Much-changed Alnwick suffer narrow defeat at Northern

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Northern 18-15 Alnwick RFC

Alnwick travelled to McCracken Park on Saturday for a game against Northern RFC, a side they had comfortably beaten earlier in the season at the same venue in the Northumberland Cup.

A number of changes were enforced from last weeks narrow victory over Dinnington: In the pack Brown replaced Philips on the front row, Gray moved into the engine room for Young, with Richardson and Fox both starting their first league game for the club accompanied by the evergreen G Smith on the back row.

In the backs Bird reverted to 15, Ord came in at scrum half with J Burn moved to the wing, and A Gray replaced the absent tackling machine Hutchinson at inside centre.

Alnwick started the game quite brightly and had the better of territory in the opening half an hour, though knock-ons after breaks from Bird, D Smith and Cuthbert meant that the scoreboard remained untroubled.

On the 30 minute mark Alnwick were adjudged in from the side and Northern fly half Collins opened the scoring with a good penalty goal (3-0).

Alnwick won possession from the restart and after a scrum penalty kicked deep into the Northern 22. A driving maul was set up and making good progress towards the line when it was pulled down; Sutheran went off injured with a knee complaint, Davies on in his place.

From the resulting penalty another successful drive was set up, pulling in the home defense before the ball was spun wide by the Alnwick backs for J Burn to score on the left, Bird missing the conversion (3-5).

Shortly before half time Northern struck back, when inside centre Robinson took advantage of a large gap between Warcup and Gray and outpaced the covering defence to score to the right of the posts, converted by Collins. Half time 10-5 to the home side.

Realising they needed to stretch the game, Alnwick moved to up the tempo, opting for quick lineouts and tapped-penalties to maintain forward momentum. This was bearing fruit and on 47 minutes Bird slotted a kickable penalty, reducing their deficit to two points (10-8).

The game stayed relatively balanced for the next 20 minutes, with Alnwick maintaining the lions’ share of possession, but generally not looking as though they were about to unlock the home defence.

Warcup ghosted through a half-gap and threw an offload that wasn’t gathered, as did Fox, who contributed well on his first appearance, but other than this chances were few and far between.

Shortly before 70 minutes Alnwick had created an overlap and looked to take advantage of it when Moralee threw a long pass to Bird, with Burn outside him on the left and the line beckoning.

Unfortunately for them, there was not enough depth on the ball and Northern winger Campion picked off an interception and ran 80m to score at the other end (15-8).

Alnwick changed Gray for Weddle at this point and Cowan came on to the front row for Brown. Shortly afterwards, Fox was unluckily yellow carded for a high tackle, which meant he would return for no more than a couple of minutes at the end, and Alnwick needed to rescue the game whilst down to 14 men.

Moralee did make amends for the earlier interception when he received the ball on the right hand side on 71 minutes. He beat his man for speed around the outside and chipped delicately over the full back before re-gathering to go in under the posts. Bird added the conversion to tie the scores at 15-all.

From the restart Northern managed to win possession back and though Collins missed a kickable penalty at goal, shortly afterwards he slotted a very well taken drop goal to give the home side a deserved victory.

Clayton made a good break from a lineout with the last play of the game, throwing a good pass inside to Richardson, who was full of running all day. However, needing to keep control of the ball and recycle it to go wide, a rather speculative offload was thrown which brought a turnover in possession and referee Todd’s full time whistle, to the delight of the home crowd, who have otherwise had little to cheer so far this season.

Alnwick must now regroup and look to their game at home to West Hartlepool this Saturday, as they aim to forget two poor performances in recent weeks. No game in this league is easy, and this will be another challenge for the side.

Alnwick: P Brown, D Smith, D Clayton, M Gray, O Sutheran, G Smith, N Richardson, G Fox; S Ord, J Warcup, P Moralee, A Gray, R Cuthbert, J Burn, J Bird. Subs: J Cowan, C Davies, J Weddle.