Rugby Union: Clinical Harrogate upset Chester in National Two North
‘Over the moon’ director of rugby Mike Aspinall saluted Harrogate’s squad cohesion after a ruthless performance upset Chester’s promotion aspirations at Claro Road.
Sixth-placed ‘Gate put their west coast opponents to the sword with five excellent tries as they counter-attacked to a bonus point 38-15 victory.
Sam Bottomley and Lewis Minikin both crossed the whitewash twice with Yorkshire Carnegie loanee Lewis Boyce adding a fifth blow for the home side.
However, Aspinall credited the whole squad for producing ‘Gate’s biggest scalp of the campaign to date.
He said: “It would be wrong to pick out gloryboys in that performance because it wasn’t about gloryboys.
“It was one to 20, doing what we have practiced and doing it really well.”
Such defensive improvements were evident early on against Chester as Gate had to soak up the visitors’ pressure in an intense opening period.
But it was the boot of Joe Rowntree that put the home club into an early lead when his penalty sailed between the sticks after Chester were penalised for offside.
Chester’s back play searched for an immediate response with winger John Ketland a constant menace in their slick combinations. But led by captain Jake Brady, Harrogate built a solid foundation in their own 22 and centre Barry Frost disrupted Chester’s forward movement three times at the breakdown to drive them back.
When Gate eventually managed to break out of their own half, through fly-half Callum Irvine’s long punts, they exposed the gaps in the away defence.
On one such burst forward, Bottomley looked destined to score but full-back Sean Green halted his progress after a moment’s indecision. However, Gate’s winger soon made amends with two tries in the space of three minutes. The first, on 22 minutes saw him collect Irvine’s clever inside kick to dash through the vacant visiting defence. Rowntree made a simple conversion.
Moments after, the second arrived, and it was a try to savour for the Gate support. Irvine was again involved as he made another trademark break. When he was eventually foiled, the ball was recycled into midfield where the ball passed through many hands before Bottomley found the space on the right-flank. Again, Rowntree slotted over the additional two with an excellent kick.
Chester fought well to make a response before the interval and fly-half Will Goodwin narrowed the gap with a penalty when Gate went offside.
The hosts should have taken a 14-point lead into the break, but instead, Chester closed the gap further. South African replacement Willem Enslin’s decision to pick up and run from inside his own 22 turned out costly and Guy Ford made full use of turnover ball to muscle his way over, with Goodwin’s conversion following.
However, any thought that the visitors would take the initiative were blown away straight after the restart.
Chester were penalised for a high tackle on Luke Edwards, and following a hearty catch and drive to the corner, Boyce powered down next to the corner flag.
Rowntree missed the difficult kick but swallowed up his next penalty chance in front of the sticks to regain a commanding lead.
As Chester came forward, it became Minikin’s time to shine on the counter. The young centre seized on a loose ball to kick through twice and score a magnificent solo effort from inside his own half.
Despite Rowntree’s second missed kick, Chester were rattled and another counter-attacking score put Gate out of sight - Minikin again polishing it off. This time, however, he had support from his teammates with Cam Leadley collecting Irvine’s risky long pass to set him free on the left touchline.
Chester continued to huff and puff in attack but their previously slick passing became error-strewn, including one straight into touch with Ketland poised to score.
Their efforts did tick the score over with ten minutes to go when substitute forward Sam Vaughan eventually crashed over in the left corner.
Harrogate countered with a succession of driving mauls to eek out time. At one breakdown, Chester went offside and Rowntree’s resultant penalty was the final score of the match.