'Gate kick-off new season with narrow win at Sandal

Connor Ward was a try-scorer in Harrogate RUFC's success at Sandal. Picture: Richard Bown
Connor Ward was a try-scorer in Harrogate RUFC's success at Sandal. Picture: Richard Bown

Seemingly cruising to victory at the interval, Harrogate RUFC had to withstand a second-half onslaught in their 2018/19 season-opener at Sandal.

Dave Doherty's side took a 19-3 lead into half-time, but with the advantage of a sizeable slope after the break, the hosts fought back, leaving the Aces hanging on for dear life in the closing stages of Saturday's Northern Premier Division clash.

Some promising early raids by 'Gate were ended when they fell foul of the referee and they then conceded another penalty during Sandal’s first real attack of note, James Ellar’s kick opening the scoring at 3-0.

The men from Rudding Lane certainly had the edge up front and a fine Martin Dodds line-out take led to a 20-metre driving maul, from which debutant flanker James Dyson crashed over to score a try converted by Sam Fox.

Harrogate made a mess of regaining possession from the re-start kick but managed to secure turnover ball and continued to attack.

An Andrew Lawson break took him into the home 22 and, when he was checked, centre Nathan Wyman took his pass at speed to scythe through for another debut touchdown.

Fox again booted over the extras for a 14-3 lead.

With the visitors' front five exerting consistent scrum pressure they continued to turn the screw and good line-out ball then resulted in successive driving mauls.

Eventually, prop Connor Ward took possession and powered over the whitewash to open up a 16-point gap.

The hosts won good turnover ball at the start of the second period, forcing Harrogate to defend for a spell.

Sandal's impressive full-back Jack Townend made several telling runs from defence and Doherty's troops eventually conceded another penalty, from which Ellar made it 19-6.

A high tackle by a 'Gate man was then penalised, leading to an attacking line-out, a driving maul and a try for Tom Fountain.

Excellent line-out work from Sam Brady and Dodds helped the visitors get back on the front foot through a series of driving mauls, and forced Sandal to go offside.

The resulting penalty kick from the boot of Fox added another three points to the away tally and moved the score on to 22-11.

The home pressure continued after this, however, and a driving maul at the other end of the field allowed Declan Thompson to touch down for 22-18 with 20 minutes to go.

Sandal were to the finish the match very much in the ascendancy, but dogged Harrogate defence kept them at bay.

With five minutes left on the clock, lock Brady was yellow-carded for a defensive misdemeanour which gave the hosts a significant weight advantage in the three scrums that were to follow, but 'Gate's doughty seven men dug deep and held out to help their side to victory.