ALNWICK...26 WEST LEEDS...20 (Northern Division, North One East)
League rugby returned to Greensfield on Saturday following last week’s cup victory over Morpeth.
This week, West Leeds arrived for a game sponsored by Northern Property Finance.
The visitors’ standing – second in the table – proved that they were enjoying their first season in North One East.
Alnwick started with usual full-back Bird in the back row, replacing the injured Courty after several successful spells at six in recent weeks. Mallaburn came on to the wing, with Callum Burn shifted to full-back.
Starting brightly, the home side seized the initiative, in the forwards particularly.
On 13 minutes, second row Young jumped well to steal Leeds ball in the line-out and for the second time in as many minutes, Philips carried well over the advantage line.
Scrum-half Burn fizzed the ball out to Warcup and club captain Moralee was on the end to cross the whitewash (5-0).
Alnwick’s forward dominance was maintained as they pushed West Leeds off their own scrum-ball on 14 minutes.
Making good inroads in the tight, Alnwick kept possession and were starting to look dangerous once more when the ball was lost forwards and an unfortunate penalty given away at the ensuing scrum.
Fly-half Breakwell got the scoreboard ticking for the away side (5-3).
Shortly afterwards, Alnwick lost birthday boy Hamish Burn to a shoulder injury that means he will be absent long-term.
Clayton was brought on and Duncan Smith shifted to hooker.
The home side kept the tempo high and were still on top, gaining good ground into the opposition half when Leeds were adjudged offside. Blindside flanker Bird opened his account for the afternoon, making the score 8-3.
Breakwell slotted another penalty for West Leeds not long afterwards (8-6) before Alnwick’s second well-constructed try of the afternoon arrived.
From another dominant scrum, Alnwick won a penalty that was kicked to the corner. Now deep in the 22, their maul went the same way – forward at a rate of knots – and would surely have brought the second try had Philips not broken off early in search of the line.
Not panicking though, Alnwick rolled up their sleeves and flankers Smith and Bird combined out wide to put Moralee in the right corner once again (13-6).
Alnwick were pegged back just before half-time; West Leeds’ dangerous back three counter-attacked from a loose kick and, after some good off-loading play, were awarded a penalty-try when in behind the Alnwick defence. Young was sent to the sin-bin for a deliberate knock-on and the game was well poised at 13 all at the interval.
Now with a numerical advantage and buoyed by the fact they were on terms, given the dominance of the Alnwick pack in the first half, West Leeds began to throw the ball around, stretching the home side’s defence with more clever support lines and offloading play.
After a good break through the centre, Alnwick’s defenders didn’t recover their position quickly enough and full-back Booth put Neave in for a try under the posts, converted by Breakwell (13-20).
In danger of letting slip a game in which they’d been the better side for the majority, Alnwick’s defence stepped up and ensured that until Young returned to the fold, there was no further score to be added against them.
A great clearance kick from Callum Burn brought a Leeds line-out that took far too long to be thrown in. Alnwick were awarded a free-kick and chose the scrum option, bulldozing their way through the opposition pack for a full penalty. Bird split the uprights for 16-20.
Sutheran took the restart under pressure and a delicate chip through from new full-back Smales on 57 minutes saw Moralee unlucky to knock on the ball over the Leeds line under pressure.
Alnwick got the ball back from the restart and Leeds were soon penalised for not rolling away, again Bird adding the three points for 19-20, with less than 20 minutes to go.
Alnwick are used to winning games in the final quarter this season, having done so against Morpeth and Cleckheaton recently; they needed something similar here.
More excellent defence from the back row of Smith, Bird and Gray kept out Leeds, who passed up the opportunity of a kick at goal, opting instead for a line-out which came to nought.
After a clearance kick from Warcup, excellent line speed from Alnwick saw Burn force a mistake from Leeds full-back Booth; Sutheran’s size 12 prodded it through and Moralee outpaced the covering defence to gather and go under the posts to the delight of the Greensfield crowd. Bird had an easy conversion for 26-20.
For the final few minutes, Alnwick defended heroically, without losing their discipline for more than 30 phases.
Every player in the side made tackles, eventually forcing a loose pass that was knocked on.
This brought the final whistle and deserved celebrations for the home side, who appear never to know when they are beaten.
Man-of-the-match: James Bird (the club thanked Northern Property Finance for their sponsorship).
Alnwick: Philips, Burn, Smith, Young, Sutheran, Bird, Smith, Gray; Burn, Warcup, Mallaburn, Hutchinson, Cuthbert, Moralee, Burn. Subs: Clayton, Davies, Smales.
Alnwick’s next match is at home against Dinnington on Saturday, kick-off 3pm.
ALNWICK 3rds...58 WHITLEY BAY ROCKCLIFFE VIKINGS...26
Captain Armstrong and manager Stoker had at their disposal a mixture of the young and not-so-young ensuring a comfortable win for Alnwick over their south Northumberland visitors.
Dodds, joining the line from full back, opened the scoring after five minutes.
Shortly afterwards, a good carry by Frater supported by Swordy and Tulip added further pressure before Angus made a clean break and off-loaded to Swordy to score.
Angus then scored himself after Philipson broke down the right. Thompson, looking sharp despite this being his first game after his honeymoon, scored a push-over try to bring the score to 31-7.
The second half saw a more determined effort by the visitors as Alnwick lost the influential McKenna. However, fellow lock Tulip took up the baton, supplying Swordy who completed his hat-trick bettered only by Angus who was to cross the line four times.
The second half was much more competitive but a good all-round performance by all the home team players cemented victory. It was encouraging to see those who have played at a higher level coming back to enjoy their rugby and ensure that Alnwick continue to sustain a third 15.