alnwick won the line-out putting in a surging drive to move play across field, three driving mauls ended up in front of the posts on the five metre line. Alnwick drove hard only for a Gosforth player driving into play preventing Alnwick from possession.
The referee had his whistle up to his lips but it was for a penalty to Alnwick with only a few seconds remaining.
Alnwick went for the all or nothing victory route – with Darren Oliver being driven over for the equalising score.
O’Grady goaled the points – the referee ended the game as soon as the ball went over. A smash and grab effort by a rampaging Alnwick scrum.
It was a battling victory, which kept unbeaten Alnwick top of Durham/Northumberland Division One.
Next up, a mouthwatering semi-final cup clash with Northumberland rivals Morpeth tomorrow (see back page).
Team: A Todd, A Shell, A Gray, F Hutchinson, J Snaith, N O’Grady, S Ord, P Brown, S Allen, S Bremner, A Alexander, J Burgess, G Smith, J Kelly, R Ellis, D Hamblin, D Oliver.