Let the battle commence

Promotion-pushing Alnwick Rugby Club face a crunch fixture on Saturday, as they host Guisborough at 3pm in a mouthwatering top-of-the-table clash.

The high-flying Greensfield outfit sit second in Durham/Northumberland Division One – just one point behind the league-leading North Yorkshire-based side.

To add extra spice to what is an already eagerly-anticipated encounter, both teams hold 100 per cent league records, having won all eight fixtures this season.

But now, something will have to give.

Guisborough prepared for battle with a 24-8 win over lowly Horden on Saturday, while Alnwick battled past Hartlepool Rovers with a 28-24 victory.

Alnwick’s three-quarter sparkled in the opening minutes in a series of sweeping plays that kept the home side at full stretch.

An early score looked on the cards following a break by Andy Shell only for the final pass to go forward with the Rovers’ try-line beckoning.

The Rovers responded with a driving maul that drove Alnwick to defend before they conceded a couple of penalty line-outs that saw them battle hard to stop the Rovers getting over the line.

Flanker Maddison was brought down practically on the line but was penalised for illegally making a double move and not getting away from the ball – a let-off for Alnwick.

Alnwick winning good ball swept play upfield and the support of the forwards saw Alnwick put in a scintillating burst of sharp play to power their way into the Rovers half.

A quick pass out by Nathan O’Grady to Ed Shell saw the ball shifted out to brother Andy whose mazy running saw him race past the Rovers defenders, leaving full-back Austwick flat-footed and vainly grasping at air, to touch down under the post with goal points being added by O’Grady (0-7).

A quick break from home centre Hopkinson was carried on by Coulson at pace before a try-saving tackle from Stu Bremner almost on the line saved the day.

Alnwick won the scrum ball, which saw Ed Shell break out to take play upfield to the home 22; two charging runs from Alnwick prop Peter Brown followed by hard work by Ben Bootham and Gordon Brown had the Rovers stretched out on the rack, a snappy run by Andy Shell saw the move carried on by Richard Ellis who stormed in under the posts. O’Grady again added the goal points (0-14).

Rovers were clearly strung by this reverse and came back hard. A break from flanker Maddison saw him shrug off several tackles before he was hauled down on the Alnwick five-metre line.

Alnwick were under pressure and two penalty line-outs saw Rovers drive for the line, thrown back by a desperate defence before Church was driven over for a hard-won try, the kick was well off-target (5-14).

Alnwick responded when they took advantage from a line-out. Ed Shell made a cracking break following O’Grady’s pass, his powerful running pulled in the Rovers defence, a quick pass to Andy Shell saw him go through for a touch-down under the posts for another converted try, right at the end of the half (5-21).

Alnwick were quickly on the attack in the first few minutes of the second half, a dreadful pass for centre Grand to his wing was picked off by Andy Shell inside the Alnwick 22. An 80-metre lung-bursting run with the Rovers in pursuit finally saw him touch down under the posts for a converted try (5-28).

Rovers came back hard using their heavy forwards to grind their way into the Alnwick half, a series of pick and drives, not easy to defend against, saw pressure mounting, culminating in a excellent converted try when Grand broke through (10-28).

Rovers continued to pound their way forward, line-outs followed by scrums inside the Alnwick 22, but a break had to come, the pressure was relentless, a final drive from a five-metre line-out finally saw Rovers gain a try when Mark Power was driven over for a converted try (17-28).

Rovers dropped the ball on the restart, Frank Hutchinson broke, was caught by the Rovers back-row who were penalised, but the kick for goal was pushed wide.

The restart ball was driven forward, Alnwick then drove Rovers off their own scrum, Richard Ellis darted through, he was brought down, again the Alnwick pack drove Rovers off their scrum, again Ellis broke and passed out to Ed Shell whose forward pass to Andy Shell cost Alnwick another try with an open line.

Rovers finally worked a switch play when number eight Dring broke wide and passed inside to outside-half Even, who went over for a well worked converted try (24-28).

Too close for comfort for Alnwick, Rovers were throwing everything into attack but could not make that final breakthrough, with Alnwick putting their bodies on the line.

Finally, the pressure was eased when Alnwick drove through at a maul to secure good ball and Rovers flanker Maddison was caught well offside. O’Grady put the ball deep into touch to finish the game.

Team: S Bremner, G Potts, E Shell, F Hutchinson, A Shell (c), N O’Grady, A Todd, P Brown, S Allen, B Boothman, D Oliver, J Burgess, G Smith, J Kelly, R Ellis. Subs: J Weddell, T Dunn, S Bremner.