Alnwick survive a Wheatley fight-back to take league points

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Of late, Alnwick’s visits to Wheatley Hills have produced mixed results, most recently a comprehensive defeat, but as their opponents are presently experiencing a rough patch the visitors might have been considered marginal favourites at the outset.

This was always going to be a highly competitive match but after a scintillating opening quarter where essentially the game was won and lost, Alnwick were made to work hard and scrap all the way to the final whistle.

With the pitch looking in good condition and the morning’s rain having given way to a brightening afternoon, Alnwick kicked off with the benefit of gentle breeze bearing a highly agricultural aroma.

The opening was inauspicious for both sides as Alnwick’s kick didn’t go 10 metres but then gained a free kick after Wheatley’s feed at the ensuing scrum. Ineffective kicking from Alnwick and careless handling by Wheatley only resulted in Alnwick losing their put-in at a scrum and yielding the first of the afternoon’s 12 penalties to Wheatley.

Wheatley’s attack up the centre from the line-out ended with a forward pass and a storming break by No.8 Ellis from the scrum released winger Cuthbert whose well-timed inside pass to Todd allowed him to canter over and score by the posts. Burn added the conversion to put Alnwick 0–7 in front after six minutes.

Despite conceding a penalty from the restart, Alnwick saw plenty of the ball and were prepared to move it quickly through the hands releasing the young winger Cuthbert on a promising run.

Solid Alnwick tackling and switching play across the field kept pressure on Wheatley and from an Alnwick line-out on half-way centre Mallaburn made good ground to the left where Todd was again in support to take the pass and dodge the defence for a try under the posts. Mallaburn added the extras for a 0–14 lead.

After a Wheatley attack up the centre was held, Todd, taking a ball under pressure near Wheatley’s 10 metre line, broke sharply up the left with Moralee coming into the line to take the inside pass and wrong-foot two defenders to score wide out for 0–19 with Burn missing the conversion.

Things were looking good for Alnwick and although their young front row fronted up nobly against their older, craftier and weightier opposite numbers in the scrums, the weight and power of Wheatley’s front five was having an effect.

In the 20 minutes before half time Wheatley were able to launch several attacks but were consistently repulsed by Alnwick’s top notch line-speed and excellent tackling.

Ultimately the pressure told. In injury time Alnwick lost Gothorp to a yellow card and conceded four penalties in quick succession as Wheatley took advantage of his absence, opting for 5m line scrums before achieving the desired penalty try which Cook converted for 7–19 at half-time.

Alnwick extended their lead soon after the interval as flanker Grey claimed the touch-down following a text-book catch-and drive from an Alnwick line-out for 7–24, Burn missing the conversion. That was to be Alnwick’s final score and Wheatley soon reduced the arrears as pressure on the left drew in the defence allowed winger Shaw ample room to cross, giving Cook a simple conversion for 14-24.

In the remaining 25 minutes Alnwick were put under almost constant pressure, not helped by relieving kicks missing touch, but a supremely determined team effort in defence saw them through and take home five valuable and thoroughly deserved points.

Alnwick’s next match is at home against Percy Park on Saturday, September 19 in the league.