Alnwick on verge of glory after away-day blitz at rock-bottom side Sunderland

Sunderland Rugby team (hoops) v Alnwick (blue) at Ashbrooke Sports Ground Sunderland on Saturday.
Sunderland Rugby team (hoops) v Alnwick (blue) at Ashbrooke Sports Ground Sunderland on Saturday.

Sunderland 7 Alnwick 60

Northumberland and Durham Division One

On the hottest day of the year so far, Alnwick turned in a red-hot performance, scoring 60 points against bottom club Sunderland to keep their promotion hopes on course.

They increased their lead at the top of the league by one point over Guisborough, who, according to reports, enjoyed a torrid time at Ryton and failed to gain a bonus point.

But the first quarter failed to live up to what was to come as it passed with no scores and neither side looking likely to do so.

It was clear from the start that Alnwick were not going to shove the Sunderland pack about and that Sunderland were not going to give the Alnwick back-line a hard afternoon. However, both sides, it seemed, were determined to play to their opponents’ strengths.

The deadlock was broken in the 24th minute when Andrew Shell produced a try with his trademark mazy running taking him past three defenders to score under the posts.

O’Grady added the goal points (0-7).

Just before this move, the unfortunate Potts, who had made some good runs, was injured and made way for Todd (26 minutes) who was to have a good afternoon including the next score.

This came on the half-hour mark. Play resumed in indeterminate nature, but the visitors did get over the home line only to drop the ball. From a subsequent Sunderland clearance, Andrew Shell fielded the ball on his right wing.

He came infield and spun a long pass to his left-winger Todd, who took it at pace and changed his angle of run to cut right through the home defence (0-12). Despite being close to the posts, the kick failed.

Sunderland were in no mood to capitulate and made progress into the Alnwick 25, but the visitors had seen the light and, on regaining the ball, kept it in hand to sweep 50metres upfield, with the ball passing through lots of hands. Eventually, Sunderland offended and a good kick by Wedell gave the visitors a line-out 10 metres from the Sunderland line.

The ball was spun wide but the defence held. However, Alnwick retained possession and, after several phases, closed on the line for Boothman to drive over on the 40-minute mark (0-17). The goal-kick failed.

The half was extended due to injuries and this gave Alnwick time to score again.

Once more, it was Andrew Shell who took Alnwick close to the line, but a well-deserved score went to flanker Smith whose industry was rewarded when he crashed over in the corner (0-22).

The kick drifted wide to the sound of the half-time whistle.

Alnwick were to dominate the second half and did so with some good handling of the ball.

The irony is that Sunderland’s only score came in this half when they intercepted a rash pass on the Alnwick 25 and, after some juggling with the ball, scored by the posts which they duly converted (7-22).

Alnwick decided to substitute and reorganise. Johnson and Sordy came on for Hamblin and Thompson and the versatile Brown moved from hooker to number eight.

The next score followed shortly. Alnwick won a scrum just inside the Sunderland half. The ball came out right to Ed Shell, who spotted the gap and burst through to score by the posts. O’Grady found his kicking boots and converted (7-29).

Five minutes later, O’Grady scored again, this time on his own account. Alnwick pressed on the Sunderland line and some great play between forwards and backs saw the ball in O’Grady’s hands. He deftly sold a dummy to cross over near the posts. He converted his own try (7-36).

Alnwick were now dominant and strong running by Johnson and Brown did not bode well for the home side. However, it took Alnwick 15 minutes to score again.

Ian Gray made a darting run from the base of a scrum and fed centre Ed Shell, who went into the gap in the home defence before feeding brother Andrew, who ran in to score. The best Sunderland could do was force him wide so the kick failed (7-41).

Ed Shell took the next score himself. He had been exploiting gaps in the home defence all afternoon and, after fielding a clearance kick, he went through again to score midway out. O’Grady improved his average and kicked the additional points (7-48).

The next score was an all-forward affair. Ellis fielded a kick wide right and made a strong run down the line. Fernback was with him step for step infield and Ellis found him for the run-in (7-53).

No points were added.

Sunderland tried to finish the game on the ‘up’ but gained no reward and Alnwick drove them off.

In trying to kick Alnwick back, they only succeeded in finding Ed Shell who ran back at them before feeding Todd who, from halfway, outstripped the cover to score and give O’Grady an easy kick (7-60) as the referee called time.

Team: J Weddell, A Shell, E Shell, F Hutchinson (H Todd, 26), G Potts, N O’Grady, I Gray, D Hamblin (A Johnson, 44), P Brown, B Boothman, M Currie, J Fernback, R Thompson (H Sordy, 44), G Smith, R Ellis. All subs used.

Alnwick’s last game is away to Medicals, at Cochrane Park, Newcastle, kick-off 3pm.