DURHAM CITY U-14’S vs ALNWICK, SUNDAY FEBRUARY 25th 2017: DURHAM CITY 22 – ALNWICK 5
The U-14’s continued their winning ways this weekend against a very determined and always threatening Alnwick side who played good, hard rugby right to the final whistle and pretty much matched the home side for effort and ability throughout the match.
The U-14’s were blessed with near perfect playing conditions at the Racecourse ground. There was little or no breeze, a good surface and glorious winter sunshine bathed the pitch throughout the match. Alnwick had made the trip with a squad as varied as Durham’s in physical terms. Durham’s squad of 21 continued to reflect the inevitable wear and tear of a hard season’s rugby but both sides looked up for it during an enthusiastic warm-up.
The match was refereed independently and comprised two 25 minute periods.
Alnwick kicked-off the first period playing up the slope. Their kick-off was gathered by Durham on the left of their 10 yard line and a swift cross-field series of passes found the overlap on the far right wing. A quick burst down the line and over to touch down near Alnwick’s right hand post gave Durham probably their quickest score of the season and a 5-0 lead. Perhaps some thought that this early strike was going to be the first of many and that Durham were on their way to amassing a huge total!
If so, this early optimism was quickly dissipated by Alnwick who recovered their composure very rapidly. Clearing the next Durham attack to the half way line, they pressured Durham into conceding first a scrum and then a penalty which was kicked to Durham’s 22 yard line. Their continued pressure was met by often desperate defending by Durham who eventually conceded a penalty 5 yards out and in front of their posts. This time, Alnwick’s pressure proved too much and a strong drive took them to the right of Durham’s posts and over for a try on the right wing which levelled the scores at 5-5 after 6 minutes.
The next period of the match contained few incidents of note. Instead a dogged midfield war of attrition ensued with a mixture of determined attack and defence, handling errors and offsides generally negating occasional cameos of exciting play. The battle raged in a zone 20 yards either side of the half way line with Durham growing increasingly frustrated with themselves and the numerous penalties awarded against them. For their part, Alnwick were constantly menacing and had regrouped and re-focused very effectively after their early setback.
The half time whistle was therefore a welcome sound for the home team who then used the opportunity provided by the break to clear their heads and re-consider their approach to the match having been thoroughly disabused of any thoughts of achieving an ‘easy victory.’
Durham started the second half facing up the slope and applied steady early pressure, penning Alnwick back in their own 22 for a while and probing their defences until, as all too often, progress was thwarted by knock-ons, offsides or other decisions given against them. Durham kept up the pressure despite this and it was not long before they restored their lead with a series of drives on the left wing culminating in a try and successful conversion for a 12-5 lead 3 minutes into the second period. This was just the start that Durham needed to settle any nerves and their overall performance was steadily improving on that of the first half. Over the next few minutes Durham threatened more than Alnwick and nearly scored from an exciting kick and chase, the ball only just going into the dead zone before it could be touched down.
Just as the match appeared to be settling into another long phase of midfields attrition, Durham put pressure on Alnwick’s defence with accurate place kicking and then driving until Alnwick were forced to concede a scrum right under their posts. Durham had the bit between their teeth. Strong in the scrum and quick on the release, they fed the ball from the centre to right wing and then found the support from forwards to continue the momentum over Alnwick’s try line for a 17-5 lead. A very tricky conversion went narrowly wide, but Durham had opened up an important breathing space with only 6 minutes to go.
Alnwick struck back immediately, forcing Durham into desperate defending inside their 22. Durham held fast and countered with long clearances and threatening advances of their own, eventually forcing Alnwick into an error with a line out deep into the visitor’s half. Sensing another breakthrough, Durham piled on the pressure and broke down the left wing, being halted temporarily 5 yards from the try line. A good ruck was won and the ball fed out to the right where an overlap allowed Durham in for their fourth and final try and a 22-5 lead. This was the last action of a very tough and testing encounter and the referee blew for time soon afterwards.
This was a well-fought match and a hard-earned victory for Durham. They struggled to find their rhythm throughout the first half and constant interruptions made the match far from free-flowing. Alnwick gave a good account of themselves and can consider themselves unlucky to lose by the margin that they did as the contest was at all times far closer than the score suggests.
Refereed consistently throughout, this was another good test for Durham and they extended their winning run despite never really getting into gear……but good teams have a knack of grinding out wins even when they’re not on top form!
Congratulations Durham and good luck with this weekend’s fixture against Fylde.