Alnwick pile up half-century of points to end year on a high note

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The Christmas spirit was definitely abroad at Greensfield on Saturday, and Alnwick served up a yuletide treat to put their supporters in festive mood.

Wheatley Hills, meanwhile, must have felt a bit like the child that Santa Claus forgot, sadly discovering that his Christmas stocking contains nothing apart from holes.

Prior to this match, with Wheatley Hills without an away win all season and 24 points separating their 12th place in the league from Alnwick’s fourth, it was unlikely that the Northumbrians’ visitors from near Doncaster would get the better of this encounter.

Plagued by long-term injuries in key positions, the South Yorkshire team very much had the appearance of a side cobbled together for the occasion.

They did not lack for heart and effort, but without some guiding hands, they were short on cohesion and continuity.

Wheatley were awarded a penalty within the first two minutes, but Owen Gillvray’s effort from Alnwick’s 10-metre line was off target.

Alnwick gradually took control, and the ball was quickly out to Hamish Burn whose pass found James Bird coming into the line at speed and crashing past defenders to score near the posts and then kick the conversion for 7-0 with 15 minutes gone.

A second try followed when a catch-and-drive took them up to the line, where the maul was pulled down, and the referee had no hesitation in awarding a penalty try, which Bird converted for 14-0.

Almost directly from the restart, Andrew Shell, Rob Cuthbert and Bird exchanged passes in an attack up the left before Cuthbert finished it off in positive fashion to score for 19-0 but too far out for Bird to convert into the wind.

From a line-out, an attack up the left touchline was halted, but Peter Moralee had the sharpness and speed to plunge over in the left corner for 24-0 at the interval, the wind again frustrating Bird’s conversion attempt.

Wheatley Hills began the second half with renewed energy with one individual break wrongfooting Alnwick’s tacklers and other isolated efforts by some of their chunkier citizens being vaguely threatening before stalling through lack of support in the face of Alnwick’s tackling.

Even with the aid of penalties, they were unable to apply consistent pressure and were penalised on halfway for handling in the scrum on their own put-in.

Burn’s excellent kick resulted in a line-out 10 metres out, from which Richard Ellis broke away to power over the line and give Bird a straightforward conversion for 31- 0.

The writing on the wall was now in capital letters as a Wheatley tap-and-go penalty preceded one to Alnwick which missed touch, but as advantage was played from a Wheatley fumble, Rory Mallaburn was up quickly to chase his own hack forward before deftly picking the ball up at pace and diving over for 36-0 with Bird adding the extras to make it 38-0.

From the restart, Cuthbert capitalised on the work of Alnwick’s forwards to move play to the right, where Shell’s speed and determination took him through a gap in the defences to score in the right-hand corner for 43-0, Bird’s conversion missing in the wind.

The final knife through Wheatley’s heart came minutes later as from an Alnwick line-out some 35 metres from Wheatley’s line.

Callum Burn completed a good afternoon for himself and the team as his deceptive strength and speed sliced the opposition to score near the posts for48 - 0, with Bird coolly converting to reach the half-century.

The final minutes held only the dying embers before the final whistle signalled the start of a happy Christmas for Alnwick but a less cheerful one for Wheatley Hills.

Perhaps the fates will be kinder to them in 2016 and bring us all good rugby.