ALNWICK RUFC U15s thwarted Billingham in an epic game of skill against scale.
The lads travelled to a fog-bound Billingham, where the cold, damp, breezeless conditions made the seven degrees C temperatures feel more like zero.
As the teams warmed up on the pitch, there was a clear difference in scale, both in size and numbers.
From the kick-off, Billingham dominated the play, driving Alnwick into the 22 and pinning them into defence.
Within five minutes, Billingham had scored a try and converted it for seven points (0-7).
At this stage, it was looking like it was going to be a long day at the office for the Alnwick squad, but they started to get to grips with the task competing particularly strongly for the ball in the loose.
Tom Curry, William Nelson and Aiden Reed hunted the ball at every opportunity. The ball came back to captain Callum Burns, who saw the Billingham full-back too close to his defensive back-line and launched a kick over his head. The subsequent chase saw the ball bounce perfectly into Burns’ hands. He went over the try-line and then converted for the equalising score (7-7).
The forward battle was intense with power-houses loose-head prop Matty Ginger and tight-head prop Danny Sinton linking with the tenacious Reed as hooker in the front row.
The scrum held strong and on occasions won turn-over ball, which given the scale of the opposition was extraordinary.
Nelson’s very welcome return from injury showed his lineage, downing any Billingham player with the ball regardless of size on his radar.
When Alex Robson retired due to knee injury, fly-half Joe Nicholson moved across to take up the role.
Such was the tempo of the game that the ball arrived on the Billingham 22 and the Alnwick forward recycled it to the back-line, landing in the hands of the human exorcet Joe Cowan, who at that range was not going to be stopped and delivered Alnwick’s second try, which he then converted (14-7).
Cowan was delivering the full repertoire during the game, taking out some marauding Billingham players with bone-crunching low tackles.
The fluency of Alnwick back-line of Ben Courty, Cowan, Tom Pattinson, Andrew Potts and the irrepressible Harry Ash and full-back captain Burns had the Billingham defence under the cosh not knowing whether the attack was coming from ball in hand or a laser kick to expose their last line of defence.
In the second half, the ball came out to Courty whose sheer power and speed took out the first Billingham defensive tackle with a strong hand-off and then accelerated into the 22, showing a clean pair of heels to the Billingham full-back. Courty went over the line for Alnwick’s third try which was converted by Burns (21-7).
Billingham started to press, taking ball in hand and using their large backs. Their progress was slow due to a solid Alnwick defence.
However, Alnwick were being pushed back by a succession of penalties for going over the ball in trying to retrieve it from a downed Billingham player. This gave Billingham the chance they had been looking for and they seized upon it for a solid try and conversion (21-14).
On the restart, the ball travelled into Billingham’s 22 and was rapidly chased down by the Alnwick forwards. A maul ensued and the ball was grappled out by Scott Harvey.
Burns scored his second try before the ball was fired out by Nicholson and the Alnwick backs launched their attack. Catching a low, flying ball, Potts drove through the ongoing defence and side-stepped the Billingham full-back to go over the line for a very well-deserved try (35-14).
Last try went to the Artful Dodger himself, Nicholson. Taking the ball from 10 metres out, he threaded his way through three players and despite a high tackle placed the ball over the try-line before stalling to recover himself (42-14).
In the last minutes of the game, Billingham were able to get over the line with a consolation try and a superbly-converted kick from close to the touch (42-21).
The blisteringly fast pace of Pattinson, Burns and Curry chasing down the offensive kick and the close support by the team and the commitment of all the Alnwick players to the tackle was pivotal in the match. Added to that was a 100 per cent kicking conversion from Burns and Cowan made the day very special.
The final score reflected the commitment that all Alnwick players had put in.
Scorers: Andrew Potts 1T, Callum Burns 2T 4 C, Joe Cowan 1T 2 C, Joe Nicholson 1T, Ben Courty 1T.