With only two points separating Pocklington’s sixth league place from Alnwick’s fourth, this game always promised to be a tight contest.
Alnwick had lost 25 – 22 by a late try at Pocklington in November, so in this, their first home game in a month, they were out to reverse the previous outcome whilst at the same time seeking points that could move them into third spot.
Although the pitch had been drying out nicely for the 2nd team’s cup game the previous Saturday, by kick-off time for this match, generously sponsored by John Manners (a recent star of TV’s ‘Robson Green’s Northumberland’), heavy rain had made it almost unplayable being very marshy in the places where the numerous large puddles didn’t actually join up.
On a day where ‘Mud, glorious mud’ would likely result in a squelchy forward struggle, the prospects for any sort open rugby were extremely remote but in the event this proved to be a highly enjoyable and entertaining match. With little to choose between the two packs, both sets of three-quarters were prepared to run the ball and despite the conditions, the catching, handling and passing by both sides, but especially the Alnwick backs, was of commendable quality.
A very light northerly wind accompanied the persistent rain as Alnwick kicked off up the slope and were able to confine Pocklington to their own half in the opening exchanges.
Neither side made progress from penalties but with ten minutes gone, Bird fielded a Pocklington kick near half-way and burst up the centre towards Pocklington’s 22 where left-winger Ali Gray continued the movement using his speed and power to drive through the defence for a fine try in the right-hand corner for 5 – 0 with the conversion missed.
Alnwick might have increased their lead 16 minutes in but Bird’s penalty attempt was off target and after a promising run from Shell on the right a further penalty ended with a knock-on by Pocklington at the line-out.
Pocklington were now coming more into the game gaining good yardage with strong forward drives but Alnwick’s solid defence kept them beyond the home 22 until they cleared to half-way through a penalty.
A Pocklington penalty missed touch and a half-break by Cuthbert ended with a knock-on, but Pocklington were penalised for crossing as they launched an attack from the scrum.
A chip ahead by Bird following the lineout was knocked on by Pocklington and from the scrum on their 10 metre line, a smart Hutchinson break found support on the right to put Ellis over in the right hand corner for 10 – 0 with the conversion missed.
Pocklington put the Alnwick line under considerable pressure as half-time approached through a series of driving mauls from close range and moving the ball along the backs as soon as progress stalled. Alnwick’s defence, both in the close-quarter exchanges and along the back line, was again in fine form and the half ended with Ali Gray calling an excellent mark in taking a difficult catch.
Pocklington began the second half where they left off, as their forwards benefitted from a missed tackle and were only just kept out in the left-hand corner. For the best part of ten minutes they remained camped on Alnwick’s line through a penalty and a series of drives and mauls from scrums and line-outs, but once again Alnwick’s dogged defence saw them through until they were able to break out via Moralee’s chip ahead.
An exchange of a couple of penalties each kept play mainly between the 10 metre lines and although Alnwick rather worryingly conceded four penalties in ten minutes, the visitors couldn’t profit and it was from the last of these that the final score came. As a Pocklington catch-and-drive from a line-out on their own 10 metre line was halted, the ball emerged on the narrow side and Calum Burn shot up the left touchline to score in the corner for 15 – 0, Bird narrowly missing the conversion.
From then on, despite their best efforts, Pocklington were kept pegged back in or around their 22 as Alnwick tightened their grip and tried to get a fourth try for a bonus point.
Unfortunately it was not to be and there was a palpable sense of relief among theYorkshiremen when referee Dawson’s whistle ended the mud-fest.
This was a very satisfactory result for Alnwick even though they were deprived of third place in the league by virtue of West Hartlepool gaining a losing bonus point.