HARROGATE 18 PRESTON GRASSHOPPERS 47
Coach Dave Baldwin’s re-modeled back-line certainly paid dividends and he confessed to being “pretty satisfied with that performance. To score seven tries away from home is good but I thought we should have been well ahead at the break.” But, although only being three points to the good at half-time, the signs were already there for the five-try blitz to follow.
Sean Long, making his first start at No.10, got his line going and Karl Fitzpatrick tormented the defence throughout the game and some of the handling was simply breath-taking.
Hoppers were quickly out of the blocks and, after Long had set off on a lateral run. Fitzpatrick’s half break and skillful off-load put in Dominic Moon at the posts in the first minute and Nathan Fowles converted. More pressure followed but home fly half Mike Aspinall’s mid-field break was finished off by full back Ed Smithies for an unconverted try.
Harrogate were relying on a kicking game but the visitors ran the ball back with some purpose and on 19 minutes some fast hands in the backs saw Sean Taylor run in unopposed and the kick was good. The hosts then changed tactics but squandered two overlaps and Hoppers’ habit of taking their foot off the gas at crucial times seemed on the cards. The penalty count also began to escalate and Aspinall was on target with a penalty to put his side just 11-14 adrift at the break.
The half-time talk obviously did the trick and Fitzpatrick’s short ball put Matt Gargett through the gap for Taylor to be stopped just short. It was then Jack Ward, once again a tower of strength in the centre, who made the break and the ever-reliable Moon was in support to touch down and again the kick was good.
Hopper’s pack, who had the edge throughout the game, then mounted a sustained attack and, although several drives for the line were defended, Long’s pin-point cross kick allowed Gargett to catch and score with ease. The big winger then added another from the restart after some superb handling by forwards and backs alike and, when the hosts tried to hit back, Phil Baines read a laboured passing move to intercept on halfway and race to the posts.
Fowles made it six from six with the conversion, before giving way to Josh Purnell who, chasing Taylors grubber, almost scored with virtually his first touch before Long repeated his party piece with a cross kick to find Baines who scored in the corner.
With Hoppers already celebrating mentally in the changing room, home scrum half Phil Wickham ghosted through for a final-play converted try to bring a little respectability to the score.