Harrogate RUFC head into Bourneville RFC clash in a much healthier position than they ended 2021
Harrogate RUFC head into their first game of the New Year in a much healthier position than the one they finished 2021 in.
The Aces have been crippled by injury and unavailability during the first half of their first season back in National Two North since 2017 and currently sit bottom of the pile with just two wins from 13 matches.
But, they will tackle out-of-form Bourneville on Saturday with a significantly stronger and more experienced group of players at their disposal.
“It’s been quite nice over the Christmas period for a few of our boys who have been out injured to have had the opportunity to get themselves right again and recover,” said Dave Doherty, Harrogate’s director of rugby.
“We’ve got a good number of players available again for Saturday. Adding 10 senior bodies into the mix across the 1st and 2nd XV is massive really, you can’t underestimate the impact that this will have.
“For the first time in a long time we will be able to field two really strong full sides on the same day. This is brilliant for competition for places and means that we are going to have some selection headaches.
“We hope that we are through that ridiculous injury crisis that we had to contend with during the first half of the season.”
In terms of the positions in which Doherty has players returning, ‘Gate are set to be boosted across the board.
“Guy and Jonny Coser are both back and them being on the pitch is always massive for us. Them returning will enable us to make things really abrasive in the contact areas,” he added.
“As strange as it might sound to say because he is a back-row forward, but Guy is one of our best ball-players, while Jonny brings unbelievable work-rate and is such a good line-out technician. When those two are missing, you really feel it.
“In the backs, Sam Fox’s groin is completely healed now and Luke Edwards is available again. Harry Yates at 10, Cameron Bainbridge at full-back, Connor Miller on the wing, Fred Yates, Rory McNab - all these boys are in the mix once more.
“Not all of them are going to be picked for the 1st XV, they’re not all going to necessarily start the games this weekend, but they’re all in contention again, which is great news.”
First-team regulars including prop Connor Ward, lock Brandon Hannam and centre Mason Knowles do however remain sidelined and Doherty insists that they will not be rushed back.
“We’ve got other players such as Connor Ward, who is close after a long time out injured, and Brandon Hannam who is jogging again but still some weeks off,” he said.
“The likes of these boys, they are huge for a club like ourselves. We don’t have too many 6ft 5”, 20-stone guys like Brandon in our squad, so when they’re out and you can’t replace that physicality, you do feel it.
“But with everyone we are going to take our time and make sure they’re all 100 per cent. We won’t be rushing anyone.
“Earlier in the season, when we were desperate because we had so many players missing we maybe let boys come back too soon and they weren’t quite there or couldn’t manage the full 80 minutes.
“We’ve just got to manage these situations now because we don’t want anyone coming back too soon and ending up breaking down again because they’re not absolutely ready.”
A depleted ‘Gate side lost 47-20 at Bournville on the second weekend of the season, but the Midlands club have struggled since then and will arrive at Rudding Lane having lost eight of their last nine.
“We’ve improved since that game at their place and we have players back now, so we’re relishing the challenge of taking them on this weekend,” Doherty continued.
"We know that they have some very good players and they're excellent on their 4G pitch at home. What we have to do is ask some questions of them on a playing surface at Rudding Lane that in January, will quite naturally be a lot heavier and a different proposition.
“What is key for us is that we make the most of our opportunities to score points. We've got better as the season has gone on, we've become more consistent and nobody can question my players' commitment or desire.
"But the one main area where we have to be better is turning pressure and field position into points on the scoreboard."
Saturday's fixture at Rudding Lane kicks-off at 2pm.