’Gate target top two spot in first year at Rudding

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Harrogate RUFC’s players want to imprint instant success on the foundations of Rudding Lane in the first season at the new ground, according to director of rugby Mike Aspinall.

Harrogate approach the new National Two North campaign as one of the leading lights of the division, following a Yorkshire Cup triumph and fourth-placed finish 12 months ago.

The group of players have set their sights on a top-two finish in National Two, a result Aspinall claims would see them raise the bar to new levels for clubs short on finances.

He said: “We know what it takes but it’s something that has never been done. All these guys have jobs, the £40 they are getting does not make rugby the priority. You can’t prioritise rugby for that type of money therefore nobody gets promoted on that sort of money.

“We are not naïve to that challenge but that’s not to say we shouldn’t set it and go and have a dig at it.

“That said, I think we are in the best position we have been in since I have been here. We have a very large squad of seemingly very motivated players.

“We will cast that stretching goal out there and have a bash at the top two.”

Fly-half Callum Irvine added: “If we can be an every time team then there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be doing it.

“We are going to get beasted for the next nine months, but in nine months’ time we are going to look back and hopefully see we have achieved everything we set out to do.”

To help their cause, Aspinall has recruited former Leeds Tykes forward Rob Rawlinson as his right-hand man following head coach Kerry Wood’s exit to Leeds Beckett University.

On the player front front row forwards Tom Larder (Darlington Mowden Park) and Connor Ward (West Park Leeds) have been added to the playing squad, while flanker Tim Heaton has returned from a short stint at Yorkshire League side Old Leodiensians.

Aspinall said Rawlinson’s recruitment will bolster the coaching of the club’s forwards.

He added: “Last year, we felt we had a very good pack but when we had two injuries we felt we couldn’t put the same power out there. This year, I think we have five or six players that can offer that power output. That’s the major difference in the squad.”

Aspinall has overseen gradual improvements throughout his young squad since guiding them to an immediate return to National Two level in the 2012/13 season.

From a mid-table place on their return to last year’s fourth, the Harrogate squad have now set a promotion goal for the 2015/16 season, and Aspinall feels it is achievable, albeit taxing.

He added: “It’s a huge metaphor for how far we have come as an environment. Three years ago I was having to push them to say that we could finish in the top half of the league. Two years later, I am having to pull back on the reins a little.”

Much of Harrogate’s success last year came on the back of Aspinall’s intention to rotate his squad throughout the campaign. His decision divided opinion on the sidelines of Claro Road, but he insisted it had brought the best development of the club’s young guns.

And despite upping the targets this time around, he admitted the policy of rotation would remain.

The coach said: “If we don’t ever rotate, what happens if one is injured and the guy that steps in we’re not used to working with.

“I think it’s going to be a very delicate blend. There’s going to have to be rotation to ensure consistency of selection.

“This is a very tough sport. If I say my philosophy is to pick the same people every week and we are going to get consistency by doing that, I am going to fail. Injuries will happen.”