High-flying Alnwick RFC continued their fine start to the season with a 26-5 win over Horden on Saturday, but coaching coordinator George Robson insists the club are keeping their feet firmly on the floor.
The Greensfield side extended their 100 per cent record in Durham/Northumberland Division One to maintain their early-season promotion push.
Having won their first seven league matches, second-placed Alnwick sit just one point behind table-topping Guisborough.
But despite the blistering start to the 2012/13 campaign, Robson knows there is still a long way to go.
“Our target at the beginning of the season was to achieve promotion to North One East by winning Durham/Northumberland Division One,” he said.
“We are delighted with the start we have made, especially having lost a couple of players who have gone on to bigger and better things, although these positions have been ably-filled.
“But we know it’s early days and are taking each game as it comes.
“Each game is important, but we have got some very important games coming up.”
While the league winners go up automatically to North One East, the second-placed team plays a promotion play-off against the runners-up from Yorkshire One.
However, Alnwick will be keen to avoid this winner-takes-all fixture, after losing to Keighley in the play-off last season.
Robson added: “We are well aware that we had a great season last year, finishing second, but then suffered the heartache of losing in the play-off, so we want to go even better this season and go up automatically as champions.”
Alnwick’s promotion charge continues on Saturday with an away day at Hartlepool Rovers (kick-off 3pm) before a mouth-watering home game against league leaders Guisborough on Saturday, October 27. Alnwick can go into these games with confidence though.
Under the guidance of head coach Mark Watson – assisted by Robbie Redpath and Simon Manners – Alnwick boast the division’s best attacking and defensive records; a point shown during the victory over Horden at the weekend.
At the back, the defence held firm, with tackle after tackle going in against a robust Horden outfit.
Going forward, four wonderful breakaway tries – some from the opposition half as the club’s fast-flying backs found holes in the Horden’s defence – demonstrated Alnwick’s attacking prowess.
It was a bruising, bad-tempered encounter though, with the game marred by two second-half brawls between a large majority of players, started on both occasions, it appeared, by Horden’s growing frustration at their lack of ability to get over the Alnwick scoreline.
Although the brawls were mass, it was more handbags at dawn that the need to call on the medical staff.
As a result of the scuffles, two players from each side were sin-binned by the referee Anthony Manley.
Alnwick started the game on the front foot and had their chances to open the score in the first 10 minutes, but dropped passes let them down with the line at their mercy.
But it seemed to be just a matter of time before Alnwick broke the deadlock.
And so it proved.
Ed Shell, who is having a great season, side-stepped off different feet to beat three Horden defenders to score the game’s first try (5-0).
From then on, Alnwick had to defend for long periods as Horden looked for a way back into the contest.
But when the breakout came it was one of those moments in rugby well worth waiting for.
Under pressure, Alnwick won the ball and broke down the centre. Ed Shell finished off a fine move as he battered his way over the line.
Applause all round.
Nathan O’Grady converted to extend Alnwick’s lead (12-0).
Alnwick increased their advantage just before half-time.
Richard Ellis broke from the base of the scrum, timed his pass to perfection for scrum-half Ali Gray to motor his way at speed through the wrong-footed Horden defence to score his side’s third try.
O’Grady again added the points (19-0).
Horden put the home defence under pressure with a combination of attacks and were repelled until centre Willkie forced his way over, although he did appear to be offside (19-5).
Then followed the series of brawls which disrupted any thoughts of constructive rugby.
Back to the rugby, and Alnwick weren’t quite finished.
Andrew Shell made amends for his early dropped passes to run through the now-dispirited Horden rear line to get Alnwick’s fourth – and bonus points – try.
O’Grady once again added the points (26-5) to complete the scoring.
In truth, it wasn’t the best game of rugby seen at Greenfield this season but maybe a warning for the tougher games coming in the next two weeks.
Alnwick: A Todd, A Shell, E Shell, F Hutchinson, G Potts, A Gray, N O’Grady, S Botham, S. Allen, P Brown, A Alexander, J Burgess, G Smith, J Kelly, R Ellis. Replacements P Robinson, S Bremner, D Oliver all used.