Match Report: Alnwick 41 - 26 Cleckheaton
Cleckheaton Dominate First Half But Alnwick’s Speed Wins The Match
Cleckheaton made the first of what will be 3 trips to the North of Newcastle over the next month. Alnwick, the most northerly rugby club playing in the English Union awaited them and their 100% home record this season made them obvious pre-match favourites. Cleckheaton were missing a couple of three quarters from the previous week, with both Mikey Hayward and Lee Queeley unavailable. This meant that the versatile Brad Marsden, who had played second and back row respectively the previous two games, switched to the wing and Lewis Beasty joined the bench. A notable point about this game was that it was presided over by Spanish Referee, Alberto Requena, here on exchange from the Spainish Union and his performance was first rate.
Alnwick went into an early lead with a converted try which started with a break just inside their own territory but from the conversion on the ten minute mark, it was all Cleckheaton. The visitor’s forwards began to dominate their opposition, with coach Thiu Barnard, adding sizeable beef to Cleck’s pack and Ryan Piercy and Paul Turner adding to the go-forward. Within 5 minutes Cleck equalised when Captain, Matt Piper, took a short pass from Jack Bickerdike and pirouetted his way to the line. Mike Swetman added the difficult conversion. Cleckheaton continued to press and took the lead following an excellent drive from the pack, which BIckerdike marshalled to the line before scooting in to ground the ball. Swetman once again improved the score to give Cleck a 14-7 lead.
The home side were well and truly on the ropes with their home record in serious doubt as more good work from the forwards, with the back row trio of Joey Carley (awarded Cleck’s Man of the Match), Josh White and Jack Seddon all making ground, before Ryan Piercy took the ball and made a determined run to the line that could not be halted. Swetman made it 3 conversions out of 3 and with the game entering the last minute of normal time in the first period, Cleckheaton were well on top. In injury time, Alnwick pulled a little bit of the advantage back with a penalty goal to bring the score to Alnwick 10 – 21 Cleckheaton. At the change of ends.
There is an old cliché that wryly observes that matches can be a game of two halves. This one was certainly a case in point as Cleckheaton’s seemingly comfortable lead was quickly eroded away as the second half progressed. Two minutes in Alnwick stretched Cleckheaton’s defence and Cleckheaton’s fullback, James Wilson, was at full stretch trying to tackle Alnwick’s speedy outside centre. The grab ended up around the neck of the Northumberland man and Wilson was set to the sin bin. Alnwick kicked for touch, spun the ball from one side of the field to the other and Smales rounded Cleck’s depleted defence for an unconverted try. Taking full advantage of their numeric advantage in the back line Alnwick continued to move the ball wide and Smales went in again for a converted try that gave them a 22-21 lead. Just to show that they were not reliant on having an extra man, within 3 minutes of Cleckheaton being restored to full complement, another sweeping backs move was well executed and very well finished by Warcup to clock up 19 unanswered points for the home side.
Cleckheaton had worked hard for their half time lead and it had now evaporated but the game was not yet over. More good work from the forwards set up good field position and the ball was passed to the short side, where Jack Seddon tip-toed down the touchline, to score Cleckheaton’s 4th try and earn them at least one point from the game. Cleckheaton were still thinking of obtaining the full five points rather than the solitary one that was already in the bag, but it wasn’t to be and Alnwick’s clinical back line once again scythed through Cleckheaton’s defence for a try from deep via Fox. At 34-26, with only a few minutes left, Cleck were still approaching the tie with optimism and a losing bonus point was within reach. However, just to emphasise the point Alnwick had the last word with a 6th try from their own half, to earn Smales a hat-trick and to end the game with a slightly lopsided score of 41-26.