North One East – Alnwick 24 Driffleld 19
On a warm and sunny early autumn day with a modest breeze and a pitch which did credit to the ground staff of Dallas Allen, Ian Donkin and John Spours, conditions were just about perfect for some open rugby.
With honours even from last season’s encounters and both sides having won their opening matches this year, Driffield were keen to end their run of defeats at Greensfield while Alnwick were eager for a home win to keep their supporters happy and impress match sponsors LSTC and new kit sponsors MSP.
The initial exchanges from Alnwick’s kick-off into the sun and breeze resulted in a penalty on the Driffield 10metre line which saw Bird’s effort go adrift in the wind.
The drop-out gave Alnwick a line-out on their left, and on winning the throw the ball was whipped out smartly to the right where Bird was up in the line to release Shell who had the pace to get past the defence and touch down wide out on the right.
An excellent conversion from Bird across the wind and after only five minutes Alnwick were 7-0 up.
That was as easy as it was going to get in the first half as Driffield were straight back on to the attack with crisp handling among the forwards and strong running from the backs.
A Driffield attack up the centre caught Alnwick offside and stand-off Kitchins knocked over the kick for 7-3.
Alnwick were soon again on the back foot and only some handling errors by Driffield and some grim defending kept the score down. Inevitably the pressure began to tell and Alnwick were trapped into the old bad habit of conceding penalties in the loose.
The next 10 minutes saw a determined series of threats by Driffield and after some indifferent tackling, only determined defending saved Alnwick’s bacon, but another penalty conceded 28metres out in front of the posts was slotted tidily by Kitchins to reduce the arrears to 7-6.
Driffield were now on the front foot and the pressure resulted in a ruck on the Alnwick line, where a surprising yellow card for Hamilton and a simple penalty kick for Kitchins put the visitors 7-9 up.
Alnwick responded almost immediately and crept back in front by 10-9 when Bird coolly nailed a penalty from Driffield’s 22metre line.
The lead did not last long as Driffield forwards and backs combined good handling and support with some forceful running which wrong footed Alnwick’s would-be tacklers and, although the attack was held briefly near the Alnwick line, Driffield captain Paul Dervey pounded through from short range to score by the posts to give the reliable Kitchins a simple conversion (10-16).
Not to be outdone, Alnwick stormed back and saw a mighty Bird penalty attempt fall agonisingly short, but from a successful Alnwick scrum, scrum-half Moralee spotted a gap and was away like a whippet to score between the posts without a hand being laid on him.
Bird added the conversion to make it 17-16 at the break, a score which perhaps slightly flattered Alnwick but overall a fair reflection of the first half exchanges.
The first 10 minutes after the resumption saw Sordy replaced by Jamie Grey and a continuation of attack and counter by the forwards and backs of both sides.
A handling error by Driffield after winning a line-out near their own line allowed Hamilton to batter the defence from the base of the ensuing scrum before slipping the ball to Warcup in top gear who displayed power and determination to break past through defenders and touch down under the posts.
Bird again converted (24-16).
Although the struggle was still fairly even, Alnwick were starting to get the upper hand as fitness began to tell.
All the forwards were putting in the work, particularly the very effective back-row of Hamilton, Gothorp and Whitlow, which gave space for some sharp movement in the backs which could have resulted in more tries.
Todd appeared to have scored, having shown good speed to round the defence, but play was brought back for a forward pass.
An injury to Todd brought on replacement Weddell and Bird made a good break up the left but lost his support as he drifted inside and saw the chance go to waste with a casual inside pass.
Some good tactical kicking from Warcup kept Driffield pegged back but as the game passed into the closing phases, Driffield looked for a losing bonus point as Kitchins notched the final score of the game with a penalty from 30metres out (24-19).
With time running out ,Maugham replaced Gothorp in the back-row and Alnwick gained a penalty far out on the right.
Perhaps remembering a lesson from last season, they wisely opted for safety and the four points by going for goal rather than risk a misfire at the line-out and the possibility of a disastrous breakaway try.
All that was left was the missed kick and the referee’s final whistle.
This was another excellent team effort and marked Frank Hutchinson’s 100th league game for Alnwick.
A dedicated and wholehearted player, he was warmly applauded in the clubhouse as president Danny Hodgson presented him with a tankard as a well-merited mark of recognition for his consistent commitment and loyalty to the club.
Well played indeed.
Team: J Bird, A Shell, R Mallaburn, F Hutchinson, H Todd, J Warcup, P Moralee, R Elliot, H Sordy, B Boothman (C), J Burgess, A Alexander, A Whitlow, J Hamilton, B. Gothorp. Subs used: P Maughan, J Weddell, J Grey.
Referee: Graham Cooper (Northumberland Society).
Next game: Pocklington, away.