No massacre, but not a happy Valentine for Alnwick rugby

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WEST HARTLEPOOL 29

ALNWICK 19

With a game in hand and three points behind West in the league, this match was an opportunity for Alnwick to leap-frog into third place.

Unfortunately, the result followed the pattern of recent encounters with the home side taking the spoils.

Alnwick may not be as downhearted as a rejected lover on Valentine’s Day, but they will feel a mite disappointed that they left West Hartlepool empty handed.

With an injury hit back-line, West relied largely on forward muscle to make headway whilst Alnwick’s backs were once again their most potent attack weapon. Overall there was little to choose between the sides, but this was a day when things didn’t go quite right for Alnwick.

Scrum-half Gray and No 8 Ellis were frequently having to deal with bad ball as their pack came under pressure in the set scrums and a malfunctioning line-out further damaged their chances.

West played to their strengths and narrowly deserved to win, although the final score did not entirely reflect the closeness of the contest.

Despite a brisk and chilly crosswind and occasional sleety shower, handling errors were remarkably few and this was for the most part a competitive and absorbing tussle.

From Alnwick’s kick-off, West’s forwards were looking to run at Alnwick and it took some solid tackling to halt the initial surges. Alnwick did gain a couple of penalties early on but lost the advantage as the ensuing line-outs misfired.

A penalty and line-out to West meanwhile gave their backs a chance to run at Alnwick and although the catch-and-drive at a further line-out ended in a penalty to Alnwick, the warning signs were there.

Alnwick were under pressure for most of the first quarter and West had a scoring chance as Southern’s kick from a 40 metre penalty went wide, but on twenty minutes a catch-and-drive at a line-out 10 metres out put lock Bunter over on the left, Southern’s conversion making it 7 – 0.

Alnwick were back in it almost directly from the re-start. Bird made ground from a loose ball near half-way his pass releasing Moralee whose blistering pace took him untouched round the defence to score in the left corner for 7 – 5, with the conversion missed.

A run from Brown and a promising Alnwick attack up the left ended in a knock-on, and though Ellis made some headway from a scrum on half-way, a penalty to West set up a series of driving mauls from the 5m line-out before Miller scored on the narrow side for 12 – 5 at half-time, with the conversion missed.

The second half started badly for Alnwick as Burn got a yellow card for an illegal tackle on Southern. The penalty attempt missed from 30m, but as West countered from the drop-out, Alnwick lost a 5m line-out and Miller powered over from close range for 17-5, Southern missing the conversion.

With Alnwick still down to 14 men, West went further ahead as a run from Miller was continued by Willis whose pass found Painter in support to score an unconverted try for 22 – 5.

Things looked bleak for Alnwick, but Shell gathered a loose kick near the right touchline on half-way and with a characteristic mazy run left the defence standing to score a superb solo try, Bird’s conversion making it 22 – 12.

Unusually, due to foul play by a West player as Shell scored, the re-start was a penalty to Alnwick, from which they mounted a period of intense pressure on West’s line through determined forward play. Elliot twice crossed the line but the first time the referee didn’t see him ground the ball but was there to see him spill the ball on the second occasion.

With all of Alnwick up in attack, West pursued a clearance kick beyond half-way. Substitute Straker went down on the ball but it squirted backwards and Willis hacked on with time to gather the ball and score by the posts. Southern converted easily for 29 -12.

Still Alnwick didn’t give up and after pressure on the left got the ball along the backs to Hutchinson who nipped round to score near the posts giving Bird a straightforward conversion for 29 -19.

In the closing five minutes Alnwick battled valiantly for the try that would salvage bonus points but hope for even a single point vanished as Bird missed with a long-range penalty attempt in the seconds before the final whistle.

Alnwick: J.Bird, A.Shell, W.Smith, F.Hutchinson(Capt), P.Moralee, C.Burn, I.Gray, P.Brown,D.Smith, R.Elliot, J.Burgess, M.Gray, G.Smith, J.Hamilton, R.Ellis. Subs: O.Sutheran, B.Gothorpe, R.Straker. Referee: Barrett Aldwinckle.