The first home game of 2018 saw fellow top-of-the-table contenders Alnwick make the long trip south to a chilly Kelleythorpe. Hard work from the ground staff had ensured the pitch was playable and a large crowd had turned up in anticipation of another exciting game. The Driffield side was much-changed, with injuries necessitating changes in the back row and at scrum half. Nellen answered the call to play at number eight, joining the returning Dodds who packed down at blind side. Sowersby took over from the injured Gray at scrum half, but the rest of the back-line had a familiar look about it.
Driffield kicked off and found good field position. A knock on in the line-out gave Alnwick the scrum and they immediately settled into their game. A strong break from the base by the number eight, probably the outstanding individual on the pitch, saw Alnwick make ground and begin to exert pressure on the Woldsmen. Douglas was yellow-carded for a high tackle and the visitors knocked over a penalty to make the score 3-0.
Driffield hadn’t got into the game and Alnwick were showing why they were sat close to the top of the league, moving the ball wide to attack with pace or keeping things tight through a powerful set of forwards. On the occasions that Driffield did have hold of the ball, Dodds showed up well, carrying the ball hard and combining that with good angles of running. Too often the home side’s attacks petered out with a loose pass or knock-on. Dench tried to work the dangerous Dinsdale into space, but he was well-tackled into touch. Dinsdale did get Driffield on the score sheet with a well struck penalty to level the score at 3 apiece.
Driffield started to change the momentum of the game midway through the half, keeping hold of the ball and challenging the defence. Alnwick were demonstrating why they have the best defence in the league, their line speed cutting down Driffield’s options and putting more pressure on the back-line than at any point during the season. The visitors lost a man to the bin and the Woldsmen sensed the need to take advantage and get points on the board. From a penalty, Furbank found a good touch and the forwards organised a catch and drive. Nellen split off from the maul and crashed over in the corner. Dinsdale added an impressive, and crucial, conversion from the touchline.
Trying to extend their lead before half-time, Driffield pressed through the outside backs. First Stephenson attacked down the left before Dench moved the point of attack back to the clubhouse side with a good pass to Watts. Again Alnwick’s cover defence was good and snuffed out the attack. Despite limited possession, it was Alnwick who added to their tally before half-time, earning a penalty after winning the kicking battle. This was converted to leave the half time score 10-6.
Driffield made a fast start to the second half, with Douglas making a powerful break. He barged through the defence and offloaded to Piercy, who ran good lines all afternoon, and he took play to the 22. Driffield recycled and had a gilt-edged chance to extend the lead with an overlap out to the left, but a misplaced pass meant the chance was lost. Driffield continued to press, but every time they looked to break, Alnwick shut them down and more often than not forced the Woldsmen to concede a penalty. Against the run of play Alnwick broke out and added a penalty to their score to make it 10-9. Seizing upon a Driffield knock-on, Alnwick scooped up the ball and strode through the middle of the field. Taking play to the 22, they drew a penalty and saw the Woldsmen lose a man to the bin.
At 10-9, tension was rising amongst the home fans who had seen a number of close finishes this season, with the result going both ways. Alnwick were playing for territory well, turning the home side around and forcing Piercy at full-back to cover a lot of ground. With time running out, Alnwick found touch deep in the Driffield half. A solid line-out win followed, but Alnwick were able to prevent the ball getting to ground to earn themselves scrum on the 22. Driffield’s scrum performed well all day, and they disrupted the ball and prevented the number eight picking up. A short ball to the centre was met by a thunderous tackle from Dench, stopping play dead. Driffield knew a penalty now would see the game lost, and they marshalled the defence superbly. Alnwick worked the ball left and right searching for an opening, but found stout resistance. With time up, they resorted to a drop-goal attempt, well struck by the fly-half, but fading just to the side of the posts, leaving Driffield the victors by the slimmest of margins.
Once again this was a thoroughly absorbing game, the result in doubt until the final whistle. Alnwick showed why then can return to the top of the table if they win their games in hand, but were met by a determined Driffield side. The home side will be delighted by the depth in the squad, with a number of players stepping up and performing well. After a tough start to 2018, things don’t get any easier next week with another away trip, this time to Dinnington.