The World Cup might currently be the main attraction, but at Alnwick it was business as usual with the home side going head to head with local rivals Percy Park.
They arrived intent on building on their recent narrow victory over Alnwick in the Northumberland Senior Cup .
Alnwick were equally keen to extract a measure of vengeance by reversing the earlier result and build on the previous week’s win against Wheatley Hills.
The generosity of match sponsors Hackett Chains and kit sponsors ‘msp’ was supplemented by M. Courty who provided Alnwick with new shorts, whiter than Persil whiteness in the autumn sunshine and dazzling all around as Alnwick kicked off down the slope with the gentlest of north-east breezes behind them.
Park were immediately on the attack as their forwards gathered the kick and put in a strong surge before releasing the backs. In the opening minutes, Park’s quick re-cycling, strong running and tidy handling looked threatening but only flattered to deceive as several waves of attacks foundered Alnwick’s solid and well organised defences.
As a kick to half-way relieved the initial pressure , Alnwick forwards began to wrest the initiative from Park and No.8 Ellis, continuing his excellent form of late, was unfortunate to see his pass intercepted after a trade-mark break. Two long range penalty attempts by Calum Burn were narrowly wide although having the distance but Park were unable to ease the pressure through either of the following drop-outs and any attempt to break up-field was stifled by Alnwick’s consistently excellent line-speed and solid tackling.
An Alnwick steal saw Mallaburn’s strong run up the left end in touch but Park’s line-out misfired and from the loose Alnwick’s forwards took play almost to Park’s line where quick re-cycling allowed Todd to dart through and score from close range, with Burn’s conversion making 7 – 0.
For the remaining 10 minutes to half-time Alnwick applied continuous pressure and kept such a tight stranglehold on Park that they rarely managed to progress as far half-way. Try as they might, Alnwick could never quite penetrate Park’s defences to create another score.
If the score of 7 – 0 at the interval was considerably less than Alnwick might have expected from their possession and territorial superiority, it was rather more due to Park’s stubborn defence than any failings in Alnwick’s attacking efforts.
Alnwick received a rude awakening within 90 seconds of the re-start. A rare handling error from Park’s kick off allowed the visitors to pile on forward pressure and create space for full-back Grove to scoot over in the left-hand corner for an unconverted try for 7 – 5.
The status quo was restored almost immediately when the industrious flanker Grey touched down following a strong Alnwick drive, giving them a 14 – 5 lead as Burn added the conversion. Park’s re-start was too long but from Alnwick’s deep drop-out Park began to pin Alnwick back until prop Smith relieved the pressure with a smart break upfield. Park were able to retrieve the ball but a speculative chip ahead found Cuthbert near half way and the young winger out-paced the defence up the touchline for an excellent individual try which Burn converted for 21 – 5.
During the following 15 minutes both sides struggled for domination and although Park went for line-outs from a couple of penalties Alnwick kept them out in a close-quarters tussle. A 5 metre line-out from a further penalty set up an untidy drive from which flanker Dubois got over for an unconverted try 21 – 10.
With 10 minutes left Alnwick stretched their lead to 26 - 10 following a 5 metre line-out gained from a penalty. Secure ball was shipped quickly to stand-off Burn who slipped through the defence and stretched out of a tackle to score, but missed the conversion.
Even at this late stage, Park were still competing gamely and, benefiting from a couple of penalties, were able to set up an attack in the centre before switching the ball along the backs for winger Baldwin to score for 26 – 15 with the conversion missed.
That was Park’s last hurrah but Alnwick had the final word when Gothorpe got just reward for his tireless grafting by blasting through Park’s defences and romping in from 25 metres to score by the post and give Burn a simple conversion ahead of the final whistle for a well-deserved 33 – 15 win.