Penrith 21-3 Alnwick
This was always going to be one of the toughest away games of the season as Penrith have not been beaten at home and would be seeking revenge for their defeat at Greensfield when they visited Alnwick in October.
A 9am inspection deemed the pitch playable, with Penrith not being affected by the frosts found in North Northumberland. Alnwick arrived at this most picturesque ground, which had magnificent views of the hills of the Northern Lakes covered in snow, to find a strong wind blowing down the pitch, which eased to a stiff breeze by kick-off.
Alnwick kicked off with the breeze behind them, playing down the slight slope. The kick-off saw Alnwick gaining the ball, then playing a promising phase of rugby. A strong burst by Bird deep into the Penrith 25 ended when Duncan Smith failed to gather a pass.
Penrith then counter-attacked, with the referee playing advantage, only to be stopped by an excellent tackle by Bird. After 10 minutes Penrith intercepted an Alnwick pass deep in their own 25 and once again counter-attacked, only to knock the ball on in the Alnwick 25 when there was a good opportunity to score a try.
Most of the first half was played in the Penrith half, with good probing kicks from both stand-off Warcup and scum-half Moralee. However, the Penrith defence was good at thwarting the Alnwick attacks. Alnwick’s tackling was equally as good, denying Penrith the opportunity of getting into the Alnwick half for nearly most of the opening 40 minutes.
After 14 minutes a strong burst by Alnwick’s prop Phillips took Alnwick into the Penrith 25. Moralee, in support, took on the play and his attack earned them a penalty on the 25m line for holding on to the ball by Penrith at the ruck, which was converted by Bird. Alnwick opening the score at 0-3.
The first half saw some good passages of play by both sides. After 22 minutes Penrith made their second venture into the Alnwick half. Alnwick were penalised for not rolling away and the Penrith number 10 Fearson converted the penalty, making the score 3-3.
Penrith only entered the Alnwick half once more in the first half, this being a credit to Alnwick’s spirited attacking play and resolute tackling, particularly by the back row of Hamilton, Gothorp and Gordon Smith.
After 37 minutes Alnwick won their own scrum and passed the ball out to captain Hutchinson, who made a strong run into the Penrith half, starting a good passage of play which saw Warcup making an excellent kick deep into the Penrith 25, but the ball disappointingly rolled in to the dead ball area.
The first half ended with another good passage of play between Gothord, Moralee and Hutchinson, with Hutchinson being stopped by a great tackle by Penrith just short of their try line. This was the last of the play of the first half, with the score at 3-3 and Alnwick not being able to take full advantage of playing down the slope.
Penrith re-started the game in the second half with a strong attack, resulting in an overlap, which was wasted by a Penrith knock-on. The resulting scrum saw a Bird and Warcup break stopped by a high tackle by Penrith, which went unpenalised.
The second half was played mainly in the middle of pitch, with both sides’ attacks being stopped by some good tackling. After 15 minutes Alnwick were penalised for handling in a ruck, with Penrith converting he penalty, making the score 6-3.
This seemed to lift the Penrith players, who stepped up their attack, forcing Alnwick to make infringements and resulting in captain Hutchinson being warned twice by referee for repeated offences by the Alnwick team. Twenty minutes into the second half Penrith converted another penalty, taking the score to 9-3.
Then 22 minutes in Moralee was harshly yellow-carded for stepping too quickly in the Penrith scrum, taking the brunt of the referee’s patience running out for repeated offences by Alnwick.
This was the turning point of the game, with Penrith taking advantage of Alnwick playing with only 14 men by scoring two tries, one converted. Clayton replaced Phillips in the front row and Ellis replaced Gordon Smith in the back. These changes, plus the return of Moralee to the pitch, lifted Alnwick, who played some spirited rugby, but were unable to reduce the difference in the score.
Penrith were themselves reduced to 14 men after half an hour for a yellow card for a high tackle. It was when Penrith were a player short that Alnwick had their best attack of the half. Three good phases of play created an overlap, only for Ali Gray to appear to stumble whilst delivering the final try scoring-in pass, making it a difficult ball to catch and resulting is Bird knocking on with a clear overlap in view.
The final 10 minutes of the game were equally matched without further score by either side, and the referee blew the whistle with the final score remaining at 21-3 to Penrith.
A spirited display by Alnwick who were beaten on the day by a better team who are looking for promotion, which is not yet out of Alnwick’s grasp.
Alnwick: J Bird, A Gray, R Mallaburn, F Hutchinson (capt), P Robinson, J Warcup, P Moralee, B Gothorp, J Hamilton, G Smith, M Grey, O Sutheran, D Smith, H Burn, C Phillips, Subs: D Clayton, R Ellis.
Referee: Adam Morrison
Next Match: Durham City (home) on January 28, KO 2.15pm.