Match Report: Cleckheaton 15 – 23 Alnwick
Cleck go ahead but come undone in last 10 minutes
Cleckheaton recorded their second home defeat of the season within 7 days of the first one to West Leeds. This game like the previous week’s, could so easily have been won but instead Alnwick were let back into the game with a late flurry of scoring on the back of Cleckheaton’s mistakes.
Alnwick took an early lead via a James Bird penalty goal but the scores were levelled by an almost 40m effort from Mike Swetman. Determined running and good support from Alnwick, coupled with some rather average tackling from Cleckheaton allowed the men from Northumberland to cross in the corner for an unconverted try. James Bird then extended his side’s lead with another penalty goal, as Jack Seddon was sin binned for a high tackle. Cleckheaton had scant scoring opportunities in the first half with their set piece disrupted a number of times. Mikey Hayward looked to have got in space down Cleckheaton’s right but nursing his very recently recovered hamstring strain, could not get free of the final defender. Seddon and Matt Piper carried the ball vigourously at every opportunity and Ryan Piercy worked hard in defence, topping the 1st half tackle count. Despite these efforts the sides changed ends with Cleckheaton trailing 11-3.
Cleckheaton started the second period in a different gear. Buoyed with the wind at their back, they spent the first 7 minutes of the half pressing Alnwick’s line before Mike Swetman sold Alnwick a dummy and glided through the defence for a try. The same player converted from in front of the sticks to put Cleck within 1 point. The home team continued to gather momentum and ten minutes later, following a surge upfield by the forwards, Cleck won a scrum 15m from Alnwick’s line. Luke Pearson, temporarily at No.8, picked up and fed Jack Bickerdike, who passed behind Matt Piper to Swetman. The stand-off then threw a nice pass to put Hayward on the outside of his opposite number, giving Cleckheaton the lead for the first time in the match. With the touchline conversion drifting wide, Cleckheaton were only 4 points in front but it appeared they were now in full control of the fixture.
One thing that teams sometimes fail to recognise is that they are at their most vulnerable just after scoring a try. Cleckheaton had worked hard in the second period to finally take the lead with only 12 minutes left to play and perhaps thoughts had turned to smiles, handshakes and commiserations for the opposition. It wasn’t physical fitness but whatever it was, concentration somehow drained from the team. A disastrous restart gave Alnwick possession in a dangerous position and although Cleck’s defence held out, they never truly cleared their lines. Failure to find touch and trying to play too much rugby in their own red zone gifted Alnwick both attacking possession but more crucially a belief that their day was not done after all. From the back of a scrum just inside Cleck’s 22, Alnwick’s No.8 picked up and rampaged through a couple of tackles before off loading for the visitors’ 2nd try of the day. Cleckheaton still felt they could overcome their 1 point deficit in the last 6 minutes but Alnwick’s tails were now up and more poor choices and lack of composure ultimately undid Cleckheaton as Alnwick went in at the corner again.
Brad Marsden collected the Man of the Match working hard to the last, but this will be a game that Cleckheaton will spend some time reflecting on. Cleck’s three losses have come against three of the top four sides at this early stage in the league season but they were all winnable. Whilst the last fortnight’s results are frustrating, the team are working hard on new structures and patterns and are not far off gelling into a side that can mount a real challenge in North 1 East. There is a now break from League action this weekend as Cleckheaton welcome Ilkley to Moorend for the Yorkshire Cup. Kick off is at 3pm.