Alnwick round off season in style with championship win

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Morpeth RFC 10-34 Alnwick RFC

Alnwick travelled to Mitford Road on Saturday to play local rivals Morpeth, needing only a point to guarantee the North One East League title, but looking for much more than that against a side they are unbeaten against in their previous eight meetings.

Having lost narrowly in a number of these games, and after an early season draw at Greensfield, Morpeth must have felt they had a chance of derailing the neighbours’ promotion bid; however this was soon snuffed out.

Alnwick welcomed regular goal-kicker Bird back at number eight, the only change in the pack, and in the back line Mallaburn came in for the injured Cuthbert. M. Gray returned to the squad as one of three forwards on the bench, a nod to the power of Morpeth’s pack.

However, this pre-conceived strength myth was dismissed early on, as the Alnwick pack obliterated the home forwards off their own ball at the scrum; no mean feat given the weight difference, in the front row particularly!

In fact this was the beginning of a long day for Messrs.’ Hill and Moody; Morpeth’s captain struggled to throw a lineout ball in straight all day and vociferously took exception to most of Referee Crozier’s calls, whilst prop Moody was sin-binned in the second half for a petulant elbow with things not going his way.

Alnwick got on the front foot immediately, Bird knocking over a penalty from the twenty-two after a deliberate knock on from Ward (0-3).

They then stretched their lead further. A well-placed box kick from captain Moralee was gathered at a canter by Bird on the Morpeth ten-metre line. He passed to prop Smith who popped the ball up for Moralee as he overtook him, beating all and sundry to the line for his 20th try of the season! Bird added the extras and Alnwick were already comfortable (0-10).

Sutheran took the restart with aplomb and Smales was released down the left hand side for a dangerous attack, but unfortunately this came to naught. Morpeth did manage to trouble the scoreboard after about twenty minutes, from range following an Alnwick misdemeanor in a ruck (3-10).

From this point the Blue & Gold attack kept coming in waves. Excellent breaks through the home defence by Bird, Hamilton, Burn et al created good scoring opportunities but Alnwick were only able to collect three more points from the boot of Bird before the half time whistle. Half time Morpeth 3-13 Alnwick.

In the second half Alnwick began to assert their authority on the game, in front of a large crowd enjoying the fine weather and beer festival. It was therefore no coincidence that it was the travelling support that cheered longest and loudest as the day wore on.

Strong carries by Hamilton, Mallaburn & Hutchinson brought Alnwick into the Morpeth twenty two where only a tackler not rolling away prevented a try.

Under the Morpeth posts Alnwick opted for a scrum and were close to bulldozing their adversaries backwards over their own line, but for the ball to emerge at the last moment. Not panicking, they retained possession, launching a series of assaults on the home sides’ line through backs and forwards, before finally Bird broke through and scored under the posts, adding a simple conversion himself (3-20).

It really was a fine example of ball retention under pressure, and was yet another area where Morpeth could not match their visitors.

At this point Gray came on to replace Sutheran, Clayton for Smith and Blackett for Green, adding fresh legs to the Alnwick pack. Morpeth gained a bit of territory from the restart and looked to move the ball wide; however they were shut down by Alnwick’s resolute defence, and could only cough the ball up to the grateful Hutchinson.

Forwards and backs linked in midfield, Courty releasing Smales and Burn who made excellent ground into the Morpeth half. Flanker Hamilton, hungry to get across the whitewash had another powerful run stopped just short, but the home side were powerless to stop Mallaburn on the left wing as Hutchinson floated a lovely final pass out to him. Bird, now enjoying himself very much, added the extras (3-27).

Alnwick scored a fifth try from another lightening turnover and break. Smales kicked the ball downfield and put the retreating full back under pressure. The ball was lost forwards in the tackle at the next phase and Young gave Alnwick a good platform on the Morpeth twenty-two.

Moralee put in a very well executed cross-field kick from the ruck and Callum Burn had an easy collection to score his 16th try of the season. Again Bird added the conversion (3-34) and the away supporters were in fine voice, enjoying the festivities both on and off the field!

Morpeth did register a score very late in the game, a tired tackle allowing hard-carrying flanker Craigs to cross for a consolation try which was converted (10-34).

After this, all that was left was for Hamilton to parade one final barnstorming run, ignoring the supporting Moralee and powering his way to the line himself, only to leave the ball just short and a turnover to the home side. Final score Morpeth 10 – 34 Alnwick.

This was a very professional victory for Alnwick, yet somehow felt fairly routine.

They will meet much better sides than this next season in the North Premier, and it is both reassuring and a sign of how good they have become that they venture away from home and dispatch their most bitter of rivals so comprehensively and without fuss.

In doing so they also retained the Dave Routledge Trophy for the ninth occasion running and supporters of both clubs must now wonder when the next meeting of the two sides will be.

Thanks to all of the travelling supporters and those who have put in a great deal of effort throughout the league season. Alnwick are worthy winners of a truly excellent division of English rugby, and have an opportunity to add the Northumberland Senior County Cup to their now much-needed trophy cabinet, when they play Percy Park in the final at Ashington RFC on Tuesday 1st May.

Alnwick: D Smith, L Green, C Philips, J Young, O Sutheran, B Courty, J Hamilton, J Bird, P Moralee, J Warcup, J. Burn, F. Hutchinson, R Mallaburn, C Burn, J Smailes. Subs From: D Clayton, A Blackett, M Gray.