Harrogate RUFC suffered a first National Three North defeat of 2017/18 when they lost out 51-28 at Wirral on Saturday.
A dreadful start to proceedings saw Dave Doherty’s men 27-7 down early on, and although they fared better after half-time, the damage had already been done.
Conditions on the day were ideal for running rugby and Wirral possess a talented set of backs who took full advantage of the opportunity to play.
However, bad finishing cost Harrogate points on a number of occasions and atypical defensive lapses made the final score appear far worse than it should have done.
The visitors began the game brightly with forwards and backs linking well in attack. Possession was however surrendered and home number eight Keith Mahon ran strongly through some distinctly average ‘Gate tackling.
A knock-on resulted in an Aces scrum, from which they drove Wirral backwards, but referee Mr Riley’s interpretation of the laws of the game saw the hosts awarded a penalty.
This was kicked by Jimmy Annetts who went on to enjoy a 100 per cent success rate with the boot throughout the match.
Soon afterwards, Annetts showed that he wasn’t just a kicker as a Wirral backs move ended with him scything through a porous Harrogate defence for a fine individual try.
‘Gate scrum dominance continued, but so did the unusual way in which Mr Riley officiated, a factor that repeatedly denied the men from Rudding Lane attacking opportunities.
The next score came from a Wirral penalty following an offside offence before the visitors began to mount pressure on the hosts’ line through a series of driving mauls.
These led to the Wirral defence repeatedly going offside and a penalty try was eventually awarded and the converted to narrow the gap at 13-7.
Home scrum-half Chris Crowley then charged down an attempted clearance, the ball sticking in his grasp and allowing him to sprint away for a great individual score.
More Wirral attacks followed and Ryan Stead drove over for a third home try before the interval, Annetts’ conversion taking the score to 27-7.
In the dying minutes of the half, ‘Gate forward drives led to the home team conceding repeated penalties and, eventually, Mahon was yellow carded.
Sam Brady, Tom Harvey and Jonny Coser won a stream of line-out possession, but Tim Heaton’s drive for the line was held up with a team-mate outside him begging for a scoring pass.
A further driving scrum followed, but Wirral were allowed to hack the ball clear to a Harrogate player in open space whose knock-on ended the half.
The second period began in similar fashion to the first with Aces forwards and backs linking well and launching waves of attacks.
Brady powered over for a converted try and the visitors’ pressure continued.
Although a late tackle on Harry Barnard was punished as it should have been by a yellow card, referee Mr Riley appeared to dismiss the wrong man.
Doherty’s men continued to turn the screw, but further scoring opportunities were butchered by wasteful hands.
A midfield dust-up between the two teams’ packs then resulted in a yellow card for Jonny Coser, though this again seemed to be another case of mistaken identity.
The incident did unquestionably lead to another Wirral penalty goal and a 30-14 advantage.
Their strong start to the second 40 had got them back into the game, but all ‘Gate’s good work was then undone by a series of defensive lapses that gifted touchdowns to Annetts, Mark Williams and replacement forward James Reeve.
With the game well and truly out of sight, there was a resurgence of sorts in the final 10 minutes, but the Aces had left themselves far too much to do in the time remaining.
Doherty came off the substitutes’ bench to add some real bite to the attack, so it was fitting that his skill split the Wirral defence for an excellent try.
The Harrogate forwards then came again and, in the last move of the match, Brady drove over for his second touchdown which gave his side the meagre consolation of a bonus point.