Alnwick survive by skin of their teeth

The Alnwick Rugby Club first team squad.
The Alnwick Rugby Club first team squad.

Northern Division,

North One East

Rugby: Alnwick v Middlesborough at Greensfield Park

Rugby: Alnwick v Middlesborough at Greensfield Park

Saturday’s game was all about survival in the North One East League for both sides, writes John Ainsworth.

After two poor results, Alnwick needed a losing bonus point from this game to secure their place in the league next season and Middlesbrough had to stop them or at least score a win bonus themselves.

The visitors won the game but failed in the above objectives and will go down to Yorkshire One League next season.

Meanwhile, Morpeth were relegated to Durham and Northumberland One.

Rugby: Alnwick v Middlesborough at Greensfield Park

Rugby: Alnwick v Middlesborough at Greensfield Park

With so much at stake, this was a tense affair, reflected in the number of errors made by both sides and also the number of penalties conceded by both sides.

Middlesbrough were the first to profit by this lawlessness when Alnwick were caught not rolling away at a ruck.

O’Farrell struck three easy points in the fifth minute (0-3).

Alnwick went on the offensive to redress this error and put together some good moves with runs by Moralee and attempts by the Shell brothers to link up in the line but the visitors held firm.

Rugby: Alnwick v Middlesborough at Greensfield Park

Rugby: Alnwick v Middlesborough at Greensfield Park

However, pressure told and Middlesbrough were caught offside to give Bird an easy shot at goal which was missed.

Within a minute, he was presented with a much harder shot which he struck sweetly from 35 meters to level the scores (3-3).

Middlesbrough now came to the fore and pressed Alnwick into defence, where they performed admirably until Bellerby changed the angle of his run from the centre and caught the home defence flat-footed. He crossed the line midleft and O’Farrell added the extras (3-10).

With half-time approaching, Alnwick picked up the pace and forced their way into the visitors’ half.

Their line-out has not been the strongest part of their game in recent weeks but they were strong in the line and disrupted the visitors, who had some considerable height advantage, and possession from here forced Middlesbrough to concede a penalty for offside. Bird scored with the last kick of the half (6-10).

There must have been words of inspiration in the half-time talk as Alnwick came out fighting and laid siege to the Middlesbrough line, the next 25 minutes, apart from one lapse, was Alnwick’s best spell in the game.

The forwards led the way with good driving play and if the visitors did clear their line then Warcup’s kicking drove them back.

The Shell brothers on either wing both had good runs and Andrew was close with a chance wide right. But it was a winger of a different ilk who scored the first points of the half.

Alnwick had got close to the visitors’ line when Moralee broke right. He fed Hamilton, who, in turn, found his prop-forward Boothman on the wing and he crashed over wide right.

Bird could not add the points (11-10).

There is a maxim in sport that teams are at their most vulnerable after they have scored and this proved to be the case as Middlesbrough went straight into the Alnwick 25 and with a catch and drive from the line-out scored wide left through Pierce but the kick failed (11-15).

Rattled by this, Alnwick put the visitors under pressure again.

Some fine driving play from all the forwards with Gothorpe, Hamilton and Smith to the fore allowed Moralee to feed his backs. They, however, spurned a couple of chances, one possible and one probable when Gray and then Bird chose not to pass to Andrew Shell.

It was Ed Shell who bagged the next score. After being held up over the line, the powerful winger received a pass from Gothorpe, who had picked up at the base of the scrum, and he resisted tackles to touch down in the corner.

Again the strong wind foiled Bird’s kick (19-15).

Middlesbrough were now fighting for their survival and, for the remaining 15 minutes or so, forced Alnwick onto the back foot but good tackling from Hutchinson and Gray in the centre kept them at bay.

There was one lapse when a poor tackle on Metcalfe allowed him to run on and score under the posts and O’Farrell converted (19-22).

One more score would have seen the visitors safe but a tense 10 minutes saw Alnwick keep them out and greet the final whistle with a huge sigh of relief.

The forwards can take a lot from this game with locks Southeran and Alexander refusing to be bullied in the line and the front row of Elliott, Sordy, Boothman and sub Brown putting in anther excellent performance against bigger opponents.

This was Andrew Shell’s last game as captain and the prolific try-scorer can look back with considerable pride on his tenure.

Alnwick: J Bird, A Shell, I Gray, F Hutchinson, E Shell, J Warcup, P Moralee, R Elliott (P Brown, 40), H Sordy, B Boothman, O Southeran, A Alexander, G Smith, J Hamilton, B Gothorpe. Subs: R Thompson, G Potts. Referee: Mike Harrison, Northumberland Society.