Alnwick 11 Morpeth 13
Northumberland Senior Cup semi-final
This was the closest game for a numbers of years between these two rivals as they battled it out in the semi-final of the Northumberland Senior Cup, writes Bob Bingham.
In the end, the last kick of the game decided it in a performance that showed both sides need to show considerable improvement as the league season looms on Saturday.
With the exception of a swirly wind, this was a perfect day for rugby and the ground at Greensfield the perfect setting as Morpeth kicked off.
Morpeth had the territorial advantage in the early stages, but made little progress as they repeatedly knocked on and the Alnwick pack won their own ball, but then failed to retain possession. Indeed it was after losing possession in their 22 that gave Morpeth their best chance as they broke the Alnwick line on the right and were only halted by a tackle from Mallaburn followed by sound defence from the pack.
Alnwick did not get into the Morpeth half until Bird made a strong run. They did retain possession through several phases, but Morpeth were strong enough to hold them out and their line was not threatened. It was on the counter from this Alnwick venture that Morpeth scored.
After gaining possession on the right they smartly moved the ball out and found an overlap for full-back Stevenson to score with 13 minutes gone (0-5). Phillips narrowly failed with the kick.
Alnwick replied strongly and within five minutes had a score on the board. They pushed into the Morpeth 22, forcing the visitors to offend by not releasing and Weddell swept the ball over (3-5).
Morpeth were rewarded after they kicked for touch rather than goal and, from the resultant catch and drive, crossed the home line for Campbell to score in the 23rd minute (3-10), but the kick failed again.
Once again, Alnwick’s response was positive and they forced Morpeth to offend and Weddell scored with a 30-metre penalty (6-10).
Alnwick continued to attack briskly, but Morpeth were always a threat and could have added to their score after they broke on half way only for their player to drop the ball.
Alnwick substituted Davies for Smith just after the half-hour and he lasted five minutes before being yellow-carded for hands in the ruck.
Morpeth tried to exploit the numerical advantage but could not do so. Alnwick defended soundly and Warcup kicked well to push the visitors back. With half-time close, Morpeth opted to take a kick at goal when awarded a penalty. Having changed kickers they hoped for a change of luck. It did not happen and it was 6-10 at the break.
The half-time score was to hold for 35 minutes in the second half as the game rolled between the respective 22 metre lines and neither side looking like scoring.
The highlights, such as they were, involved some good driving play by Ellis and some good kicking by Warcup for Alnwick and some nifty back-row play by Morpeth spoilt by a fumbled ball yet again.
Both sides lost players to yellow cards (Alnwick 3 Morpeth 1) with the shortest tenure being Matthew Gray who was on the pitch for two minutes before walking.
There was a five-minute delay as a head injury to Morpeth flanker Stevenson forced his retirement and after this the game came alive.
Alnwick had hardly moved the ball down the line all afternoon, however, with three minutes left they did so.
Neat hands down the line saw the ball to Mallaburn who stood strong in the tackle to feed Weddell in the gap. He skipped through the Morpeth line with Shell in support, but did not need him as he outpaced the Morpeth cover to score in the corner (11-10). He could not convert his own try.
In the lead for the first time, all Alnwick had to do was ‘shut the door’ but this they failed to do. Morpeth attacked strongly and, in the dying seconds, referee Cooper saw an Alnwick hand in the ruck and blew for a penalty. Jinks lined up his 25-metre kick. It was the last kick of the game. He goaled and the whistle blew (11-13).
The traditional Silver Horse Trophy was presented to the winning captain by host president Robert Robinson.
Team: J Bird, L Sutherland, J Weddell, R Mallaburn, A Shell (C), J Warcup, H Todd (S Ord 40), P Brown, H Sordy, B Boothman, O Sutheran (M Gray.71) A Alexander, D Smith (C Davies 32) N Hamilton, R Ellis. Subs not used: J Cowie, R Straker. Player-of-the-match: Alnwick’s Ritchie Ellis. Officials: G Cooper, RTR Bell, A Manley (all Northumberland Society).