Gritty Alnwick see off fourth placed Sandal at Greensfield

Alnwick Rugby v Sandal. Picture by Steve Miller
Alnwick Rugby v Sandal. Picture by Steve Miller

Alnwick RFC 20-13 Sandal

Going into this match, Sandal, sitting fourth in the league, may well have hoped, possibly even expected, to secure the points to consolidate their league position.

They will now know, as others have learned, that this Alnwick side are not to be taken lightly. Disparity in league positions counts for little and every match will be extremely competitive. This one was no exception.

The earlier heavy showers had disappeared by kick-off time leaving a clear, bright afternoon and although the pitch was inevitably soft, the windless conditions were favourable for an open game.

Both sides were evenly matched in all areas and the result could have gone either way or indeed ended up as a draw. Neither side gained a marked superiority in the set pieces or the loose, and both sets of backs made good use of quick re-cycling by their industrious forwards.

Sandal kicked off up the slope with Alnwick facing an awkward low sun but for the opening 10 minutes Sandal were under continuous pressure before getting into Alnwick’s half.

Alnwick, however, were still intent on attacking and from forward probes following a scrum on their own 10 metre line looked to launch their backs down the right flank but with Moralee up in the attack an interception by centre Frewin gave him a clear run to the line with Wood making it 0-7 after 14 minutes, rather against the run of play.

Alnwick benefitted from a couple of penalties and came close when a secondary drive from a line out was deemed to have been held up.

The next period was played out largely between in midfield lines but Alnwick were nearly undone shortly before the interval. A break from half-way left full-back Moralee facing a two-on-one situation on his own 22 and a pass to the right would have brought a certain try but by taking the inside option Alnwick were allowed to smother the opportunity.

Sandal would rue this error almost immediately as a penalty to Alnwick gave them a line-out some 30 metres from Sandal’s line. Alnwick tidied up a messy tap-back and from the ensuing ruck stand-off Callum Burn brushed aside an attempted tackle before rocketing down the right touch-line to score in the corner. Bird was unable to convert and the half ended 5-7.

The second half was only nine minutes old when another searing break by Callum Burn forced Sandal to yield a penalty from his chip and chase which Bird slotted easily for 8-7.

Sandal were briefly back in the lead as a Wood penalty made it 8-10 but Alnwick immediately re-applied some pressure and when a Sandal counter attack was halted on half-way, Gothorp put in a powerful drive from the ensuing scrum.

Two thumping forward drives followed before the ball was released to Callum Burn who put in a tasty chip under pressure. Moralee just got his toe to the ball ahead of the retreating defence to knock it over the line and had the speed to beat full-back Townend to the touchdown. Bird’s conversion attempt hit the post but at 13-10 it was anybody’s game.

Sandal were unfortunate not to draw level when a Wood penalty hit the post but he made no mistake with a further penalty for 13-13 with eight minutes left on the clock.

A draw was looking increasingly likely but Alnwick kept the pressure on and winger Holmes nearly scored in the corner after taking a superb catch from a cross-field kick by Moralee.

In the aftermath, Townend seemed to have relieved the pressure with a hefty kick into Alnwick’s half but flanker Courty fielded the ball and wrong-footed everyone with a turbo-charged run to outpace his pursuers and score a memorable try in the right corner. Bird’s excellent conversion from wide out made the final score 20-13.

Alnwick earned this excellent win through skill, speed and determination. Sandal may be disappointed to have only taken a losing bonus point but it could be some small consolation to know that few sides have left Greensfield with anything to show.

* Saturday’s match was generously sponsored by YoungsRPS.

Alnwick: P. Moralee (Captain), S. Atkinson, R. Cuthbert, R. Mallaburn, M. Holmes, C. Burn, J. Burn, C. Philipps, H. Burn, C. Greer, J. Bird, J. Young, B. Courty, J. Hamilton, B. Gothorp. Subs: D. Smith, S. Hutchinson, M. Gray.

Referee: Adam Morrison (Durham Sociaty)

Next Match: Billingham (Away) Saturday, December 1. Kick-off 2.15pm.