Smash and grab raid as Alnwick take derby spoils at Morpeth

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MORPETH 11

ALNWICK 13

Until the next time these two old rivals meet, Morpeth will be wondering how, with home advantage, territorial advantage on the pitch and an abundance of possession, they contrived to lose this match.

Alnwick, however, will be marvelling that they managed, in the finest smash and grab tradition of Border Reivers, to retain the Brett Silver Horse having survived off scraps for most of the game.

Indeed, if the horse were a living creature and its rations of fodder in Alnwick were as meagre as the team’s possession, it would be a mighty scrawny beast by the time of the next encounter.

Such is the wonderfully unpredictable nature of sport and local derbies in particular that the improbable rarely fails to delight or frustrate the passions of teams and supporters.

Highly charged local matches such as this can occasionally deteriorate into unseemly brawls, but even with the result in doubt right to the final whistle, this competitive tussle was cleanly and fairly contested throughout and a credit to both teams.

On a heavy pitch with a brisk, blustery wind, passing was always going to be tricky as Alnwick found as they kicked off with the wind at their backs. They were immediately under pressure but got away with several fumbles and near knock-ons in the opening minutes before Morpeth were awarded three penalties in quick succession.

The catch-and-drive from the line-out following the first caught Alnwick off-side in mid-field but full-back Brown’s kick hit the post. Seconds later he was again off-target with another penalty from a similar eminently kickable position.

These were to prove costly errors, but at the time seemed unimportant as Alnwick were on the back foot for most of the first half. The co-ordinated drive of Morpeth’s heavy pack was causing problems in the set scrums and with Alnwick’s line-out again malfunctioning,

Morpeth were quick to take advantage. Strong running by their backs and rapid re-cycling at the breakdown maintained territorial advantage whilst providing good ball aplenty but somehow they couldn’t find a way past Alnwick’s tackling.

Alnwick meanwhile were largely on the defensive and seeing very little possession.

They gained some respite through a couple of penalties and some well- judged touch-kicks from stand-off Burn as well as through the occasional incursion into opposition territory.

Against the run of play, Alnwick went ahead after 23 minutes when one of these raids ended with Morpeth conceding a penalty for a high tackle. Bird’s kick made it 0 – 3, which was to be the half-time score despite Morpeth’s best efforts in the intervening period.

With the wind now favouring Morpeth, Alnwick faced a difficult forty minutes, and the half had barely started before a Phillips penalty levelled the scores 3 -3 .

Morpeth now began piling on the pressure keeping Alnwick penned back, but following an Alnwick line-out on their own 22, Moralee chipped ahead and Burn was first to the ball, brushing aside the winger’s tackle before setting off up the touchline like a whippet.

He might well have gone all the way himself but as the cover came in, his perfectly timed inside pass found Shell on his shoulder, and he made light of the remaining 40 metres to score under the posts for 3 – 8, with Bird’s conversion making it 3 – 10.

Morpeth re-doubled their efforts as their backs continued to threaten, but their try finally came through their forwards as Alnwick tried to clear from their goal-line, Calder charging down Bird’s kick and getting the touch down for 8 – 10, with the conversion missed.

The try boosted Morpeth’s morale, and further continuous pressure paid off when a Phillips penalty put them 11 – 10 ahead.

The lead was short lived. Morpeth were penalised after the re-start and Alnwick’s tap-and-go gained a further ten metres to get within range of the posts as Morpeth were adjudged, perhaps a trifle harshly, not to have retreated. Bird’s attempt almost stalled on the wind but dropped safely over the bar for 11 - 13.

In the remaining minutes, Morpeth threw everything into the attack, but Alnwick’s defence, probably the meanest in the league and which had been magnificently unyielding throughout, saw them safely home.

This victory rounded off a good spell for Alnwick who had picked up the Alnwick District ‘Club of the Year Award’ the previous week.