HARROGATE’S disappointing start to the National Two North season continued on Saturday, as they lost 39-10 at Preston Grasshoppers.
On a glorious autumn afternoon, the crowd was treated to a seven try extravaganza.
Unfortunately for Harrogate, five of these tries were scored by Preston whose well controlled efficiency was in sharp contrast to an error strewn, frenetic attempt to play Sevens style rugby by Harrogate. In summary, the Hoppers played to their strengths and Harrogate did not
The sides opened by testing each others’ defences and the first score, after 10 minutes, gave us a clear indication of what was to come.
Preston’s stand-off, Graham Holroyd, who was to be in complete control throughout the game, put in a pinpoint cross kick to the right wing. Flying winger, Matt Hughes, gathered at pace and outstripped the defence for an under the posts try, converted by Holroyd.
An even 15 minutes followed before Harrogate’s stand-off Mike Aspinall - who had come back out of retirement - kicked ahead speculatively. The ball was safely fielded inside his 22 by Sean Taylor who then passed to Hughes. A clearing kick seemed to be his best option but he launched himself into a dazzling counter attack through the Harrogate defence for a brilliant individual converted try.
At least one Harrogate try seemed likely before the break as they pressurised the Hoppers’ line with a series of driving mauls. However, although the home defence creaked a bit, they held Harrogate out. When Harrogate tried to spin it, handling errors let them down.
Thirty seconds after the break, another Harrogate error led to a 21-0 home lead. A pass to replacement winger Luke Edwards was fumbled and Preston’s Phil Baines snapped up the loose ball to score under the posts. More Harrogate attacks quickly followed and forwards and backs combined well for No8 Ryan Peacey to crash over for a good try. He, flanker Tim Heaton and hooker Steve Maycock worked tirelessly throughout the game but an offside offence led to Hoppers extending their lead with a Holroyd penalty.
Harrogate were the next to score and this did seem to give them a glimmer of hope. Aspinall split the home defence with an incisive attack from deep and the ball was recycled efficiently for an excellent Sam Bottomley try. This spurred Harrogate on and Andy Fraser and Jake Brady were at the heart of more driving mauls until a further Holroyd penalty made it 27-10.
Harrogate still mounted attacks but basic errors, like missing touch from penalties, continued to let them down. From one such miss, Preston counter attacked and Nathan Fowles danced through for Preston’s bonus point try.
Three of these four tries had come directly from Harrogate errors and this soon became four out of five.
Toby Quarendon failed to gather a Preston clearing kick and the predatory Hughes gathered at pace to sprint clear for his hat trick and a comprehensive home win.