Aspinall seeks tighter defence in Preston clash

hsb  'Gate v Preston Grasshoppers. Joe Rowntree.   (131116M1g)
hsb 'Gate v Preston Grasshoppers. Joe Rowntree. (131116M1g)

Director of rugby Mike Aspinall will be scrutinising Harrogate’s defence ahead of the journey to Preston Grasshoppers’ on Saturday (3pm).

Gate and Preston played out an 85-point thriller at Claro Road earlier this season, with Gate holding on for a 45-40 victory.

The Lancashire side lie four places below seventh-placed Gate in National Two North, but the gap down to them is only five points.

Gate have scored 596 points in the league this season, the largest amount below the runaway top four sides.

Aspinall is hopeful of a repeat of November’s open contest to allow his free-flowing backs opportunities to turn possession into tries.

“We would enjoy that type of game again,” Aspinall said.

“Forty points in each half, we will certainly be looking at where defensively we were lax last time.

“We are scoring tries as a team and when the games do open up we are looking more and more dangerous with our attacking game.

“But you can’t expect to be winning many games if you concede 40 points. So that will be a major focus going into this game.”

Tom Harvey will miss the contest after injuring his knee in Saturday’s 38-24 comeback win over Caldy at Claro Road.

Rob Adair is unavailable for selection while Rob Johnson cracked ribs in training after a collision with Dan Metcalfe.

The trio’s absence has left Aspinall with a shortage at second-row, with forwards coach Andy Boyde also not fit enough to play after a long spell sidelined.

Second teamer Steve Dewsnip is expected to be given a first-team debut as a replacement.

Gate’s leaky defence left them with a mountain to climb on Saturday as they trailed visiting Caldy 21-5 at the interval.

But replacement fly-half Joe Rowntree inspired a majestic turnaround from the home side and tries from Steve Parsons, Will Dutton, Callum Irvine, Kyle Dench and Aarin Yorke earned the victory.

Irvine started in the number ten jersey but was shifted to a wider berth when Rowntree was introduced.

And Aspinall saluted his subsitute’s attitude for patiently waiting his turn to influence the match.

“Everyone was massively frustrated at half-time.

“We had a good amount of field position and possession but we made a lot of handling errors,” the Gate supremo continued.

“Callum has been outstanding for us, and while I thought the game plan would suit Joe’s strength’s Callum had the shirt.

“It’s my job to develop these players and not just say he is good at this, and he is good at that, they play those games.

“When Joe came on, he opened up our attack. It was a great attitude.

“He had been dropped to the bench for the first time in ten or 12 games and it showed great strength to do that.”