Old Crossleyans 14 Alnwick 54
NORTH ONE EAST
With Old Crossleyans already doomed to relegation, Alnwick secure in the league and neither side having much to gain from this encounter, it could easily have been a hum-drum, end-of-season affair but in the event turned out to be a fiercely-contested and highly entertaining match.
All credit to Crossleyans who played with pride and energy throughout but on the occasion were overcome by a determined Alnwick side intent on establishing a league position which better reflected their season’s performances.
Being fairly evenly matched up front, neither side could gain superiority in set scrums or line-outs, so ultimately it was Alnwick’s relentlessly combative forwards’ play in the loose, allied to alert back play and some uncompromising tackling throughout the side, which finally dismantled a waning Crossleyans 15.
An injury to Ali Gray in the warm-up necessitated a rejigging of the Alnwick backs, and on a firm pitch with conditions favouring open rugby, both Mallaburn, now at outside-centre, and wing replacement Todd could expect a busy afternoon.
The weather, in sharp contrast to the pouring rain of last season’s corresponding fixture, was dry and bright with a strong wind benefiting Old Crocks as they got proceedings underway.
Alnwick immediately set a quick tempo as a clean take by the forwards allowed Bird to make ground on the left from Gray’s deft chip over the top.
Quick recycling saw the ball move right to Mallaburn whose grubber kick earned Alnwick a line-out on the right some 15 metres out.
An excellent catch and drive took Alnwick over the line and were deemed to have been held up, but from the second of two five metre scrums in their favour, Gothorp drove over in the corner for 0-5, four minutes in, with Burn’s conversion going askew in the wind. Crossleyans were ahead within the minute as Alnwick took the restart cleanly but Moralee’s attempted clearance was charged down for flanker Hammond to score and Vine to convert for 7-5.
This lively start was followed by 10 minutes of inconclusive play until Alnwick gained a line-out on Crossleyans’ 10-metre line and a sharp break by scrum-half Gray found Hamilton in support to gallop over for 7-10, with Bird’s conversion making it 7-12.
From the restart, Burgess, Gothorp and Hamilton contrived to put Mallaburn away up the right but Alnwick were penalised at the breakdown near halfway and scrum-half Vine broke through from a quick tap and go to put winger Sutcliffe over, with Vine adding the conversion for 14-12.
Alnwick came straight back attacking up the left with Hamilton and Sutheran prominent, and following an Alnwick line-out Bird gathered a chip through to run round and touch down behind the posts, converting the try himself for 14-19.
Crossleyans attacked from the restart but Alnwick’s solid tackling and well organised defence restricted their progress until Alnwick gained possession deep in Crossleyans’ half and the industrious Smith was on hand to take Sutheran’s pass and steam through to touch down and give Burn a straightforward conversion for 14-26.
Almost immediately from the restart, Burn’s kick from a rare penalty gained a line-out on the left on Crossleyans 22, where Elliot tidied up the long throw and delivered quickly to Gray whose sharp break and pass gave Hamilton his second try and Bird an easy conversion for 14-33.
In the remaining minutes to half-time, Alnwick were increasingly in control and again solid tackling and organised defence stifled any potential Crossleyans attacks.
Todd and Gray swapped roles at half-time and as the wind eased Crossleyans began the half energetically but even with the aid of three penalties in quick succession could not penetrate Alnwick’s superb rock-solid defences which gradually moved Crossleyans back into their own half from which they rarely emerged thereafter.
Any escape attempt from Alnwick’s ever-tightening stranglehold was snuffed out by excellent covering and some bone-jarring tackles across the park.
Sutheran and Smith were replaced by Ollie Hamilton and Ord and it was only a matter of time before Alnwick scored again. On gaining a scrum after some loose passing by Crossleyans in their own 22, Gothorp and Hamilton combined to move play left, exposing a gap on the right for Todd to dart through for a try coolly converted by Burn for 14-40.
Crossleyans’ response was to try and run themselves out of trouble and although getting a modest amount of possession it was mainly around their own 22 metre line, rarely moving to -alfway or beyond as Alnwick became ever more dominant.
Thrusts by James Hamilton with Burn and Bird in support earned a scrum on Crossleyans 22 from which the ball moved right then left for Gothorp to crash over for his second try and give Bird no problems with his conversion to bring up 14-47.
With full-time approaching, a tired Crossleyans side continued to battle gamely but, despite halting a probe by Gothorp and Todd, a turn-over in the loose earned Alnwick a scrum on Crossleyans’ 10-metre line and centre Hutchinson rocketed through the shattered Crossleyan ranks like an electric ferret to reward his afternoon’s graft with a well-deserved try. There was only time for Bird to slot the conversion for 14-54 before the final whistle.
This thoroughly competent display by Alnwick moved them up to seventh in the league and with Alnwick Lions taking the Northumberland County Junior Cup by beating Novos Seconds 29-22 in a hard-fought match at Blyth, this was an encouraging day for the club.
Old Crossleyans – Tries: G Hammond, Sutcliffe. Conversions: Vine (two).
Alnwick – Tries: Gothorp (two), J Hamilton (two), Bird, Smith, Todd, Hutchinson. Conversions: Bird (five), Burn (two).
Team: C Burn, H Todd, R Mallaburn, F Hutchinson, J Bird, P Moralee, I Gray, R Elliot, J Grey, B Boothman (C), J Burgess, O Sutheran, G Smith, J Hamilton, B Gothorp. Subs: O’Hamilton, A Ord.
Referee: Ben Rayner.
Next match: Saturday, home, Northern.