Harrogate RUFC kept their National Three North promotion bid on track with a thrilling victory over Sandal.
The Rudding Lane outfit shared 10 tries with their hosts, eventually claiming a 39-31 bonus-point success that leaves them two points clear of third-placed Hull in the league standings.
On a day where excellent playing conditions contributed to what was an exciting spectacle, both teams produced some fine rugby, but Harrogate’s superior goal-kicking saw them come out on top.
After an even start, Sandal’s classy stand-off Greg Wood cut through the ‘Gate cover for a fine individual try which he converted himself.
The visitors’ response was however immediate. Full-back Oli Rosillo launched a counter-attack from deep and the ball sped through several pairs of hands before Keane Naylor applied the finishing touch.
Luke White’s successful conversion restored parity at 7-7.
A home scrum offence then gave Harrogate a penalty, but a loose pass was intercepted and Sandal’s counter was stopped by an illegal tackle.
This led to an attacking line-out for the hosts and a driving maul from which Luke Norbury went over to score a try converted by Wood for 14-7.
Again, ‘Gate hit straight back and a strong Harry Barnard run was ended by a high tackle.
Further pressure followed the penalty, forcing the home defence to go offside and allowing White a kick at goal that trimmed the gap at 14-10.
A Wood interception ended another Harrogate foray forwards and he chipped through cleverly, but one of his team-mates offended near the goal-line, gifting the away team a penalty, from which they were able to relieve the pressure.
Good scrum ball then led to Harrogate taking the lead for the first time on the afternoon.
Number eight Tim Heaton drove strongly from the base and the ball was quickly spread along the line.
Naylor made a decisive break and passed to left winger Matt Lansdall whose pace and balance allowed him to beat the cover for an excellent maiden 1st XV try.
Undeterred, Sandal regained the advantage soon afterwards from a well-worked line-out move which led to a converted score from Dec Thompson.
Although trailing 21-15 as the second half got underway, ‘Gate had the advantage of a significant slope after the interval and an early penalty from White saw them narrow the gap at 21-18.
As the end-to-end nature of the contest continued, home full-back Jack Townend made a telling 30-metre break from defence, but a good tackle forced him to knock-on.
Further Sandal attacks were then well contained by Harrogate’s defence. This included a sharply-taken quick penalty by ex-Harrogate scrum-half Will Morecombe, a play which ended with another knock-on after a crunching tackle.
Harrogate then took a 25-21 lead when prop Charley Purkiss-McEndoo touched down from a strong driving maul and White converted.
As they sought to respond, a Sandal attacking chip was gathered at pace by Rosillo, who counter-attacked to get his team back on the front foot.
The hosts’ defence went offside, an attacking line-out followed the penalty and this time it was lock Andy Boyde who registered a bonus-point-winning try from the driving maul.
White’s conversion made the score 32-21, but Sandal soon came back into contention with another fine individual effort by Wood.
Harrogate’s fifth try followed just moments later, however, Sam Brady bursting through the home defence to put Euean Miller in for a second touchdown in as many games.
White’s conversion moved Dave Doherty’s side out of sight at 39-26, but Sandal continued to compete and, towards the end, Tom Fountain burst through to score in the corner for 39-31.
The conversion, which would have given the home side a well-deserved second bonus point, was narrowly off target and a frantic affair drew to a close, leaving ‘Gate to celebrate a sixth consecutive victory.