Durham & Northumberland, Division One
ALNWICK threw away a 19-5 half-time lead to lose this top-of-the-table clash against Darlington.
Trailing at the interval by 19-5, the visitors changed tactics, kicking deeper at every opportunity and then used their heavyweight forwards to hammer away at the Alnwick try-line.
It was a very effective tactic that saw them drive over for four tries, each one scored by loose-head prop Hargreaves.
The game was not the fast, open rugby that we had been promised, but more dour play that gave the visitors the result they wanted.
Alnwick’s scores came from tries by Ali Gray and Jim Hamilton, with goals added by James Bird – one conversion and four penalties.
An early kick-through by Darlington outside-half Carver was returned at pace by Bird, who linked up with Gray to race into the Darlington 22 area before he was hauled down.
The Darlington midfield centres were caught offside at the ensuing scrum. Alnwick took the penalty line-out through Richard Ellis. A quick pass linked play to Gordon Smith, who stormed away, catching the Darlington cover well offside. Bird’s penalty-kick was successful to ease Alnwick into the lead (3-0).
Alnwick kmocked on the restart drop-out and Darlington took scrum ball out to Carver, whose angled run saw him slice through a shambolic defence. Not a hand was laid on him as he went through for an unconverted try (3-5).
From loose play, Darlington worked the ball out to centre Pugh, who kicked deep for wingman Mackfall to chase into the Alnwick 22, sound covering by Graeme Potts snuffed out the danger.
Darlington drove hard for the Alnwick try-line, a switch play by the centres saw Pugh break wide only to be tackled by Gray.
Darlington continued to press, but Alnwick won good maul ball out to Nathan O’Grady, whose clearance pushed play to the centre lines where the visitors’ tight-head prop Oselton was penalised for illegal play. Bird edged Alnwick back into the lead from the penalty (6-5).
A long restart ball was run back by Bird and successive kicks by O’Grady had the Darlington defence back-pedalling. Desperate defence ended in a high tackle and the penalty was goaled by Bird to ease Alnwick further ahead (9-5).
Alnwick went further ahead following a poor restart drop-out by Darlington.
Alnwick won the midfield scrum but Richard Ellis was held as he broke for the forwards to drive through to set up a sharp three-quarters move with Gray slipping through at pace to score a cracking try, the conversion points being added (16-5).
The Darlington backs tried to break through a tight Alnwick defence, a sweeping run by Kibberigey saw the speedy winger hauled down. A further run by full-back McNeilly was halted by a devastating tackle by Frank Hutchinson.
A drive from a line-out inside the Darlington 22 area from Ellis and Adam Alexander was carried on by Peter Brown and Gordon Smith.
A Darlington lock-forward handled at the ruck with Bird again adding the penalty points (19-5).
Alnwick continued to run the ball back at the visitors but could not add to the total as the first half ended with Alnwick sitting on a 19-5 lead.
The Darlington coach must have given the team a rare roasting and certainly altered their tactics, getting all plays to be delivered by the forwards with the backs kicking deep to pin Alnwick into their 22 area.
Right from the restart, the ball was belted deep into the Alnwick 22. A powerful concerted drive by the Darlington pack saw them surge over the Alnwick try-line, with prop Hargreaves gaining the touchdown. Carver added the goal points (19-12).
Darlington continued these tactics – any time the ball was put back to the three-quarters it was hoisted back into the Alnwick 22.
The home side lifted this siege and ran the ball back to the Darlington line, only to concede a tap-penalty, which saw winger Kibberigey race through into the Alnwick 22 area.
The hefty Darlington forwards spent minutes battering away to drive Alnwick back to their try-line. A surging play from a line-out again saw Hargreaves driven over for a converted try to level the scores (19-19).
Darlington went further ahead following driving play from their forwards, a penalty line-out was followed by a successful catch-and-drive, with several of the three-quarters joining the drive to sweep over the Alnwick try-line for that prop Hargreaves to gain his third try, this was not converted (19-24).
Alnwick made a number of changes with Stuart Gray, Tony Davison and Andrew Bell coming on as replacements.
Darlington again struck gold, a driving play saw the forwards roll through for another power-play score through prop Hargreaves, with goal points being added by Carver (19-31).
Alnwick struck back in the final minutes, seized onto a loose ball and away went Gray to link up with Stuart Gray. His run was halted but in came the forwards to set up quick ball for Gray to get play out to Andy Shell. His run and kick through were followed up at pace. A try was on the cards only for him to be blatantly obstructed.
Alnwick quickly ran a tap-penalty out to Jim Hamilton, who out-paced the defence to go over for an unconverted try (24-31).
A hard, battling performance that looked good for Alnwick at the end of the first half, but they ultimately went down to a set of hard-driving Darlington forwards and that man Hargreaves.
Alnwick: J Bird, A Shell (cpt), F Hutchinson, A Gray, G Potts, N O’Grady, I Gray, P Brown, H Sordy, D Hamblin, A Alexander, D Oliver, G Smith, J Hamilton, R Ellis, T Davison, AR Bell, S Gray.
Saturday’s league match is at Ashington, kick-off 2.15pm.