If Alnwick went into this match knowing that they needed to take maximum league points to edge away from the bottom three clubs, they were also equally conscious of the fact that Horden’s recent improvement in form meant that it would not be an easy ride. And so it proved.
Although Alnwick won by a comfortable margin, they were given plenty to think about by a spirited Horden side who contested everything energetically throughout.
On a crisp, sunny afternoon and a firm pitch which was a credit to the hosts, conditions were set fair for an entertaining afternoon’s rugby, the only fly in the ointment being the strong wind blowing down the pitch, which made kicking difficult.
As they kicked off with the benefit of the wind, Burn and Bird gave immediate notice of Alnwick’s intent to run the ball, keep the large and powerful Horden forwards on the move and deprive them of possession wherever possible.
Though disrupting Alnwick’s line-out after conceding a penalty on half-way early on, Horden were unable to relieve the pressure as Hamilton, Burgess and the mobile Alnwick pack showed scant regard for the opposition’s bulk.
A typical thrust from Ali Gray ended with a knock-on, but for the first 15 minutes, Horden were largely kept penned in their own half.
Making use of the wind, an excellent Moralee clearance gained ground to Horden’s 22. Mallaburn and Bird linked well to keep the pressure on, but promising runs by Hamilton and Bird ended with knock-ons.
Following an Alnwick scrum some 15 metres out on the left, Bird was held and Horden were penalised for not rolling away and Bird put the kick over for 0-3.
Almost from the restart, Horden lost a line-out on their own 22 and as the Alnwick forwards moved the ball right, space opened up on the left and winger Ian Gray was able to take advantage of this and power through to score for 0-8, Bird making it 0-10 with a well-judged conversion.
From the re-start, Ali Gray capitalised on an advantage played after a Horden knock-on and, using his pace and power, was over by the posts in the blink of an eye to make it 0-15 and give Bird a simple conversion for 0-17.
Horden battled gamely, but their best forward efforts were more than matched by Alnwick’s pack and solid tackling by Alnwick’s backs coupled with sensible, wind-assisted clearances saw Alnwick safely through to half-time with no further score.
It was now Alnwick’s turn to contend with the wind and from the kick-off Horden pounced on an Alnwick fumble in their 22, but were forced into touch as they moved the ball left. Alnwick secured the ball at the five-metre line-out but from loose play after Mallaburn’s clearance attempt, Horden put in a kick which landed in vacant space on Alnwick’s left. The unpredictable bounce favoured winger Jones, who, coming up at speed, outpaced the cover to score for 5-17 but failed with his conversion attempt.
Alnwick were immediately back on the attack and with five minutes gone, forwards and backs combined well to put Ali Gray through for his second try, which Bird converted for 5-24.
Skipper Ben Boothman, who had been fighting a chest infection, was replaced by Jamie Grey, but Alnwick’s forwards were still comfortably holding their own in the set scrums with No 8 Ellis putting in some driving runs, allowing Moralee and Burn to release the backs.
Despite some handling errors, some untidy play following a Horden scrum saw Burn swoop on a loose ball and rocket over for the bonus point try (5-29) but with Bird’s conversion going adrift in the wind.
Mattie Grey and Ian Gray were replaced by Smith and Foy, the latter instantly in the action in support of Burn as he collected Horden’s restart and was away at high speed up the narrowest of spaces near his left touchline.
As the cover arrived on the 22-metre line, Burn off-loaded to give Foy on his inside his first touch of the ball and he galloped over for 5-34, the wind again defeating Bird’s conversion attempt.
All credit to Horden, their heads never dropped and, as Alnwick seemed to relax, found plenty of forward power to put Docherty over for 10-34. Jones’s conversion went wide.
Alnwick quickly restored their lead as Burn went over for his second try to make it 10-39, but Bird’s conversion attempt stalled in the wind.
With ten minutes left and fairly confident of success, Alnwick took their foot off the gas and Heckles took advantage of their laxity with a try which Jones converted for 17-39.
Horden moved the ball left to winger Oliver who crossed for a well-deserved bonus-point try which Jones converted to make the final score 24-39.
This was an honest, sporting contest with both sides contributing to an entertaining afternoon of adventurous, open rugby which, despite the errors, was a real pleasure to watch. Much well-deserved applause to both sides.
Scores – Horden tries: Jones, Docherty, Heckles, Oliver. Conversions: Jones (2). Alnwick – tries: I Gray, A Gray (2), Burn (2), Foy. Conversions: Bird (3). Penalties: Bird.
Alnwick team: J Bird, I Gray, A Gray, F Hutchinson, R Mallaburn, C Burn, P Moralee, R Elliot, H Sordy, B Boothman (capt), O Sutheran, J Burgess, M Grey, J Hamilton, R Ellis. Subs: J Grey, G Smith, B Foy.
Referee: Paul Candlish (Durham Society)
Next match: West Hartlepool (home), Saturday.