Percy Park 16-27 Alnwick
Alnwick travelled to Preston Avenue for the first time since late 2016 on Saturday, for a re-arranged fixture between two sides at opposite ends of the table, in what is the first of three instalments of their rivalry this season.
Alnwick welcomed back scrum half Ord and second row Sutheran to the bench, the rest of the side unchanged from last weeks’ excellent comeback win at Dinnington.
The game began as league form might suggest, with Alnwick dominating possession. An excellent break by J Burn down the wing should have brought the opening score of the day but he ignored Moralee outside him and turned in-field only to be caught by the covering defence.
The Blue n Gold back line was causing no end of problems for the home side, with the back three linking very well in the outside channels, and Alnwick had another chance in the opening exchanges, but centre Hutchinson couldn’t get the ball away as he was tackled, and the overlap wasn’t found.
Percy Park came back into the game after 15 minutes, winning a succession of penalties from referee Manley of Morpeth, first clearing their lines, then kicking into the Alnwick half, before eventually being close enough for a shot at goal, well converted by Grove for 3-0.
Alnwick got on the board moments later, when, from a turnover, the ball came wide to the left and C Burn put Brother Jonny in for the opening try, beating the cover defence to score wide. The conversion narrowly missed by Bird (3-5).
On 20 minutes Alnwick’s linespeed in defense was adjudged to have started early, and the resulting penalty for offside kicked by Grove for 6-5 to the home side. As before however, Alnwick responded by scoring a try of their own.
After some slick handling in the backs from Warcup, Hutchinson Burn and Smales, Jonny Burn found himself in again this time down the right flank, which Bird was able to convert for 6-12.
Alnwick’s scrum was going very well at this point, and they used this dominance to provide a great platform for a third try shortly before half time. Alnwick’s front row of Clayton, Green and Smith were on top of their opposite numbers, the forward unit propelled the Park pack backwards; Bird picked up and went blind, setting Moralee and then Smales away. He pulled in two defenders and offloaded superbly to give winger Scott Atkinson an easy score from 15m out (6-17).
All that was left for first half action was for referee Manley to award the home side another kickable penalty for Alnwick holding on from the restart; again Grove converted and the half time score was 9-17.
At the interval Philips came on for Clayton for the visitors.
In the second half Percy Park found themselves with more possession, and though the Alnwick defence was generally good, Phillips in particular made good ground for the home side, exerting more pressure. Only excellent tackling from the back row of Hamilton, Courty and Bird, as well as locks Young and Gray prevented further incursions, and Alnwick were generally able to win possession and clear their lines.
The game became a bit stop-start in the second period with neithr team able to consolidate possession of the ball for long periods. However, Alnwick were able to find Jonny Burn in space again, who scored two quick and almost identical tries down the left hand side.
After good work from the forwards in midfield, backs Warcup, Burn and Hutchinson found the prolific winger, who strolled in for his third and fourth tries of the afternoon. Bird was unable to add the conversions, and the score was very quickly 9-27.
At this point, Sutheran and Ord entered the fray from the bench, replacing Young and Warcup respectively, with Moralee moved to outside centre and Callum Burn to fly half.
For the final few minutes Alnwick saw little possession generally, but kept the Park ball carriers largely contained in midfield.
When Park kicked a penalty to the corner and opted for the drive, Alnwick defended well for a number of phases, until eventually Sutherland scored from a few metres out to reduce arrears to 16-27.
This was the final scoring play of the game and play was brought to a close when Alnwick turned possession over once more and cleared to touch.
In truth this was not a great performance from Alnwick, but a solid five point win away from home cannot be sniffed at.
These sides will meet again in the Northumberland Senior Cup Final at Ashington RFC on March 31 at 2pm, with Alnwick looking to retain the trophy they won last season. There will again be a supporters’ bus on for this fixture – please contact Dennis Hetherington for details.
Alnwick: Smith, Green, Clayton, Young, Gray, Courty, Hamilton, Bird. Moralee, Warcup, Burn, Hutchinson, Burn, Atkinson, Smales. Subs: Philips, Sutheran, Ord.