Shell-shocked Sunderland

Alnwick 43 Sunderland 7

Durham/Northumberland Division One

As expected, league leaders Alnwick were leading bottom club Sunderland with ease with a great display of running rugby in the first 40 minutes as they had chalked up 43 points, writes Bob Bingham.

At half-time, the crowd were expecting Alnwick to reach 70 or 80 points in the second half.

In the freezing conditions and with a break with tradition, never seen at Alnwick before in a league game, they headed for the dressing room as soon as the referee blew for the end of the first period.

The team that emerged from that dressing room was a shadow of that which had entered.

They lost their shape in the backs. Instead of swinging the ball out to the wings, they tried to batter their way through a Sunderland defence which suddenly blocked all the holes which had appeared in the first half. The home forwards, who had dominated the line-out with some superb jumping, lost the plot and in the tight, the eight even lost a ball against the head, the sort they had won in the first half.

It was so different in the first period. Alnwick started with a bang. The forwards won the ball, back to Ord who set off his back-line, out to Andrew Shell, who, from deep in his own half, broke through and scored between the posts. Angus Todd converted (7-0).

Back-row forward Gordon Smith cleaned up two mistakes by his colleagues before Ed Shell had a chance but knocked on. There was a great take in the line by Ellis, back after injury. It went out to Ed Shell who made the break to pass to brother Andrew who had the easiest of run-ins to score. Todd converted (14-0).

Sunderland seemed shell-shocked but there was worse to come for them. Stand-off Todd scored with a fine break through a poor Sunderland defence but then missed the conversion (19-0).

Minutes later, he did exactly the same thing from close to the half-way line and this time his conversion went over (26-0).

The Sunderland backs seemed to lack ideas, and this is borne out by their try-scoring record, but their forwards rumbled forward, aided by number 10 Francis, who touched down for a try. Fish converted (26-7).

Alnwick hit back immediately. From the kick-off, prop Jaunty Johnson, back after a long-term injury, broke down the pitch, passed out to Ed Shell for a try. Todd converted (33-7).

The best try was yet to come and well worth the wait on a freezing afternoon which numbed the body. It started with prop Brown making ground and then the ball went through seven pair of hands to be finished off by, surprise, surprise, Andrew Shell to complete his hat-trick, which cost him a few beers in the bar afterwards (38-7).

But the captain was not finished. He made the break that gave hard-working centre Frank Hutchinson a much-deserved try as Sunderland looked totally demoralised as the half ended. (43-7).

Then came the second half and Alnwick failed to score a point as Sunderland seemed to be a different team. Not helping matters was the large number of penalties, forward passes and knock-ons that affected Alnwick in the second half.

While the first half was as slick as you could imagine, the second was a reminder of how bad things had been at Consett the week before.

Still it was a good first half which ensured Alnwick stayed at the top of the league, gaining a bonus point as well. All one can say about the second is it is best forgotten.

Alnwick have Blyth as visitors on Saturday with a 3pm kick-off. There is a Christmas lunch in the clubhouse.

Contact Bob Bingham 01665 602041 by tonight (Thursday).

Alnwick: R Cuthbert, Shell (capt), A Gray, F Hutchinson, E Shell, A Todd, S Ord, P Brown, T Dunn, J Johnson, J Burgess, J Fernback, G Smith, J Kelly, R Ellis. Replacements A Alexander, D Oliver, S Allen.