Alnwick lose at home to league leaders

ALNWICK RFC 6BILLINGHAM 13Last season, Billingham travelled to Alnwick on the back of a comfortable home win and with high hopes for promotion but suffered an unexpected defeat which may have contributed to their ultimate failure to fulfil their season’s ambitions.

Monday, 2nd December 2019, 7:51 am
Updated Monday, 16th December 2019, 4:05 pm
Action from Alnwick v Billingham on Saturday. Picture by Steve Miller.

For this match the visitors arrived as league leaders having won all their matches and 12 points clear of their nearest rivals, Blaydon. It may have been at the back of their minds that a Christmas spectre was rattling his chains and waiting to haunt them with another upset, particularly so when they were 5 – 6 down with 20 minutes remaining.

This match was in the balance right up to the end and it took a last gasp try for Billingham to squeeze home with a slightly flattering score-line and add a thin veneer of credibility to

their league status. The closeness of the final score relative to these sides’ respective league positions is a fair indication of the tight and competitive nature of this league.

The heavy overnight rain had cleared away and bright sunshine with a strong but cold south-westerly wind had helped to dry the pitch leaving it quite firm and in remarkably good condition after some recent muddy encounters.

The wind favoured Alnwick as they kicked off and despite losing centre Frank Hutchinson early on, spent the opening 15 minutes pressuring Billingham in or around their 22 metre line but without managing to crack the defensive wall. Billingham gradually moved up towards Alnwick territory but on 20 minutes gave away a penalty which Callum Burn slotted for a 3 - 0 lead.

Throughout the game there was little of the expected flair or imagination in Billingham’s play apart from their influential stand-off Peter Evans who engineered their first try. An accurate cross-kick found winger Ross who tapped it back to the supporting flanker Myers who was just able to stretch to the line for an unconverted try and a 3 – 5 lead.

There was little of note as possession and territory fluctuated up to half-time apart from a superb defensive 50 metre clearance by Alnwick’s Callum Burn and a searing break by team-mate Rory Mallaburn which nearly brought a try.

After the interval the

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wind, now favouring Billingham, had moved up a notch, but Alnwick made light of it with their pack were going well and more than holding their own in the set pieces. Following a tidy break by Callum Burn, substitute Sean Hutchinson had a seemingly a valid try disallowed, and the referee, having played advantage, then called play back for Callum Burn to slot the penalty making it 6 – 5.

The cold wind and cold hands had led to frequent handling errors but neither side could gain an edge from their endeavours until Billingham nosed to a 6 – 8 lead thanks to a Peter Evans penalty.

For 10 minutes in the final quarter Alnwick were down to 14 men thanks to a debatable yellow card and Billingham were able to maintain pressure on Alnwick who defended stubbornly but found it difficult to get into a scoring position. The pressure finally told in the last minute when from a 5 metre lineout following yet another penalty, lock Jackson was driven over for an unconverted try and a final score of 6 – 13.

Billingham might realise that Santa had been quite generous in helping them lay the ghost of their previous encounter but it was very much a case of ‘only just’ and there was palpable relief among their followers that their side had managed to edge home.

For Alnwick, Father Christmas had been a bit Scrooge-like and there was little festive cheer from a single losing bonus point which was a measly stocking-filler and scant reward for the huge effort put in by the entire team. Perhaps the turn of the year will bring better fortune. They certainly deserve it.