Three in a row for resurgent ‘Gate

Keane Naylor runs away from the Stourbridge defence. Picture: Caught Light Photography
Keane Naylor runs away from the Stourbridge defence. Picture: Caught Light Photography

Harrogate RUFC made it three victories on the bounce when they saw off promotion-chasing Stourbridge.

The result will rank as the Cockerels’ most impressive of the season as they absorbed everything that National Two North’s third-placed side had to throw at them, before winning the day courtesy of some clinical finishing.

Tim Heaton scraps for possession on the deck

Tim Heaton scraps for possession on the deck

And the men from Rudding Lane’s latest success moves them up to 11th place in the league table and further away from the relegation zone.

“I’m delighted, we said before that the pressure wasn’t on us, it was all about the performance,” director of rugby Dave Doherty reflected.

“At half-time I told the lads that we had to be patient and wait to execute when we get the chances and that was the case in the second half.

“Stourbridge are a very strong side, we did a lot of preparation beforehand and then put it into practice during the game, which is pleasing.

Harrogate fly-half Sam Fox clears his lines

Harrogate fly-half Sam Fox clears his lines

“They’re not third in the league for nothing, but I thought we matched them if not dominated them in certain areas, so I’m really happy.”

An early turnover saw Harrogate straight onto the front foot as winger Harry Barnard made a fine 60-yard break.

He was eventually hauled down, but the hosts kept the pressure on through their forwards before the ball was shifted wide for Doherty to dive over the line with a trademark clinical finish.

Sam Fox added the extras for a 7-0 lead after five minutes, but the Cockerels seemed to be still enjoying their opening score when Stourbridge set about trying to respond.

Danny Matthews halts a Stourbridge attack

Danny Matthews halts a Stourbridge attack

A missed tackle on Will Hollis in midfield allowed him to bulldoze his way into the home 22 and then offload to Dan Rundle who touched down.

The extra two points ensured that parity was restored within a couple of minutes of Harrogate taking the lead, but after a fast start, the game then settled down into something of a war of attrition in difficult conditions on a heavy pitch.

Stourbridge saw more of the ball during the remainder of the opening period, but got little change out of a resolute home defence, and there were no more points added to either side’s tally before the interval.

Fox could have nudged his side back in front in the 37th minute, but he made a poor connection with a long-range penalty attempt and the ball landed beneath the visitors’ crossbar.

The Cockerels celebrate a hard-earned victory

The Cockerels celebrate a hard-earned victory

Stourbridge began the second period on the attack and enjoyed more success in retaining the ball than they had done in the first 40 minutes as they tried to go through the phases.

It was however Harrogate who were to register the first score of the half when quick line-out ball saw Keane Naylor make a powerful break which took him to within touching distance of the try-line.

He was stopped just short, but Barnard had made a fine run in support and took possession before barging his way over the whitewash.

Fox made no mistake with the conversion and Doherty’s men were back in the driving seat at 14-7 with 54 minutes played.

Again Stourbridge wasted little time in hauling themselves back into contention and a driving maul following a line-out provided the platform for Stefan Thorpe to touch down.

A difficult-looking conversion from close to the touchline was however missed, meaning that Gate stayed in front by the skin of their teeth at 14-12.

Ben Reaveley completed a century of appearances for the 1st XV

Ben Reaveley completed a century of appearances for the 1st XV

With the contest finely balanced, the West Midlands outfit looked the more likely to go on and grab the match’s all-important next score, but after a spell of pressure a squint throw denied them what proved to be their last chance to take the lead.

At the resulting scrum deep in their own territory, a Harrogate pack boosted by the introduction of prop Ben Reaveley - making his 100th appearance for the 1st XV - bullied the Stourbridge eight and earned themselves a penalty.

The Cockerels got themselves back into the away half and then shifted their attack to the left flank where birthday boy Doherty took possession close to the touchline.

Some fine footwork took him past a couple of defenders before a perfectly-timed offload saw wing Oli Rosillo gleefully accept his invitation to dot down for 19-12.

Fox failed with the conversion attempt from wide out, then missed a more straightforward penalty from just outside the 22, meaning Stourbridge - just a converted try away from parity- still had hopes of snatching a draw in the final moments.

It was however Harrogate who finished the game on the front foot and there was to be no late sting in the tail from the Saxons, the final whistle being greeted by the celebrations of a young Harrogate side whose fine recent run suggests that they may well have found their feet.

The Harrogate Aces enjoy their victory after full-time

The Harrogate Aces enjoy their victory after full-time