'˜Gate up to fourth after home victory over Birkenhead
Harrogate RUFC climbed up to fourth place in the National Three North standings courtesy of a bonus-point victory over Birkenhead Park.
The Aces’ 30-23 success should have been far more comfortable, but the visitors surged back into the contest in the closing stages after ‘Gate squandered a host of chances to put the game well and truly out of sight.
Only the sterling efforts of Dave Oswin and his groundstaff enabled the fixture to go ahead following last week’s snowfall, and, given the outcome, the Rudding Lane outfit will be pleased that it did.
An early Harrogate backs attack created a straightforward overlap but what should have been a scoring pass was intercepted and Park were able to turn defence into attack.
Luke White covered back well to make a tackle that halted the move, but the home defence was then penalised and Dave Hall’s kick gave the visitors a 3-0 lead.
Harrogate’s re-start went straight into touch, but strong scrummaging put Park under pressure and a crunching Martin Dodds tackle ended their next attack.
More good scrum ball provided the platform for ‘Gate to get back on the offensive and a Luke Edwards break was supported by flanker Guy Coser, who outstripped the defence to touch down for 5-3.
Continued home pressure led to a string of penalties against Birkenhead and Harrogate opted for scrums.
Eventually, they went for goal and White’s kick increased the lead at 8-3.
A dazzling ‘Gate backs move then created another overlap on the left but the final pass was knocked-on.
Soon afterwards, another White penalty made the score 11-3 but, as half-time approached, a Hall three-pointer punished a Harrogate offside offence making it 11-6 at the break.
Early in the second period, a ‘Gate attack was well-supported by Dodds who powered through the cover to dot down.
White’s touchline conversion hit the crossbar but bounced over to make put his team 18-6 up.
Another Hall penalty trimmed the gap at 18-9 following a high tackle, but continued pressure by the hosts’ pack followed and quick ball was spun left for winger Oli Rosillo to use his pace to get over the line.
Harrogate’s next score also arrived as a result of sustained forward domination and prop Harry Butler touched down from a driving maul for a maiden 1st XV try.
With the game looking to be all but over at 30-9, veteran Park prop Martin O’Keefe took to the field and his considerable experience and very considerable weight stabilised their scrum.
With his side faring better up front, visiting fly-half Will Titherington was able to scamper through to score and reduce the arrears.
Further Birkenhead driving mauls led to another try, this time from O’Keefe himself.
The conversion made the score 30-23 and took the away side to within a converted try of parity, yet ‘Gate finished strongly and should have added to their tally.
Centre Andrew Lawson steamed through Park’s defence to create yet another overlap, however, yet another knock-on from a good pass saw the chance go begging.