Durham and Northumberland, Division One
THIS was a cliffhanger of a match which see-sawed until the dying minutes when Alnwick snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.
Alnwick went into an early lead, but Horden came good to edge ahead until Alnwick levelled, only to see the home side sneak ahead to 23-18.
But they lost out in the final moments when James Bird flew through the Horden team on a scintillating run, outpacing the defence to score an outstanding try, adding the conversion points to sneak ahead 23-25 to give Alnwick the win.
Both teams are to be congratulated on providing a ding-dong of a match – the Horden pack had Alnwick under very heavy pressure, consistently driving them back in the set-pieces – which was reversed in the second half when the heavy home forwards started to run out of steam with Alnwick getting quicker ball out to the three-quarters.
Alnwick’s scores came from tries from Andy Shell, Ali Gray and James Bird, who also goaled two penalties and two conversions.
The Horden points were scored by full-back Heckels, Greener and Bennett, with Turner adding a goal and two penalties.
In the opening minutes, Alnwick swept the ball crossfield into their three-quarters and quick ruck ball saw further probing breaks by Gray and Shell. Horden were caught off-balance, conceding a penalty for offside, with Bird putting Alnwick into the lead (0-3).
Horden kicked long on the restart and following a midfield maul Nick Mather put in a great angled kick forcing the home side deep into their 22 area. The Northumbrians won the ball back and put it out to Gray who shot away and through the Horden defence, who could not cope with his angle of running and sheer pace, to score an excellent try under the posts, giving Bird an easy conversion (0-10).
On the restart, Alnwick failed to tighten up their defence and failed to gather the ball cleanly. They managed to hold out against the Horden forward drive spearheaded by Greener and Bennett but gave away a penalty for the home side to pull back points (3-10).
Horden then levelled the scores taking advantage of a great surge by the pack, who drove Alnwick back. Out went the ball into the three-quarters where winger Witte dropped the final pass on Alnwick’s five-metre line. The ball was edged out of the scrum, where Bennett picked up to drive over for a converted try (10-10).
The home side then slipped into the lead after Alnwick were punished at a scrum, with Turner goaling the penalty points (13-10).
Horden then very nearly increased their lead when outside-half Turner put in a neatly-angled kick across the field for winger Witte to challenge Shell for the touchdown only to lose out when the Alnwick captain managed to squeeze through and make the ball safe.
Horden were penalised but won the line-out. A kick through was safely taken by Bird, whose kick ahead was returned by Horden full-back Heckels. This was picked off by Shell, who kicked through, forcing play into the home 22 area where Richard Ellis ran a tap-penalty and linked with Gordon Smith and Jim Hamilton to catch the Horden defence offside. Bird added the points to level the scores (13-13).
In the final play of the first half, the home three-quarters ran in a cracking move, shifting the ball at pace with full-back Heckels coming on the overlap to slip through for an excellent, unconverted, try (18-12).
After the break, a missed penalty saw Horden drop out deep but straight to Bird who broke through the home defence on a crashing 80-metre run that created panic in the Horden ranks. A well-timed pass to Shell played him through and over the tryline at the corner flag to bring the scores level – a superb period of play carried out at pace (18-18).
A break-out spearheaded by a mazy run from Shell was taken on by Graeme Potts up to the Horden five-metre line, but a knock-forward gave scrum advantage to the home team and quick ball was cleared downfield into the Alnwick half.
Horden steadily powered their way to the Alnwick posts.
Alnwick won ruck ball back to Ian Gray only for his clearance kick to be charged down – the ball bounced all over the place and over the tryline.Horden flanker Greener got to it first for the try that put Horden back into the lead. The ball fell over off the kicking tee and Turner sliced an attempted drop-goal wide of the posts – Dame Fortune had smiled on Alnwick (23-18).
Alnwick surged upfield from a midfield scrum where the fitter Alnwick players were coming out on top. A penalty line-out play on the centre-line saw Alnwick spin out the ball after the forwards had driven in hard to secure possession.
In came Bird, joining the backs and setting off on a scything run that saw him completely split a tired Horden defence. Not a hand was laid on him as he went on to score an excellent try from 60 metres out, adding the conversion points to edge into the lead (23-25).
Horden were shattered by this reverse and Alnwick powered back into the home 22 area – with Jim Hamilton putting in a storming run. The Alnwick pack battled their way to the Horden five-metre line and the three-quarters spun the ball out, only for the final pass to Shell to go wide and high.
The match finished with Alnwick keeping a stranglehold over the opposition to record a pulsating victory that keeps them on course for a potential play-off match that could result in a promotion move into the next division.
Alnwick: J Bird, A Shell (capt), A Gray, F Hutchinson, G Potts, N Mather, I Gray, D Hamblin, T Dunn, P Brown, Aa Armstrong, J Fernback, G Smith, J Hamilton, R Ellis, N O’Grady, S Bremner.
Easter Saturday will see the club play away at Ashington at the Welfare Ground, kick-off 3pm.