Driffield came into this match in sixth place in the league having struck some good form in recent weeks being undefeated in their previous eight matches, including a 24-all draw away to promotion contenders Penrith.
Meanwhile, Alnwick’s campaign had wobbled slightly, largely due to injuries and non-availability, so they were eager to regain momentum and tighten their grip on fourth place.
Match sponsors Quasam Ltd, under the directorship of long-standing supporter John Dixon, were fortunate to enjoy both a glorious sunny spring day and a thoroughly compelling and competitive match, which went to the dying seconds before its final dramatic twist.
On a firm pitch with the season’s wear and tear beginning to show, Alnwick kicked off up the slope with the sun on their backs and the benefit of a stiff but chilly breeze.
Almost immediately, Driffield made their intentions clear by moving the ball swiftly along the backs to the right. In pursuit of the winger, stand-off Warcup pulled up with what looked like a hamstring injury and Driffield gained some 50 metres of territory before the move was slowed and play switched to the left where the visitors were penalised.
Warcup was able to kick to touch for the line-out near half-way but then had to leave the field and the ensuing re-shuffle saw winger Ord take over from Johnny Burn at scrum-half as he moved to stand-off.
Alnwick took their line-out but Driffield were awarded a scrum, from which deft handling and speedy support put centre Robinson over in the left corner for 0-5 after four minutes, Furbank missing the conversion.
With nine minutes gone, Driffield were punished for a high tackle and a fine Bird penalty from 40 metres made it 3-5.
Alnwick looked to have taken the lead when Driffield were again penalised, but the opinion of the touch judges was divided about the success of Bird’s goal attempt and referee Ash ruled in favour of Driffield.
But they knocked on after the drop-out and from the scrum, Johnny Burn made a great break from some 40 metres to score an excellent solo try by the posts, with Bird adding the extras for 10-5.
Alnwick came under pressure as the third successive penalty to Driffield gained a 5 metre line-out and a strong catch-and-drive put flanker Brankley over to level the scores at 10-10, with the conversion missed.
Matters were evenly balanced but Alnwick benefitted from a couple of penalties either side of a promising thrust from Cuthbert and Bird before a third penalty was put over by Bird for 13-10 on the half-hour.
In the following 10 minutes, Driffield conceded two more penalties, the second being put over by Bird for 16-10.
As Alnwick maintained the pressure and Driffield were again penalised, Bird put over another superb kick from 45 metres to give his side a 19-10 lead at the interval.
A penalty apiece in the opening five minutes of the second half saw Furbank make it 19-13 before a Bird penalty restored Alnwick’s lead at 22-13.
Driffield now began to exert some pressure through the speed and mobility of their backs and when their forwards stole an Alnwick line-out near the home line, pace and accurate handling put winger Dinsdale over for a try which Furbank converted for 22-20.
From the re-start, an Alnwick knock-on presented Driffield with a scrum and although the packs had been fairly evenly matched, the visitors were quick to set the backs away, Dinsdale profiting from speed and accuracy to score his second try which Furbank converted to take a 22-27 lead.
Since Warcup’s early departure Alnwick’s re-jigged back line had taken time to adjust but although good work by Hutchinson, Cuthbert and Mallaburn kept Driffield honest, it was hard going in the face of determined defending. Some trade-mark runs from Bird were not as profitable as usual but from an Alnwick scrum near Driffield’s 22, there was no stopping him as he stormed through on the left to run round and score near the posts, converting it himself for 29-27.
For the remaining 20 minutes, the pendulum swung back and forth with neither side taking advantage of penalties or totally dominating. Driffield’s backs threatened more than once but Alnwick were quick to counter. With only minutes left, it was a close call as Alnwick had to defend a catch-and-drive from a line-out but the danger seemed over when a penalty enabled them to clear their lines for a line-out near half-way.
Alnwick secured the throw and, with the clock moving into overtime, all they needed to do was get the ball into touch, but somehow, Driffield got their hands on the ball and whipped it out to the backs where centre Robinson needed no help in scoring his second try for 29-32. Furbank missed the conversion but Driffield had managed to snatch their first ever win at Greensfield, handing Alnwick only their second home defeat of the season.
A disappointing outcome for Alnwick who showed resilience and total commitment throughout but were undone, not only by the final play, but also by missing a couple of crucial tackles on Driffield’s pacey backs.
Team: J Bird, R Mallaburn, R Cuthbert, F Hutchinson (capt), S Ord, J Warcup, J Burn, C Phillips, H Burn, D Smith, O Sutheran, M Gray, G Smith, R Ellis, B Gothorpe. Subs: D Clayton, D Smith, C Davies.
Referee: John Ash (Northumberland Society). Next match: Saturday – Senior County Cup Final against Morpeth to be played at Novocastrians, Sutherland Park, Longbenton, NE7 7SZ. Kick-off 2pm.
A bus for supporters wishing to travel to Novos will leave Alnwick Rugby Club at 12.30pm. Cost £5. Names please to Bill Thompson on 07708 186558 by 8pm today (Thursday).