Guisborough might have gone into this match with a degree of optimism, having beaten Alnwick 15 – 18 in October and more recently losing 10 – 5 to third placed West Hartlepool.
As this was Alnwick’s first match since before Christmas, the possibility of some ‘ring-rustiness’ might also be seen as another plus for the hosts but the match was always likely to be a closely contested affair.
Alnwick kicked off in dry and fairly calm conditions on a pitch best described as stodgy, and the opening ten minutes of skirmishing, probing runs and kicking was fairly even and played largely between the 10 metre lines with Guisborough’s bulky pack trying to hustle and bully the loose and giving Alnwick few problems in the set scrums early on.
Alnwick’s strategy meanwhile was to keep the ball moving across the backs which bore fruit after eleven minutes. From an Alnwick scrum on Guisborough’s 10 metre line, the ball was moved swiftly left then right to find winger Shell in space some 40 metres out. He needed no second bidding and raced up the touchline, bursting through two tackles as he cut inside to score beneath the posts, Bird adding the conversion for 0 – 7.
Guisborough responded by putting pressure on Alnwick with some incisive breaks which might have produced tries but for a forward pass and a knock-on with the line at their mercy.
From the scrum, Alnwick tried to run out of trouble but had to concede a line-out 10 metres out, and had no answer to Guisborough’s catch-and-drive which put hooker Edwards over the line for 5 – 7, the conversion being missed.
Boosted by this success, the Guisborough pack were giving Alnwick a hard time in the scrums and from a scrum near half-way, McDougall was able to make ground before being held. Quick re-cycling allowed stand-off Muir to cut left into Alnwick’s 22 but as he was tackled the momentum was maintained and Alnwick’s defence was too stretched to prevent full-back Pollock scoring out on the left for 10 - 7 but unable to convert his try.
Aided by a couple of penalties and a yellow card for flanker Clarke for dangerous footwork Alnwick started to come back at Guisborough. Just as the pressure began to tell, Guisborough broke into Alnwick’s half and must have scored had not winger Shell intercepted what would have been the scoring pass on his own line and outpaced his pursuers in a 100 metre sprint to score between the posts, Bird converting easily for 10 – 14 at half-time.
Alnwick stretched their lead immediately at the start of the second half as the kick-off was too deep and was off-loaded by Shell to Bird who sliced through the Guisborough defences and was only held short of the line in the right hand corner. Alnwick’s forwards were quickly in support to kick the ball over the line enabling Burgess to score near the posts, Bird converting for 10 – 21.
Guisborough replied immediately with an attack up the right gaining them a line-out some 10 metres out, from which prop Hopkins drove towards the posts but on being held the ball was moved deftly along the backs for winger Shields to score in the left corner for 15 – 21 with the conversion missed.
Guisborugh edged ahead soon after as they were awarded a free kick at an Alnwick scrum near half-way. As the tap-and-go was halted in Alnwick’s 22, stand-off Muir sprinted past some dismal Alnwick tackling to score under the posts, Pollock converting for 22 – 21.
Following the re-start, a long-range penalty attempt by Bird was just wide, but on gathering the drop-out he again powered through weak tackling to the right corner before slipping the ball to Shell who completed his hat-trick, sprinting round by the posts, Bird adding the conversion for 22 – 28.
As the game went into the final 20 minutes, Alnwick’s fitness began to tell and the continuous pressure produced a penalty which Bird put over for 22 - 31, after which they maintained a stranglehold on Guisborough, pinning them in their own half until the final whistle.
Alnwick: J.Bird, A.Shell, W.Smith, F.Hutchinson, R.Straker, C.Burn, P.Moralee, D.Smith, H.Burn, R.Elliot, O.Sutheran, J.Burgess, M.Gray, B.Courty, R.Ellis. Reps -P.Maughan, D.Clayton, G.Smith.
Next match: Morley (Home) January 30 KO 2.15pm.