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'Gate withstand second-half fightback to see off Wirral

Harry Barnard looks for a way to the Wirral try-line. Picture: Richard Bown
Harry Barnard looks for a way to the Wirral try-line. Picture: Richard Bown

Harrogate RUFC registered a third Northern Premier Division victory in four outings when they hosted Wirral, but only just made it over the line despite a flying start.

As half-time approached, Dave Doherty's men were 26-3 ahead, had already secured a bonus point and were apparently cruising to a straightforward victory.

The visitors were however to launch a spirited fightback, and the combination of four away tries and some inconsistent refereeing by match official Chris Bloomfield meant that in the end, 'Gate only edged home by a 33-29 scoreline.

After a series of early Aces raids, play was suspended for almost 15 minutes due to a nasty leg injury sustained by their stand-off, Sam Fox.

When play resumed, full-back Oli Rosillo launched a counter-attack from a Wirral clearance, centre Nathan Wyman made a decisive break and flanker James Dyson was in support to finish off for 5-0.

Harrogate's dominant scrum was then penalised and a further home offside offence followed, allowing Jimmy Annetts to kicked a penalty goal and open the visitors' account.

Another Rosillo counter from deep then led to a second score for the home team.

Andy Boyde drove strongly to carry the move on and Wyman’s speed took him through some despairing attempted tackles for a touchdown which he converted himself for 12-3.

It was Rosillo himself who registered the next try of the afternoon.

A searing break was followed by a chip and chase which he gathered skilfully before crossing the whitewash and dotting down.

With 'Gate in full flow, Dyson started their next scoring move with a strong run. A good tackle saw him stopped, but the hosts' pack was in support to keep the pressure on.

In the end, Dyson got his hands back on the ball and added another touchdown, stretching the scoreline to 26-3.

Soon afterwards, Wirral secured good turnover ball and Danny Harvey sped over for a converted try which reduced the gap at 26-10.

Then, in the final play of the opening period, Annetts raced through for another converted try to make it 26-17 at the interval, the 'Gate defence having stopped as they waited for the referee to blow up for an apparent knock-on.

The second half began in extremely competitive fashion, with Harrogate’s defence being tested to the limit.

With their forwards digging deep to re-establish Doherty's side in the contest, the next score went the way of the hosts.

A strong Boyde drive was initially held up over the line, but led to an attacking scrum.

From here, Tom Harvey picked up at the base of the scrum and, with soft hands, provided a perfectly-weighted pass for scrum-half Danny Matthews who darted over for a try, converted from out wide.

Wirral were still very much in the game, however, and, from an attacking line-out, hooker Stuart Gratton drove over to touch down.

This inspired Wirral to attack and a succession of penalties were awarded against the men from Rudding Lane.

Replacement Evan Woodward was then yellow-carded for killing the ball in defence, but the seven-man Harrogate scrum initially held out until Rob Pearl forced his way over from a driving maul.

The conversion made it 33-29 with minutes remaining and, when Boyde followed Woodward to the sin-bin, the pressure was very much on the hosts.

A final Wirral tactical decision was eventually to prove decisive in the dying moments.

Instead of going for a scrum against a six-man pack, they opted to kick for touch and set up an attacking line-out.

Unfortunately for the visitors, Martin Dodds crucially stole the ball, Matthews cleared, and the game ended with the 'Gate lead still intact.