Harrogate RUFC fought back from 12 points down to claim a 45-22 victory over Billingham in National Three North.
The visitors had beaten league champions Preston Grasshoppers in their previous outing, and looked a real threat at times, however Dave Doherty’s men had clearly done their homework and their gameplan saw them a to a comfortable victory in the end.
The skilful Billingham backs immediately made an impression at the Stratstone Stadium and with just two minutes on the clock, winger Tom Briggs sprinted clear for a try that was converted by Luke Wilson.
Almost immediately, Harrogate’s Harry Barnard gathered a huge clearance kick to counter-attack, but the hosts were penalised at the breakdown.
A quickly-taken tap-penalty set up another Billingham attack and Briggs’ second touchdown gave his side a 12-0 lead after six minutes.
The ‘Gate pack upped their game and began to dominate at the set-piece and through some well-controlled driving mauls.
Danny Dixon, the powerful Billingham number eight, had wreaked havoc in the September fixture, but his efforts were largely nullified on this occasion by the home back row of Martin Dodds, Jonny Coser and Tim Heaton.
With the men from Rudding Lane finding their feet, Steve Maycock seemed to have reduced the deficit after a series of driving mauls, but was penalised by the referee.
This was however only a temporary respite for Billingham. More driving mauls followed, the ball was spread wide and centre Keane Naylor sprinted clear for a try converted by Luke White.
It was then Harrogate’s turn to take a quick penalty after an away scrum offence.
Winger Harry Jukes seemed to be totally hemmed in at halfway on the left touchline. Nevertheless, his speed and strength took him clear of the cover to touch down for a converted try under the posts and Harrogate were 14-12 ahead.
Throughout the game, Dan Finney, Billingham’s scrum-half succeeded in partly countering ‘Gate’s scrum dominance by tackling his opposite number Danny Matthews while the ball was still in the scrum.
Inexplicably, this was not noticed by the match officials and, on the half-hour, a Billingham turnover produced good ball which was quickly passed to Wilson and his try restored their lead.
Five minutes later, there was an almost identical turnover but this time it was the other centre, Joe Evans, who scored to make it 22-14 to the visitors.
Towards the end of the half, young Harrogate stand-off George Hampson came off the bench for his first team debut and immediately distinguished himself by gathering a Billingham attacking kick under pressure and clearing his lines with a kick deep into opposition territory.
In the second period, the visitors failed to register a single point as the hosts’ pack took control.
The late spring weather improvement had at last produced a good playing surface and the ‘Gate backs took full advantage.
Having said that, it was second row Sam Brady who actually scored the home side’s next try after forwards and backs had linked well.
An even more spectacular combination followed when Jukes’ speed allowed him to make the initial break and it was again Brady who was in support to score and restore Harrogate’s lead at 24-22.
With Billingham visibly tiring, their attempts to attack were continually ended by turnovers.
From just such a situation, full-back Dave Doherty broke clear on the right and Naylor was in support to score his second converted try of the afternoon.
Again, it was a Harrogate turnover which led to their next score. It was another Jukes break which started the move and Barnard, his fellow winger, raced in to score finish off.
With five minutes remaining, an attempted Billingham counter-attack ended, almost inevitably, with a Harrogate turnover.
Barnard again ran strongly and passed to Naylor for his hat trick try which proved to be the final score of the match.