HARROGATE took heart from a valiant performance which saw them beaten by a single point at newly-crowned National Two North champions Loughborough Students.
Harrogate had to take a weakened team to Loughborough so would probably have settled for a bonus point before the match.
In the event, the whole team played out of their skins and they actually led for most of the game. Fellow strugglers Otley and Leicester Lions had excellent wins so the relegation dogfight continues.
The game started evenly and Harrogate’s half backs Phil Wickham and Dickie Davies combined impressively to set up attacks.
The much vaunted Loughborough scrum was indeed dominant and Harrogate’s Ryan Peacey gave a No8 masterclass throughout the game. He repeatedly picked up and counter attacked from the base of a scrum which was going backwards at speed and he did this without conceding a single penalty throughout the game.
A great Wickham line kick led to a line-out from which Loughborough went offside and Jack Latus kicked Harrogate into an early 3 point lead. Predictably, Loughborough’s talented backs came straight back at Harrogate but they were well contained by an excellent defence. Attacking kicks were well fielded and cleared by full back, Ed Smithies with good support from Chris Gemmell.
Another Loughborough offside saw Latus increase Harrogate’s lead and the students showed that they were starting to get rattled when their restart kick failed to travel the required 10 metres. Hooker, Aarin Yorke was a livewire in the loose and split the home defence with a dynamic break. Veteran Lock Forward, Rob Johnson was a tower of strength in all parts of the game and stole some valuable line-out ball from Loughborough. From one such steal, Davies made a dazzling 30 yard break but the move unfortunately ended with a knock-on.
The Harrogate attacks continued with Sam Bottomley and Latus continually testing the home defence. A powerful Johnson drive from defence produced good ball and Davies cleared with a fine line kick. At the end of the half the Harrogate pack battered at Loughborough’s line and came tantalisingly close to scoring. Andy Fraser, Jake Brady, Nick Beaumont & James Tyson featured strongly in this phase and Loughborough were forced to concede yet another penalty. Latus’s kick made the score 0-9 at the interval.
A fired up Students’ side attacked strongly from the restart. Winger, Callum Wilson scattered defenders with a powerful 40 metre run. A knock-on near Harrogate’s line led to a defensive scrum which was again driven backwards but, yet another Peacey rescue act cleared the danger. Home full back, Craig Holland was the next to show his attacking skills but a handling error ended the move. Harrogate were then penalised for coming in at the side and Andy Hall’s penalty kick put them on the scoreboard for the first time.
A steepling Loughborough attacking kick was well taken by Bottomley but he was isolated and the ball spun loose. Lock, Rob Conquest drove over the line for a converted try to put the Students ahead for the first time.
It was starting to look ominous for Harrogate but they were by no means finished. A powerful Peacey break was carried on by Bottomley who created a big gap inside the home 22 and gave a scoring pass to prop, Jack Bergmanas who thundered over for a tremendous converted try.
Loughborough continued to apply pressure and Harrogate continued to defend soundly. A strong Beaumont drive out of defence gave some relief but the home attacks continued. Scrum half, Russell Weir eventually dummied through for a try and the conversion put the Students one point ahead.
This was the final score of the match but Harrogate continued to take the game to their illustrious opponents. Latus and winger, Arnie Ellison combined well to make good ground but the move broke down. Replacement Lock, Sam Brady, stole home line-out ball to set up another Latus attack, this time in combination with Bottomley who burst through only for the move to end with a knock on.
Loughborough: Holland, Dowsett, Morrison, Hall, Wilson, Katz, Weir, Allan, Hobbs, Williams, McKenna, Conquest, Atkinson, Whitfield, Lamming.
Harrogate: Smithies (Heylings 78), Ellison, Bottomley, Latus, Gemmell, Davies, Wickham, Bergmanas, Yorke (Maycock 51), Fraser (Innes 57), J Brady, Johnson (S Brady 57), Beaumont, Tyson, Peacey.
Referee: Dave Edmunds (RFU)