Harrogate RUFC's fate back in their own hands following victory at Alnwick

Saturday saw the fourth different team since the turn of the year take over at the top of the North Premier Division.

Monday, 17th February 2020, 7:50 pm
Updated Monday, 17th February 2020, 7:52 pm
Harrogate RUFC won 25-0 on the road at Alnwick. Picture: Richard Bown

Five consecutive losses led to previously-unbeaten Billingham RUFC being overtaken by Harrogate in early January, before the Aces' defeat at Macclesfield in round 17 meant that the Cheshire outfit leapfrogged them into pole position.

Two weeks later, and Blaydon now sit in first place, with Harrogate breathing down their necks in second after beating Alnwick 25-0, while Macclesfield drop to third following a home reverse at the hands of Sandal.

There is still all to play for, but the biggest development in terms of this weekend's results from a 'Gate perspective is that they now know that their destiny is back in their own hands.

While the Aces currently trail Blaydon by a point, Dave Doherty's team still have to play the Tynesiders at home, so if they can win that game as well as their other six remaining fixtures, then the championship will be theirs.

Much easier said than done, of course, but Harrogate's director of rugby believes that his side are well-placed to go on and realise their ambition of promotion back to National Two.

"Beating Alnwick at their place in such horrendous conditions makes Saturday's victory our best of the season to date, but the nicest thing to come out of this weekend's results is that things are now back within our control," Doherty said.

"It [the title race] is very close with seven games to go. Blaydon, ourselves and Macclesfield are all well-placed but Billingham are still in it, as are Sandal, who are the best team we've faced in 2019/20.

"We just have to keep focusing on ourselves and make sure that we go into every match between now and the end of the season with the right mindset and hunger, regardless of who the opposition is.

"If we perform like we did against Alnwick at the weekend then it doesn't matter who we are playing, they will find it very difficult to score points against us.

"If we keep hitting those levels then I'm sure that we will find ourselves in a good place come the end of the season."

With Storm Dennis making life difficult for both sides, Saturday's victory at Alnwick didn't come easily for Harrogate, particularly as their coach broke down on the way to Northumberland.

"We arrived late due to the problems with the coach and had to adapt our warm-up as a result and obviously we were faced with hurricane winds," Doherty added.

"It was very challenging, but the boys stuck together and I'm proud of their performance.

"The most pleasing thing was that we learned our lessons from the defeat at Macclesfield, on what was another very windy day.

"We had the wind in the first half and to go in 20 points up was a great effort. In the second, our defence was outstanding. To stop a side as strong as Alnwick from scoring a single point is impressive.

"The conditions were so bad that they were near impossible to play in, so I'd have taken a 3-0 before kick-off. To end up with 25 points is fantastic."

With Storm Dennis raging, hosts Alnwick kicked off into the wind, only to see the ball blow straight back into their own half, leading to a Harrogate midfield scrum.

The Northumbrians were then penalised at the set-piece and Sam Fox’s long-range, wind-assisted penalty kick gave the visitors an early 3-0 advantage.

A spell of 'Gate pressure led to Alnwick knocking-on inside their 22 and a driving maul saw Sam Brady power over for a converted try to make it 10-0 after eight minutes.

The Aces continued to use the wind to keep play in Alnwick’s half and more good scrum ball was spread left to winger Harry Jukes.

His searing pace almost took him over the try-line, though when he was tackled, Luke Edwards was in support to finish off and the resulting conversion put Harrogate 17-0 up.

More powerful Harrogate scrummaging forced Alnwick to concede another penalty in the closing stages of the opening period and Fox’s kick made the half-time score 20-0.

Playing into the teeth of gale-force winds was always going to prove difficult for 'Gate after the break, however, as the contest continued, it became very clear why Doherty's team boast the best defensive record in the division.

Having weathered the Alnwick storm, the visitors wrapped things up when Jukes made a break and the ball was eventually recycled inside to Brady.

The towering lock produced an expertly-judged attacking chip ahead, and this was gathered by Oli Rosillo, who sprinted away and touched down for 25-0.

'Gate now have a weekend off before they return to action at home to 11th-placed Wirral on February 29.