Harrogate 23 – 17 Preston Grasshoppers
After the close match at Tyndale last week, hopes among the faithful were building as a points win at Harrogate would do no harm in starting a move up the table.
Ideed, if form was anything to go by, Hoppers would have been slight favourites for the encounter at Rudding Lane, but as we know, banking on form can be cruel.
The pitch looked good, if a little heavy, and the conditions once again were good with no breeze and only the low sun in the first half causing any issues.
Hoppers kicked off and were immediately wrong-footed by a clearing kick which soared over the advancing players and was collected by the fleet-footed Harrogate winger in open space behind them to run in under the posts. The conversion was good and after just three minutes the lads were 7 – 0 down.
It seemed as though Hoppers were still on the bus as only minutes later, after their own line-out was stolen, breaks by the Harrogate backs gained good metres ending with the fullback diving over in the corner. From out on the wing, the kick was not easy and it flew well wide of the upright but, worryingly, a familiar pattern was emerging. 12 – 0.
Maybe the second try was a ‘wake-up call’ as Hoppers seemed to get things together and with good support play they worked their way up the field where a penalty gave them a line-out on the Harrogate 5m line.
The ball was secured, the pack drove for the corner and when the whistle sounded it was hooker Harry Thompson who was last up with the ball.
Will Hunt had a difficult conversion from wide on the wing and his attempt drifted just wide but some confidence had been gained. 12 – 5.
Straight away, this became evident the visitors began dissecting the opposition with phases of good passing play which brought them into the Red Zone where, after the first attempt had been held up, they gained control again and landed another try, this time from Will Riley and with the successful conversion from Hunt, the score was level, 12 – 12.
Four minutes later Hoppers went into the lead from a blistering break by Jacob Browne who seized on a delicate chip forward just inside the Harrogate half to leave the struggling defenders languishing in his wake. The conversion attempt slipped past on the wrong side of the upright but Hoppers were now in front and showing some promise. 12 – 17.
However, this did not last long as a series of penalties allowed the home side to reach the Hoppers’ 22 and despite some dogged defence, when the chance to break out came, a rash clearing kick was charged down into the in goal area and Harrogate’s number four dropped onto it to the right of the posts. The kick failed to make its mark and at the whistle the teams went in honours even. 17 – 17.
After yet another slow start, Hoppers created something of a ‘purple patch’ in the game as their support play enabled good phases to gain ground and pressurize their hosts. The teams were evenly matched, as was evidenced by the score, but Harrogate were showing themselves dangerous inside the Hoppers’ 22.
The second half was a less productive period for both sides but the travelling supporters had good cause to expect a victory based on the positive scoring in the first forty.
Unfortunately the old spectres of a significant penalty count, less than wise decision-making and ineffective game management reared their ugly heads and whilst the lads kept battling right to the end, they fell foul of a further seven penalties, two of which eventually cost them the win.
Life was never going to be easy in National 2 North where every game is a hard battle for a young side that has little experience of life at this level, but both the team and the fans were disappointed by today’s outcome which could possibly have been avoidable with a little more wisdom on the field.
With Joel not at the match, it fell to Dan to sum up the performance:
“Going twelve – nil down we could have folded but we didn’t and we showed a lot of resilience to get back in front. In the first half I thought we managed the game well and we were definitely on top in terms of managing field position and possession. Whilst the charge-down try was disappointing just on half time, the team was very positive during the break. It had been a very tight game and we felt that the team who were more brave, who managed the conditions and the referee would win the game.
As we saw, there were no more tries in the second half and Harrogate won by the two penalties we gave away as our discipline lapsed and we didn’t manage the latter part of the match well.
Whilst we have taken two losing bonus points from the last two outings, we have to come to places like this in tight games and grind it out and that’s just not what we’re doing at the minute.”
With no match next week, the lads have a chance to rest and regroup before they meet third placed Hull Ionians at Lightfoot Green on the 26th of this month. Hopefully they can take advantage of the home fixture and make a move up the table.
Report by John Le Page, pictures by Eden Valley Media