In a desperately close National Two North clash at South Leicester, Harrogate RUFC came away with yet another losing bonus point from a match they really should have won.
A Cockerels side featuring debutant fly-half Sam Fox were twice in the lead before a third-quarter recovery saw South claim the ascendancy and then cling on to their 19-15 advantage despite a spell of late pressure from the visitors.
Harrogate took the game to their hosts from the start and new recruit Fox narrowly missed with an early long-range penalty attempt.
The pressure continued and, when Leicester’s defence came in from the side at a ruck, Fox was on target at the second attempt to open his new team’s account. Harrogate then made a mess of dealing with the re-start kick to put themselves under pressure and eventually went offside in defence.
Rickie Aley’s penalty equalised the scores at 3-3 before Jonny Coser stole a Leicester line-out, provoking a violent reaction from home hooker, Dale Ager. The expected red card didn’t materialise and the South man was extremely lucky to escape with a 10-minute visit to the sin-bin.
Half-backs Fox and Danny Matthews sparked off some creative Harrogate back play, with strong running from Keane Naylor, Harry Barnard, Olly Rosillo and Dave Doherty keeping them on the front foot.
Leicester’s own backs’ first attack came from a powerful midfield break from centre, Will Cave, but the visitors regained possession near the goalline and Barnard ran strongly out of defence to clear the danger.
However, the home pressure continued, Harrogate’s defence went offside again and Aley’s second penalty put Leicester 6-3 ahead.
South kept attacking, but outstanding Cockerels forward defence withstood a series of driving mauls. Another strong Cave run ended with what seemed to be a scoring pass, but winger Blane Howe was tackled into touch in the corner.
A touchdown looked on the cards, and one did duly arrive, but it was the away team that got it.
Keane broke from defence found Doherty in support on half way and he gathered the pass before outstripping the defence for a 50-metre converted try.
This took the scoreline to 10-6, but Leicester won a penalty from an offside offence to close the gap at 10-9 by the interval.
The third quarter of the match proved to be Leicester’s best period of the afternoon as they mounted sustained pressure.
A Harrogate defensive fumble led to a home attacking scrum from which the ball was released to Cave, and an uncharacteristic missed tackle allowed him to go over a converted try for 16-10.
More South pressure was to follow and, when Harrogate were penalised for holding, Aley’s kick made it 19-10.
From this point onwards, Doherty’s men were in the driving seat, forcing Leicester into desperate defence against a number of sustained driving mauls.
Hooker Aarin Yorke was at the heart of these attacks with great support from the rest of the pack. Eventually, quickly-released ball found Noel Minikin in support to score a fine try on his 100th appearance for the club.
Harrogate pressed the Leicester defence hard for the remaining 10 minutes of the game but the hosts managed to hold out for a narrow success.