By David Pike
The Wolves paid the price for a lacklustre display against a keen Alnwick outfit.
They can have no complaints as over the 80 minutes, they were outplayed by the Northumberland side in nearly all departments of the game. Any advantage Wilmslow may have thought they held in the set piece play of scrum and lineout proved to be illusory. Although the scrum was more or less evenly contested, the Northumbrians were able to disrupt much of Wilmslow’s lineout ball to the extent that the Wolves lost more on their own throw than they won. Around the field, the visitors were just quicker to the breakdown, stealing no little amount of Wilmslow possession, more aggressive in contact and conducted most of the game in the Wilmslow half of the field. They were an efficient, well organised team with no obvious weaknesses. Given the circumstances, it was remarkable that Wilmslow managed to restrict the score line deficit to just nine points, as several clear cut opportunities in both halves were squandered by the visitors.
It took 15 minutes for Alnwick to open the scoring. Wilmslow hadn’t been out of their own half when Alnwick set up a lineout from a penalty fifteen metres from the Wilmslow line. Although Mike Clifford got a hand to the throw, it bounced kindly for the Alnwick forwards and some crisp passing allowed No. 8 Ben Gothorp to get the touchdown. Alnwick continued to dominate play as Wilmslow failed to gain any meaningful possession and on the half hour scored a second well worked try, when they set up another attacking lineout. Wilmslow defended the drive but after several phases, scrum half Jonny Burn found space to jink over under the posts.
Wilmslow coach Rick Jones had seen enough and brought Alex Donaldson off the bench into the No. 2 position. Wilmslow’s fortunes took a turn for the better as Bob MacCallum first kicked a penalty and then converted a try from Ben Day, who had started the afternoon at full back before moving to the centre after Ethan Harding had to retire with a bang to the head. In truth the Wolves were fortunate to be only two points adrift at the break.
The second half got underway with some scrappy play by both sides but the visitors were still the more dominant. Nick Barker, now on at full back, went on to have a thoroughly decent forty minutes on the field but not before he had lost control of a high kick which bounced free in the Wilmslow twenty two. It proved fatal as Alnwick grabbed the loose ball and counter attacked to put in centre Frank Hutchinson for their third try.
The Wolves were now really in trouble and would have to chase the game if they were going to get anything out of it. Unfortunately their play just wasn’t sufficiently accurate. Ben Day found himself isolated in the tackle, the ball was again stolen and Alnwick No. 8 Gothorp set off on a penetrating run into Wilmslow territory. When the ball came back to Alnwick No. 10 Callum Burn, there was nobody at home in the Wilmslow defence, which was exposed by a long kick to which Gothorp got to first for the score which settled the match.
There was still ten minutes or so left during which the Wolves huffed and puffed themselves into promising positions only to either lose possession or be penalised for some or other technical offence. A late try came from Nick Barker with some imaginative play, when he started the move with a catch of an Alnwick clearing kick, moved the ball quickly along the line and then popped up on the right wing to collect a kick through for the score but it was too late to have any bearing on the result.
Four tries to two tells its own story and Alnwick were deserved winners on the day.
Rick Jones didn’t mince his words afterwards. It wasn’t good enough he said, ‘the desire was missing, we can’t afford to play like that again. There was some good play from Ben Day, James Coulthurst, Will Maslen and especially Nick Barker but too many of the others were just off the pace. There has to be a response at Hull next week’.