Harrogate RUFC crush Wirral to move into second place in North Premier standings
Harrogate RUFC gave director of rugby Dave Doherty the early Christmas present that he’d asked for by thrashing Wirral away from home.
Victory in Saturday’s clash was guaranteed to lift the Aces up to second in the North Premier standings and send them into the New Year with their hopes of securing a play-off spot in their own hands.
And, as a result of their 45-0 success, ‘Gate will now begin 2020 in the best possible position to go on and try to chase down unbeaten league leaders, Billingham – just like Doherty had hoped.
Only the division’s runner-up qualifies for a promotion play-off spot and that opportunity is now the men from Rudding Lane’s to lose.
Perhaps ominously, Harrogate had failed to win at Wirral during any of their previous visits and were forced to make this trip without a number of first-team regulars.
But, after an edgy start, they settled themselves down by taking an early lead.
Sam Brady’s powerful run was eventually checked and the hosts came into the breakdown from the side.
Sam Fox’s successful penalty attempt put his side 3-0 up, and was the start of what turned out to be a faultless display of goalkicking by the visiting inside centre.
Further Harrogate forward pressure followed with hooker Tom Driscoll very much to the fore.
So, it was rather fitting that it was he who drove over toregister the first converted try of the afternoon with 17 minutes on the clock.
A high tackle by a Wirrral man ended the next away foray forward and the resulting penalty led to skilfully-constructed backs attacks from which Fox eventually found his way over the whitewash.
Still more supercharged backs play followed to create a bit of space for Doherty on the right wing.
His pace and guile took him clear of some despairing attempted tackles and over the line from more than 30 metres out, taking the ‘Gate advantage to 24 points before the half-time whistle.
To Wirral’s credit, they made a determined effort to get back into the game in the second period.
The efficient Aces defence contained their hosts but a line-out steal was adjudged to have been carried out illegaly and Brady was sent to the sin-bin.
More home attacks were successfully repelled, though Harrogate conceded a spate of penalties in the process.
Their line unbreached, Oli Rosillo eventually relieved the pressure, setting up a counter-attack from deep which led to his team being awarded a scrum.
Harrogate were penalised at the subsequent set-piece, but then stole the subsequent line-out before and skilful interplay among the pack led to a 15-metre try from prop Dom Musetti.
A fine Fox cross-kick was then claimed superbly by Doherty and the attack was carried on by Brady and replacement forward Brandon Hannam.
Jonny Coser and the indefatigable Martin Dodds made further inroads before the ball was unloaded to Luke Edwards, who scorched over from 20 metres out.
A couple more yellow cards followed for Harrogate players, then Edwards was red carded for instantly retaliating to a Wirral assault – the versatile back receiving his marching orders for the second time this season.
Yet, despite finding themselves down to 12 men, Harrogate not only defended prodigiously during the closing stages, but even managed to launch a couple of counter-attacks.
Quite incredibly, the significantly outnumbered visitors then went on to register the final score of the contest when Brady finished off a trademark well-controlled driving maul and yet another Fox kick rounded things off at 45-0.
The result leaves ‘Gate nine points behind top-of-the-table Billingham and two ahead of third-placed Blaydon.
The Aces return to action when they make the trip to Kirkby Lonsdale on Saturday, January 4.