If match sponsors, MKM Building Supplies, know about sand and gravel then they would probably recognise grit when they see it and there was plenty shown by both sides in this local derby between long-standing rivals.
The recent form of the two teams and the proximity of their league positions suggested that this would be a closely contested encounter, although Alnwick had the edge in the final quarter,
Morpeth were competitive to the end and score-line was a fair reflection of the whole match.
This was a highly entertaining contest, fairly contested by both sides in the true spirit of the game and it is to the credit of both teams that, despite the rivalry and the desire to win, their enthusiasm and commitment never overstepped the bounds of the acceptable behaviour as can sometimes happen in local derbies.
Morpeth kicked off slightly aided by a chilly wind and immediately made their intentions clear. An untidy Alnwick line-out on half-way gave Morpeth a scrum, followed by a promising movement from their backs which ended with a knock-on on Alnwick’s 10 metre line.
Alnwick’s set-piece creaked ominously under pressure and at the re-set scrum Morpeth’s drive disrupted Alnwick who lost possession in the loose.
Morpeth backs moved the ball smartly left and although held as they cut back to the centre, quick re-cycling and forward support moved the attack left again where lock Michie brushed aside a weak Alnwick tackle and strode over for a try and a 0 - 5 lead after five minutes, full-back Ball’s conversion attempt hitting the post.
From the re-start, a strong run by Bird and a Burn chip put Alnwick on the front foot and were awarded a penalty as the backs took play left from an Alnwick line-out, Bird slotting the goal from some 30 metres for 3 – 5.
Alnwick withstood a brief period of pressure from Morpeth and with Shell on as blood replacement for skipper Hutchinson, they began to mount some promising attacks.
Morpeth defended stoutly and in turn gained a couple of penalties but Ball’s attempt at goal from the second was wide of the mark.
Morpeth’s attack from the drop-out ended with a knock-on near their 10 metre line in midfield. Having struggled in the set scrums earlier, Alnwick had now gained parity and with a clean break from the base of the scrum, No.8 Ellis gained valuable yards before releasing scrum-half Todd with a well timed pass. In parts of England, Mr. Todd is another name for a fox and this particular fox was off, dodging past bemused defenders and touching down for a classy solo try under the posts before the pursuing pack had got a whiff of his scent. Bird converted easily for 10 - 5.
Evenly matched attacks and counter attack from both sides produced no further score in the half apart from a penalty from Ball to make it 10 – 8 , but he missed a further penalty attempt which would have given Morpeth a half-time lead.
Morpeth started the second half threateningly and might have had a try when a Ball penalty rebounded off the post, but Alnwick were alert enough to stifle the threat and clear their lines.
Courtesy of a penalty and some handling errors from Morpeth, Alnwick began a period of sustained pressure and as the ball moved right from loose play on Alnwick’s left, winger Moralee sped up the narrow right-wing corridor and although almost held, his momentum and determination took him over the line with Bird’s excellent cross-wind conversion making it 17 – 8. Thereafter, despite unceasing effort, there was no way back for Morpeth.
The strengthening wind and bright sun now favoured Alnwick and as their fitness began to tell they gradually turned the screw, keeping Morpeth pinned in their own 22. First-rate tactical kicking from stand-off Calum Burn frustrated Morpeth’s attempts to ease the pressure but there was still plenty of excitement in the closing stages.
Morpeth finally raised the siege and battled into Alnwick’s half but Alnwick almost had the final say as Moralee sprinted away from an untidy line-out near his own 22, and, with referee Dawson commendably close to his heels, outpaced the defence to the line. However, the linesman’s flag was raised for a foot in touch juse seconds before the final whistle blew.