Alnwick surge through to a second successive County final

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Alnwick RFC 15-10 Morpeth RFC

Morpeth visited Greensfield last Saturday, for the second time this season, on this occasion to contest the semi-final of the Northumberland County Cup.

Alnwick were determined to defend the title they won against the same opposition last season and this, like most games between the sides of late, proved to be a tense affair.

Two changes for Alnwick from the side that started away at Cleckheaton last week saw experienced flanker Gordon Smith come in on the openside, and Jonathan Burn at scrum half. Alnwick started the game brightly and spent the opening few minutes in Morpeth territory.

Cuthbert and Moralee made good headway down the left and right wings respectively, however progress seemed to falter before genuinely threatening the Morpeth line.

Against the run of play the away side seized control of the game after 20 minutes when they broke upfield and into the Alnwick 22. After a number of phases they broke through the Blue & Gold defence to score through fly half Hornby, who converted himself (0-7).

Alnwick started to struggle with the sheer weight in the Morpeth pack and were finding it difficult to win their own scrum ball, instead conceding a couple of penalties.

Hornby attempted to add to the scoreboard but instead dragged his kick wide on 34 minutes and an excellent clearance kick from Callum Burn relieved some pressure.

At this point both sides lost an influential back row, Craigs for Morpeth, and Courty from Alnwick who took a knock to the head; the resourceful Charlie Davies on for the home side.

Right on the half time whistle Gordon Smith was harshly adjudged to be off his feet when he looked to have legally won the ball in a ruck. The resultant penalty this time dispatched by Hornby for 0-10 at the turn and Morpeth hoping they were halfway to a first victory over Alnwick in seven attempts.

Knowing they needed to retain possession better, Alnwick moved explosive full back Bird to the back Row, bringing on Smales, replaced prop Duncan Smith with Clayton and brought Ord on at 9; all three changes played a role in their first try of the afternoon.

The home side’s lineout, which had faltered, functioned better with reduced numbers and brought some powerful carries from Bird up the middle.

With quick ball, Phillips took the ball well and offloaded out of the tackle to set Clayton away. He held the fullback well and released Ord to score under the posts to the delight of the home crowd. Bird added the extras (7-10).

Sensing an opportunity Alnwick fly half Warcup turned the game in Alnwick’s favour, repelling another Morpeth attack with an excellent kick down to the Morpeth 5m line.

Captain and hooker Hill had struggled throughout in the face of the Alnwick lineout jumpers, but managed to get one here, which was cleared to the 22.

With a good platform and now able to retain possession, first Bird and then Davies carried well.

Spotting a mismatch Warcup cleverly isolated Hill in the line and put Callum Burn through to score on 60 minutes, the conversion unlucky to hit the upright (12-10).

Now Alnwick had something to defend, which they are all too used to doing, especially against an opposition who have not beaten them since early 2014.

Morpeth threw everything they had at the home side, but even when Sutheran was yellow-carded for pulling down a rolling maul they still could not beat the tireless Alnwick defence.

Perhaps tired after their exerts, Morpeth’s scrum dominance was gone, and Alnwick won clean ball in their 22 with the help of Hutchinson who joined Bird and Smith on the back row.

Warcup isolated Ward, who’d been Man of the Match the last time these sides met in early September, but he could not escape the onrushing tackle and threw the ball forwards trying to offload, which rather summed up his afternoon.

Alnwick won a penalty from their ensuing possession, which Bird was all too happy to slot, extending the home side’s lead despite their numerical disadvantage (15-10).

Back to a full complement for the final five minutes, Alnwick managed the game well in the opposition 22, allowing Morpeth possession knowing that their defence would prevent any breakaway.

Centres Cuthbert and Hutchinson tackled very well and eventually the ball was lost forwards, allowing Alnwick to clear out of play and advance to their second successive County Cup Final.

This also meant they retained the Brett Horse Trophy, played for every time these teams meet, with Alnwick centre Cuthbert winning the Dave Routledge Cup for his Man of the Match performance.

These sides now do not meet again until the final day of the North One East season, by which time the Northumberland County Cup will have its home once more. After a gritty display such as this, any team wishing to take it from Greensfield will be hard pushed.

Alnwick: Smith, Burn, Phillips, Young, Sutheran, Gray, Smith, Courty, Burn, Warcup, Moralee, Hutchinson, Cuthbert, Burn, Bird. Subs: Clayton, Davies, Fox, Ord, Mallaburn, Smales.

This week Alnwick 1sts host West Leeds, the 2nds are away to Middlesbrough.