Harrogate RUFC returned to action after more than a month without a game, seeing off Wirral at the Stratstone Stadium to get 2018 off to a positive start.
The Merseysiders had inflicted a heavy defeat on Dave Doherty’s men when the sides met back in September, and although both sides scored three tries apiece in Saturday’s re-match, ‘Gate were always in the ascendancy and were able to avenge that previous loss.
Some neat inter-passing by the visitors seemed certain to result in an early score under the posts, but home scrum-half Danny Matthews covered back to put in a magnificent saving tackle.
Another Wirral attack was then halted by a crunching Andrew Lawson midfield hit, the ball went loose, Lawson kicked on and won the foot-race to touch down. Fly-half Luke White then added the coversion for a 7-0 lead.
Harrogate came again and attack from deep was stopped illegally but White’s penalty attempt, from inside his own half, fell narrowly short of the posts.
Wirral then hit back and another well-worked move provided a scoring opportunity to winger Mark Williams whose strength and tenacity took him over for a try in the corner.
With the game in the balance at 7-5, the Harrogate pack took firm control at the scrum and threatened the away line through their driving maul.
The Merseysiders were caught offside and White’s penalty kick extended the home lead to 10-5.
More ‘Gate drives followed and, on the stroke of half-time, Aarin Yorke squeezed over from a maul to make it 15-5 at the interval.
Wirral attacked strongly from the re-start and following a spell of pressure, quick ball led to a try for fly-half Craig Harvey, converted by Jimmy Annetts.
Stung by this, the Harrogate backs began to string some promising moves together and space was created for Doherty to outpace the defence and touch down, White adding the extras for 22-12.
The hosts’ forward superiority remained the difference between the sides, with young tight head prop Harry Butler particularly impressive, dominant in the srcum and carrying the ball to great effect.
The next score of the game did however come from Wirral, when classy full-back Annetts trimmed the gap at 22-17 to give his side hope.
With 10 minutes remaining, a White penalty re-asserted Harrogate’s authority at 25-17 and proved to be the game’s final score.
In the last move of the match, the Aces looked as if they would secure a bonus-point try when White produced a fine cross-kick which seemed certain to result in a Doherty touchdown, however the ball bounced wickedly into touch before he could reach it and the final whistle blew.
Victory keeps Harrogate fifth in the National Three North standings and prevents Wirral from overtaking them.
Next up is a trip to third-placed Hull on Saturday where anything other than a win would surely end the Rudding Lane club’s slim hopes of finishing in a promotion spot.