Alnwick 14 Wheatley Hills 8
North One East
This was another excellent home performance by the young Alnwick side that did the large crowd proud as the president of the RFU Bob Reeves officially opened the £250,000 improvements to the club, writes Bob Bingham.
But this was no easy victory. Wheatley Hills had a very mature pack, but behind the front eight they seemed to run out of ideas and the fast-running Alnwick backs were able to cope with them and their tackling was outstanding.
The front row, with the return of Jonty Johnson, certainly appeared to have more fight in it, backed up by Ben Boothman and the ever-dependable Harry Sordy.
The second row of Josh Burgess and Ollie Sutheran probably had their best game for a while and, once again, the back row of Thompson, Smith and Hamilton disrupted many of the Wheatley attacks.
Scrum-half Ian Gray continues to be the play-maker and has this ability to get through holes in defences that no other team member would even attempt.
Along with Warcup, he kept the line moving well and the three-quarters of Mallaburn and Hutchinson in the centre, Moralee and Shell on the wings and Bird at full-back made some crunching tackles and great runs between them.
Wheatley were not a huge side in stature, but were pretty solid in the forwards.
In the first half, as Alnwick put pressure on them, they only seem to be interested in getting the ball and kicking for touch, so the forwards could grind it out from there.
Spectators soon found that Bird was on form with his kicking when he launched a long-range effort to touch.
Alnwick began to attack. The backs gained great ground. The ball from the loose suddenly appeared in prop Boothman’s hands – he drove for the line with the pack in support and touched down close to the posts. Bird had a simple kick (7-0).
At this stage, two straightforward mistakes cost Alnwick dearly.
Bird made a great break. He was tackled and the ball came back to Warcup, but his kick went straight to touch.
A few minutes later, Bird again fired a great kick. This time, the ball went along the line, but the move was let down by a bad pass to Rory Mallaburn.
The Yorkshire exchange referee seemed to find continued fault with Alnwick’s play and, from the fourth penalty of the afternoon, Woodcock converted (7-3).
The only time the Alnwick line was seriously threatened was just on the half-time whistle, but the home defence stood strong and kept out the Yorkshire attack.
Burgess was putting in some hard work and Alnwick at last got out of their half after repelling some stout pressure from the visitors.
The backs and forwards worked the ball downfield. It was then spun out to Shell who made an excellent break to score wide out.
No problem for Bird, who converted with ease (14-3).
For quite long periods in the second half, play seemed to move between the two 22metre lines but in their first serious attack, the Wheatley forwards gained ground and up popped scrum-half Poste to score (14-8).
Bird was enjoying himself – he was able to cope with the Wheatley Hills kicks out of defence and return them with interest or join in the attack as he did with Shell, which made good ground.
The penalty count against Alnwick continued to tick over. The home side were eventually awarded one by referee Penfold and Warcup made a lot of yardage with his kick.
Special mention must be made of young Nick Lundy who came on as a replacement prop and more than held his own; also O Hamilton, who came on in the back-row.
As a result of the victory, Alnwick move up three places in the league, but there are only a handful of points between the bottom five. It is going to be a hard season.
Next week, Alnwick will enjoy the delights of West Hartlepool who are running well up the league.
Alnwick: J Bird, A Shell, R Mallaburn, F Hutchinson, P Moralee, J Warcup, I Gray, B Boothman, H Sordy, A Johnston, O Southeran, J Burgess, G Smith, R Thompson, J Hamilton. Replacements: O Hamilton, N Lundy, G Potts.