Match report: High-fliers with healthy home record halted as Alnwick visit

Alnwick Rugby Club 1st XV v Percy Park. Picture by John Spark
Alnwick Rugby Club 1st XV v Percy Park. Picture by John Spark

Percy Park 7 Alnwick 16

North One East

Alnwick Rugby Club 1st XV v Percy Park'Picture John Spark

Alnwick Rugby Club 1st XV v Percy Park'Picture John Spark

A cold January day with a strong, biting wind is probably not the best time to visit the seaside, but Alnwick made the most of their trip to the coast by toppling Percy Park and pocketing some valuable league points.

Lying second in the league and unbeaten at home this season, Park must have fancied their chances of maintaining that record, albeit with a team containing several enforced changes, but their proud fortress at Preston Avenue turned out to be a sandcastle ultimately washed away by the unstoppable tidal surges of a determined Alnwick side.

The overnight gales had blown down one of the posts on the first-team pitch, which might have been seen as an omen for Park, as the game was moved to the adjacent King’s Priory School fields where the allocated pitch was in good condition for the time of year.

However, the change meant that the wind was blowing at a slight diagonal across the field rather than directly down the playing area, and thus slightly to Alnwick’s benefit as they kicked off.

A low, bright sun into their faces initially gave Alnwick the odd problem with seeing high kicks, one of which being a penalty which led to a Park five-metre line-out.

The catch and drive was halted by Alnwick, who stifled further attacks by the Park backs with some punishing tackles.

Alnwick relieved the early onslaught through a penalty which took them deep into Park territory and where they then established a period of pressure.

Any relieving kicks by Park could not quite lift the siege and a half-break by Ali Gray and a promising run from Bird kept them on the back foot.

A quick tap penalty by Moralee set Gothorp away and despite a knock-on, a take against the head at the ensuing scrum saw Gothorp off on the rampage again before releasing Warcup, Ali Gray and Mallaburn only for a knock-on to halt progress.

As Park tried to move some possession from their own half, Ali Gray was again involved, putting in a great tackle for Alnwick to gain a penalty on Park’s 10-metre line.

Bird judged the wind perfectly and his excellent kick to put Alnwick 0-3 up was fair reward for the team’s efforts.

Park made limited progress from the restart in the face of robust tackling from Alnwick who again laid siege to Park’s line as the forwards gained a measure of superiority.

An attempted Park clearance from their in-goal area was charged down, resulting in a five-metre scrum to Alnwick and a strong thrust from Gothorp set up a short series of rucks from which the forwards drove over the line with Burgess claiming the touch down and Bird adding the conversion to make it 0-10.

With 10 minutes to go to half-time, Alnwick continued to maintain a stranglehold on Park and gained five-metre scrums and line-outs after another attempted clearance kick from Park’s in-goal area was charged down.

Alnwick might well have scored again, but couldn’t quite penetrate Park’s defence, which just held a drive from Hamilton.

In one phase, with two Alnwick players down injured, the referee allowed play to continue, but Alnwick kept Park tied down until being awarded a penalty which Bird put over from 22 metres for a 0-13 lead at half-time, at which point Whitlow replaced Brown who sustained a gashed head.

After the interval, with the wind in their favour, Park began to apply pressure as Alnwick had done earlier, but solid Alnwick tackling kept them out for the first 10 minutes.

Park then got a try in much the same way as Alnwick had.

From a five-metre line-out following a penalty, a powerful catch and drive helped hooker Dunn over the line, with Davidson converting to make it 7-13.

Soon after the restart, Warcup put in a fine cross-kick and as Park tried to clear up-field through their forwards, they were penalised for not releasing the ball, Bird put the kick over from some 30 metres for 7-16, which was to be the final score of the afternoon.

In the previous fixture, Alnwick had wilted somewhat in the closing stages, and with 25 minutes still to run, it seemed only a matter of time before Park would score again, but try as they might they could not break down a determined, disciplined and well-organised Alnwick side.

Apart from the occasional foray into Park’s half, Alnwick were under almost constant pressure with very little respite but never a suggestion of surrender.

Stand-off Warcup came off with a shoulder injury and Todd came into a reshuffled back-line as every last man tackled and fought uncompromisingly through to the final whistle, encouraged in the closing phases when a monster kick from Bird gained some 60 metres, obliging Park’s dispirited forwards to work their way back upfield.

All credit to them that they did so, but then wasted several penalties kicking for position without reward, whereas a goal might have salvaged a bonus point.

Although by no means a pretty, free-flowing rugby spectacular, this was nonetheless a thoroughly gripping battle with some outstanding individual performances, but ultimately it was a monumental team effort where every Lionheart in the side was totally committed in achieving a notable victory. Tremendous stuff.

As Wallace might say, ‘T’ were a Grand Day Out’, and with the second team also winning 22-12 and the thirds making it a clean sweep against Park with a 17- 46 win, this was definitely Alnwick’s day.

Percy Park – Tries: Dunn. Conversions: Davidson.

Alnwick – Tries: Burgess. Conversions: Bird. Penalties: Bird (three).

Team: J Bird, I Gray, A Gray, F Hutchinson, R Mallaburn, J Warcup, P Moralee, R Elliot, H Sordy, P Brown, O Sutheran, J Burgess, M Grey, J Hamilton, B Gothorp. Subs: J Grey, A Whitlow, H Todd.