Alnwick 16-16 Morpeth
Last season’s clashes with local rivals Morpeth proved to be close encounters with Alnwick winning all three games, 9-8 at home, 17-23 away and 11-7 to win the County Cup.
It was therefore an eagerly awaited start to the league season when Alnwick hosted the game last Saturday on a sunny, if breezy, September afternoon.
Morpeth began positively, openside Craigs posting his intent for the afternoon with a forceful run at the Alnwick forwards.
However, it was the home side who drew first blood when Davies, also playing at 7 and also having an influential game, charged down a kick and followed up to touch down for an unconverted try on five minutes. 5-0.
Morpeth came back strongly with their heavier scrum providing a solid platform and although Alnwick forwards gave as much, and more, as their visitors in the loose, their sterling efforts were to take a toll as the afternoon progressed.
On the 30 minute mark, encouraged by some previous slick handling, Alnwick attempted to run the ball out of their own 22 but a forward pass led to a scrum with Morpeth scoring a converted push over try. 5-10.
Such was the see-saw nature of this game that Alnwick were not down for long and Hamish Burn provided the perfect reply to Morpeth pressure with a break down the left scoring an unconverted try. 10-10
Ellis came on at no. 8 for Alnwick after the break and the home side were soon ahead with a successful Bird penalty, Morpeth penalised for lying on the ball. 10-13.
Then, almost immediately, it was Alnwick’s turn to incur the displeasure of the referee and Morpeth accepted three points 13-13.
Alnwick backs are a threat to any team and Morpeth did well to halt penetrating runs by Callum Burn and Bird. Never-the-less, the visitors themselves applied pressure all afternoon and Alnwick were caught off-side to allow the dependable Hornby to put the visitors in front. 13-16.
Hutchinson was now on the field and Mclaughlin replaced Smith in the front row for a short period. Morpeth pressure began to tell and Alnwick were to bring players off only to have to send them back on again.
An infringement by Morpeth with ten minutes to go led to a Bird penalty levelling the score 16-16.
By now only relieving kicks up field by standoff Warcup were keeping Alnwick in the game and it was from one of these kicks that Alnwick found themselves in a position to, unsuccessfully, attempt a drop kick.
However, when the final whistle blew, perhaps it was the home side that welcomed it the most. The Dave Routledge Salver for man of the match, awarded each time the two teams play, went to Morpeth full back Jonny Ward.
Morpeth dominated the set pieces in this match. Their lineouts went largely according to plan and their front five, in particular were too strong and experienced for the younger and lighter Alnwick scrum.
The home side enjoyed poor lineout ball and struggled in the scrum. Lenient officiating by referee Wrightson, who likes to keep the game flowing, perhaps prevented Morpeth being awarded more penalties for scrum infringements.
However, Alnwick forwards must be commended for sticking to their task and giving their backs, respected by every team in the league, the chance to show their skills.
Alnwick are way next week to Penrith who beat Cleckheaton 38-20 in their first game of the season.