WHEATLEY HILLS 3
On a dry, bright Yorkshire afternoon, this match had the potential to be an open and entertaining encounter.
Sadly for the spectators, it drooped into a dour and undistinguished tussle between Alnwick’s ambitious approach and Wheatley’s grim determination to keep that ambition in check.
Any attempt to play expansive rugby came mainly from Alnwick but the flow of the game was all too often disrupted through unforced errors by both sides, and, in the second half, by halts for injuries among the home side.
With only a bonus point from their three opening matches, the current season had not started well for Wheatley Hills but even with a side depleted by retirements and injuries their performance on Saturday showed plenty of resilience and determination which should be grounds for optimism.
Alnwick meanwhile, perhaps bearing in mind Wheatley’s recent record, went into this match in confident mood and from Wheatley’s kick off into a brisk wind, a Moralee punt immediately took play into Wheatley’s 22 where the outcome of a Hamilton turnover was a penalty which Bird nailed comfortably for 0 – 3 with only two minutes of the game gone.
From the re-start a strong break by Bird was held up short of the line and an Alnwick knock-on in the loose gave Wheatley the chance to clear their lines from the 5 metre scrum.
For the next 15 minutes it was mainly Alnwick pressure but a combination of haste and over-enthusiasm failed to produce a score where a more measured approach might have served them better against the stubborn Wheatley defence.
Although the penalty count overall was almost even, Wheatley were able to relieve the pressure as decisions at this stage went in their favour, notably gaining 25m when a clearance kick went directly into touch following a pass back into Wheatley’s 22.
In the event, it mattered little as neither side could establish any measure of control of possession or territory as play largely swayed between the 22 metre lines.
Alnwick’s backs tried repeatedly to penetrate Wheatley’s defiant defence but could never quite find the gaps and errors or the opposition halted their progress.
The dying embers of the half sparked briefly into life as Bird kicked a second penalty for 0 – 6 with six minutes left, only for Gillvray to get Wheatley’s only score of the match with a penalty to make it 3 – 6 two minutes later.
Following some loose play after Alnwick’s well placed re-start drop-out, hooker Hamish Burn broke clear into Wheatley’s 22 and determinedly strode out of attempted tackles to score an unconverted try in the left corner for a 3 – 11 lead at half-time.
The first 25 minutes after the interval followed much the same disappointing pattern as the first half, but even with more of the early penalties going their way, Wheatley’s spirited efforts to claw a way back into the game came to nought and were not helped by niggling stoppages for injuries to their players.
Alnwick’s backs came close to scoring a couple of times, and from a five metre line-out following a penalty, it was with some satisfaction that their catch-&-drive drove through Wheatley’s bulky pack for Hamish Burn to claim his second try, Calum Burn converting for 3 – 18.
In the remaining ten minutes it was Alnwick backs who threatened and centre Sean Hutchinson was unlucky to be penalised when chasing a Moralee chip ahead but despite their efforts it was the forwards day for scoring tries.
With only minutes remaining Alnwick attacked up the centre from a line-out on the left deep in Wheatley’s 22 and no one was going to take the ball from the hard-working prop Duncan Smith as the pack drove him over for an unconverted try and 3 – 23.
Alnwick might have wished for a few more minutes to look for another try and a bonus point but time ran out leaving them deserved winners, but if one can be unhappy with an away win, perhaps just a little disappointed not to have stamped their obvious superiority more emphatically on a struggling side