Injury-hit Harrogate RUFC beaten at home by Kirkby
A front row injury crisis did nothing to aid Harrogate RUFC's cause as they suffered a surprise home defeat to Kirkby Lonsdale.
Director of rugby Dave Doherty was short of options in the prop and hooker positions when it came to naming his match-day squad, and when both Evan Woodworth and Tom Driscoll were forced from the field after picking up knocks during the first half of Saturday's North Premier clash, uncontested scrums followed.
This ended the game as a meaningful spectacle and saw the Aces reduced to 14 men, a numerical disadvantage that worsened when skipper Danny Matthews was sin-binned during the latter stages.
Visiting Kirkby made the most of the circumstances, overturning a narrow half-time deficit to take control in the second period and secure what was in the end a well-deserved victory.
Although Harrogate's already-depleted scrum was under pressure from the outset, veteran number eight Tim Heaton was still able to deliver good ball during the opening stages and this enabled the hosts to mount a series of early attacks.
A loose pass in the backs was however intercepted by visiting winger Harry Huddleston, and he raced clear to open the scoring.
Given their positive start, this set-back seemed as if it would prove only to be a temporary issue for 'Gate, but worse was to come.
Successive Kirkby offsides led to penalties and Doherty's men continued to press forwards, only to again lose possession and see the ball quickly moved to the other away winger, Harry Ralston, who added a second touchdown.
Undeterred, some fine work by the hosts' back row led to James Millington winning turnover ball.
Winger Andrew Lawson ran strongly and flanker Martin Dodds was in support to burst through the defence and score a try converted by Nathan Wyman.
This made the score 10-7, but the pressure was building on the Harrogate scrum and, after two red zone collapses, Kirkby were awarded a penalty-try that saw them go 17-7 up.
Harrogate’s re-start kick went straight into touch, though they did manage to secure possession almost immediately and powerful drives from Millington and Sam Brady tested the away resolve.
Prop Woodworth had already had to be replaced, however, and a further injury to Driscoll forced the transition to uncontested scrums.
Referee Dave Charlton didn’t immediately realise that Harrogate should then have been reduced to 14 men, and two more home tries were scored before the break.
A Luke Riddell cross-kick was gathered at pace by Harry Barnard and Wyman’s touchline conversion made it 17-14.
Turnover ball then gave Lawson the opportunity to show his pace and race over the whitewash, the subsequent conversion actually putting the Aces 21-17 ahead at the interval.
The uncontested scrums ruined the match as a meaningful contest, but this wasn’t Kirkby's fault and they rightly took full advantage.
Their excellent centre David Barton made a fine break and full-back Martyn Knapton supported well to score a touchdown converted by Michael Fearon that deservedly put the visitors back ahead.
A further converted try followed from Ben Walker and then another penalty-try was awarded, which also led to Matthews being sin-binned.
This saw the away team go 38-21 up before Cail Cookland, making a promising debut cameo appearance, scored Harrogate’s fourth try to secure a bonus point.
The Rudding Lane outfit remain fourth in the North Premier standings despite the loss, but now find themselves eight points behind leaders Hull.
Next up for 'Gate is a visit to rock-bottom Vale of Lune on Saturday, 2.15pm kick-off.