ALNWICK RFC 3BLACKBURN 5“It was a dark and dismal day in a week that had seen rain.” Few, if any, Northumberland readers will recognise this opening line of a poem celebrating a famous rugby occasion in 1972, but is a suitable description of conditions prior to last Saturday’s match when there must have been some doubt that the game would even take place.
Certainly it might have been moist enough for match sponsors GSC Grays to consider adding ‘Flood Control and River Management’ to their portfolio.
The Scots have the perfect word for such a day – ‘dreich’ - with assorted meanings including dreary, bleak, boring, dull and uninteresting, words used by some to describe this match, perhaps a mite unfairly given the conditions.
With no wind to speak of, the match was played in intermittent smirry rain until it worsened in the second half, and it is a credit to the handling skills of both teams that, even as the weather deteriorated, they managed to produce some respectable if unspectacular rugby.
As the final score suggests, there was little to choose between the sides and from the moment that Blackburn’s kick-off on a squelchy surface went directly into touch, the weather was to prove a major factor. Inevitably there were handling errors from both sides with numerous set scrums where Alnwick did well to hold their own against the Blackburn eight until the visitors bulk began give them a slight edge in the second half.
In the opening phases both sides showed a willingness to use their three-quarters and it is perhaps indicative of the quality of defensive tackling by both sides that for most of the first half play took place between the 22 metre lines.
Alnwick had to do their fair share of defending early on as Blackburn’s used their main attacking strategy, employed throughout the game, of using their hefty forwards as battering rams and while their speedy backs had ample possession they posed few serious threats. Several times Alnwick broke out from defensive positions without quite managing to get clear and the chance to put Blackburn under pressure went begging as a penalty kick was overcooked and found touch in goal.
There seemed little prospect of a try by either side and
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it was not until the 30th minute that a well struck penalty from Callum Burn opened the scoring to give Alnwick a 3-0 lead.
As half-time approached Alnwick came under continued pressure when Blackburn got deep into their 22. Alnwick defended well before stealing the ball in the loose but conceded a 5 metre scrum when the clearance kick was charged down. Blackburn switched play right and left where lock McHugh picked up from a ruck and drove over from close range for an unconverted try which put the visitors 3-5 up at the interval.
The second half was pretty much a repetition of the first. An ambitious 40m penalty attempt by Callum Burn fell short, but after a series promising Alnwick attacks were halted, sharp passing following a ruck on the right got the ball to full-back Weddle up in the line.
He was legitimately tackled two metres short but passed to the supporting Jonny Burn who crossed the line only to have the try disallowed and Blackburn penalised for a high tackle. A somewhat debatable decision which rather suggested that a penalty try should have been the correct outcome.
As the rain worsened in the latter stages the contest became more of a muddy arm wrestle where Alnwick’s close-quarter defences were rigorously tested. In the final minute Blackburn missed a fairly meaningless penalty kick at goal and there was some relief all round as the referee’s whistle ended proceedings in the gathering gloom.