Injury nightmare continues for Harrogate RUFC in defeat to league leaders
Harrogate RUFC's director of rugby Dave Doherty believes that his side would have gone on to win Saturday's clash with table-topping Hull, were it not for another injury nightmare.
The Rudding Lane outfit, who have been hampered by the unavailability of a number of key players throughout the season, looked good value for a 14-10 lead heading into the final 25 minutes of the North Premier fixture.
Then, having already emptied their replacements' bench, Gareth Bass became the fourth visiting man to suffer a knock that left him unable to continue, and the visitors were forced to play out the remainder of the game with just 14 on the field.
"The boys played some brilliant rugby and I am confident that we'd have gone on to win the game if we'd been able to keep 15 on the pitch," Doherty reflected.
"We've had a really tough time with injuries this season and then to lose four players in the same game is hard to recover from. You just can't account for that kind of bad luck.
"We still managed to earn two penalties while we were down to 14, but they were right on the edge of Cail Cookland's range and it just wasn't to be.
"I'm still very proud of the team's performance against a very good, physical Hull side, who had a weight advantage across the park of probably at least a stone per man.
"They're top of the table for a reason, but our display shows just how good we can be. I told the boys after the game that they couldn't have done any more."
Harrogate's aforementioned injury issues had severely weakened their scrummaging in recent home defeats to Kirkby Lonsdale and Alnwick, but the return of props Connor Ward and Charley Purkiss-McEndoo saw them dominate up front on this occasion.
Alongside hooker Steve Maycock, the duo helped the Aces take control early on, forcing Hull to concede three successive penalties in the scrum deep in their own territory and a penalty-try followed.
Trailing 7-0, the hosts then went on to show exactly why they are top of the division.
A spell of concerted pressure followed, forcing the 'Gate defence to concede a penalty, which resulted in an attacking Hull line-out.
A driving maul was formed and home number eight Joe Stafford drove over to score.
Undeterred, Doherty's men came back at their hosts, producing some more good rugby. They lost Luke Edwards to injury but strong runs from Andrew Lawson and Maycock continued their forward momentum.
Then, just before half-time, Hull took the lead for the first time, spreading the ball right before a well-timed pass put Tomasi Tanumi clear to score in the corner and make the score 10-7.
From the re-start, Harrogate regained the ascendancy almost immediately.
Harry Barnard jumped high to gather a Danny Matthews cross-kick and ran away from a number of despairing attempted tackles to score a 40-metre try, converted by Cookland.
Harrogate’s injury toll was however mounting and, with Ward already departed, a neck injury to replacement back Bass reduced them to 14 men for the rest of the contest.
This led to a reversal of the first-half situation. It was now Hull who were exerting the pressure and Harrogate who were mounting attacks from limited possession.
A powerful Sam Brady drive led to Hull going offside but Cookland's shot at goal shaved the outside of the upright.
The away defence then went offside themselves, the resulting penalty providing Hull with an attacking line-out and Ben Winterburn tacked on to the driving maul to edge his side in front at 15-14.
A second 'Gate penalty attempt again went narrowly wide as the visitors came agonisingly close to re-taking the lead, before, from the final play of the game, Hull centre Alex Heard stole the ball and burst clear for a long-range breakaway touchdown.
Defeat sees Doherty's men drop one place to sixth in the table ahead of Saturday's home showdown with Lymm.