Winning start to new year as Alnwick move up to third place

Morpeth V Alnwick rugby .'Alnwicks J Bird at speed
Morpeth V Alnwick rugby .'Alnwicks J Bird at speed

Alnwick 46-0 Wheatley Hills

Alnwick’s New Year got off to an encouraging start as they moved up to third in the league with this comprehensive victory against bottom club Wheatley Hills.

Although the final score-line reflects Alnwick’s superiority of organisation, fitness and ability, Hills’ patchwork side of youth and experience deserve great credit for their whole-hearted effort against the odds.

In truth, Alnwick were always in the ascendancy to such an extent that Hills rarely got as far as the home 22 and never really looked like scoring.

Even if matters were fairly even in the loose, Alnwick were comfortable in the set scrums, dominant in the line-outs and altogether sharper around the field so it was perhaps surprising that Hills held out so well.

If first-time match sponsors CH & SE Armstrong might have hoped to see more than an unconverted try and a penalty in the first half, they were well rewarded in the second as Alnwick’s dominance finally bore fruit in some style.

On a cool, calm and cloudy afternoon with the pitch in decent shape despite the recent rain,

Alnwick were not expecting too many problems from the struggling Hills as they kicked off down the slope and were awarded a penalty after only 90 seconds but Bird’s long range was off target.

Penalties to Hills only brought them temporary relief in the opening exchanges as Alnwick began to mount a period of sustained pressure.

This was finally rewarded after 14 minutes when Alnwick’s backs moved the ball smartly left from a line-out on Hills’ 22 and as play broke down Moralee scooted round the narrow side to score for 5-0 with the conversion missed.

Expectant Alnwick supporters hoped that his would be the start of greater things but were to be disappointed as the only other score of the half came 10 minutes later when a Bird penalty made it 8-0 .

From then to the interval, the Hills line was under almost constant pressure but Alnwick’s territorial advantage was dissipated by a frustrating lack of clinical finishing in the face of determined defending.

Hills gained no advantage from two penalties at the start of the second half, but from a kick and chase by Alnwick following a Hills scrum on Alnwick’s 10m line, the defence fumbled the ball back over the line. At the ensuing scrum, Alnwick’s drive looked certain to secure a try and when referee Dawson deemed that Hills had deliberately collapsed the scrum, a penalty try was the inevitable outcome, Bird converting easily for 15-0.

From the re-start, Moralee chased his own kick ahead and Hills put themselves under pressure when the attempted clearance kick was charged down by the pursuing Brewis.

Alnwick gained territory without any immediate advantage but when a penalty and line-out to Hills only resulted in a scrum to Alnwick, Brewis was again on hand as the ball came right and he found space to dart through from 25 metres and score an unconverted try in the corner for 20-0.

As the game moved into the final quarter the pressure on Hills was unrelenting as Alnwick’s fitness began to tell,

A penalty provided the foundation for a series of thrusts from Alnwick’s backs until Hills conceded a penalty at a 5m scrum. With their pack in control, Alnwick opted for the scrum from which No 8 Ellis crossed but was deemed to have been held up.

The ball was released quickly from the ensuing 5m scrum and Cuthbert had the speed, strength and determination to take him over for an unconverted try on the left for 25-0.

From the re-start, an Alnwick tap-&-go penalty ended with Hills winning the ball from their own scrum outside their 22, but as the pass was spilled backwards, Warcup was quick to pounce.

A hack on to the line would have seemed the logical option but in a moment of memorable wizardry he effected a one-handed pick up at speed and zipped through to score at the posts giving Bird a simple conversion for 32- 0.

As Alnwick got the better of an exchange of penalties to gain a line-out near Hills 10 metre line on the right, the defence showed a marked reluctance to again confront flanker Hamilton’s physicality as he strode unhindered over the line with Bird adding the extras for 39-0.

With only minutes left there was still time for a couple of scrums to Hills but as they gamely looked for some forward momentum from their 22, Richie Ellis made up for his earlier disappointment by intercepting a pass and outpaced the cover to score, giving Alnwick the last word as Bird’s conversion made it a comfortable 46 -0 win.

Alnwick: J Bird, R Mallaburn, P Robinson, F Hutchinson (Capt), G Brewis, J Warcup, P Moralee, D Clayton, D Smith, C Phillips, M Gray, O Sutheran, G Smith, J Hamilton, R Ellis. Subs: S Ord, R Cuthbert, P Brown.

Referee: Greg Dawson (Northumberland Society)

Next match: Penrith (Away) Saturday, January 14. Kick-off 2pm.