'Gate suffer narrow defeat to Billingham in first home outing

Harrogate RUFC were edged out at home by Billingham. Picture: Richard Bown
Harrogate RUFC were edged out at home by Billingham. Picture: Richard Bown

Harrogate RUFC's first home outing of the 2018/19 campaign ended in a disappointing defeat, the Aces narrowly losing out to visiting Billingham.

In what was a close contest, the County Durham outfit deservedly came out on top at the Stratstone Stadium by sticking to the right game plan in challenging, wet conditions.

'Gate scored two tries to the away side's one, but some excellent goal-kicking by Pete Evans proved to be the difference in the end.

Billingham attacked from the off but made little headway under pressure from the home defence.

The Harrogate scrum dominated throughout the match and an early Martin Dodds line-out steal created still more pressure.

This line-out success did however prove to be a false dawn as the visitors went on to take control in this area of the match.

Debutant 'Gate stand-off Sam Watkinson distributed well and made an excellent clearance kick from an attacking Billingham chip, but the first score of the match came from an Evans penalty on 18 minutes when the hosts were penalised for kicking the ball in a ruck.

This was quickly followed by Billingham’s only try of the afternoon.

A line-out steal was quickly spread and Matt Kirby raced through the middle to touch down, the conversion nudging the scoreline along to 10-0.

Consistent home pressure forced the Billingham defence to concede a number of penalties, but Harrogate kept opting for unsuccessful attacking lines-out instead of utilising their superiority at the scrum.

In the last move of the half, a scything Nathan Wyman break was checked, but Danny Matthews was in support to dummy and power his way over the whitewash.

Watkinson’s touchline trimmed the gap further to 10-7 at the break.

Both sides’ defences were on top at the start of the second period.

When 'Gate did managed to generate some momentum, Dodds surged forwards, but he was halted and although the home side won a line-out, their ball was again stolen.

An offence in midfield then afforded Evans a long-range shot at goal, and he took full advantage, stretching the away leadf to 13-7.

Undeterred, the Aces pressed on, flanker James Dyson charging down an attempted clearance kick but knocking-on over the goal-line.

Harrogate continued to attack, Matthews sending a promising cross-kick wide, however it had just too much on it and went directly into touch.

Dave Doherty's side were to be rewarded for their attacking intent and their second try of the afternoon came from another good Wyman break.

He was held up just short of the line, but the ball was quickly recycled and spread to substitute winger Matt Lansdall who scored in the corner.

Another Watkinson touchline conversion put Harrogate 14-13 ahead and when Luke Riddell made a great take from a challenging Billingham re-start kick, his team were able to attack again.

Crucial handling errors and strong away defence did however lead to moves breaking down and Evans' third successful penalty goal nudged the visitors back ahead at 16-14.

Billingham then showed good ball retention skills to hold on to possession until the final whistle, ending the contest narrowly in front.