'Heroic' defensive effort earns Harrogate RUFC narrow victory on the road at Sandal
"Heroic" was the word used by Harrogate RUFC's director of rugby Dave Doherty to describe his team's defensive effort in the second half of Saturday's narrow win at Sandal.
Playing uphill and into a fierce wind after the interval, the Aces barely managed to advance past the halfway line but somehow held out for a 29-25 victory despite coming under serious pressure from their hosts.
'Gate took a 29-18 advantage into half-time, though they resumed the contest with just 13 men on the pitch due to the sin-binning of two players shortly before the break.
Sandal took up camp in the away 22 for a large part of the second period, however some resolute defending ensure that the only points they were able to put on the board came courtesy of a late penalty-try as Doherty and his men clung on to top spot in the North Premier.
"The effort we put into our defence in that second half was just incredible," the 'Gate chief reflected.
"I've watched it back on the video and it looks heroic. Our desire and ability to work off the ball and stop them from breaching our line was unbelievable.
"Sandal are a very good team. They're well coached and have some powerful players. They had the wind behind them and they know exactly how to play that huge slope on their pitch. We were massively under the pump, but in terms of resilience, it's the best performance I've ever seen from this group of players.
"There were some tired bodies at the end, but there was real elation among the players. I told them post-match, if you want to try and win a league, you have to get through situations like this.
"Sandal will turn a lot of teams over at their place. They'll be up there challenging for promotion this year, so it's a big win for us. It's still very early days, however these kind of results can make a huge difference to your season."
With the wind at their backs during the opening period, an early Harrogate driving maul produced quick ball and an incisive Luke White break.
Sam Parry was in support to finish off, with White’s conversion making it 7-0 after just five minutes.
A Sandal scrum offence then led to a penalty on halfway and a towering White effort extended the away lead to 10-0.
'Gate were then penalised in the loose and Luke Punton’s kick opened the home account.
Another Punton penalty made it 10-6 but, after 25 minutes, the Aces set up a driving maul from an attacking line-out and Sam Brady crashed over the whitewash.
Still more Harrogate attacks followed, Jonny Coser breaking strongly from the back of a five-metre scrum before man of the match Andy Boyde arrived in support to add a finishing touch, White converting.
A well-worked Sandal backs move then led to a classy Greg Wood try, reducing the arrears at 22-11.
Parry then fielded a Sandal clearance and scythed through the home defence for an outstanding 40-metre converted try, securing the visitors a bonus point and moving them 29-11 ahead.
The last move of the half saw the hosts awarded a penalty-try and Brady sin-binned.
Boyde followed him, but the 13 men of Harrogate held out and continued to defend magnificently throughout the second period, despite unrelenting Sandal pressure.
An 84th-minute penalty-try offered the West Yorkshiremen a glimmer of hope as the away team once again fell foul of the referee, but 'Gate dug even deeper to see out the closing stages.
A third consecutive five-point haul keeps Doherty's team top of the table heading into Saturday's trip to Carlisle.