Mean defence is the major factor behind Harrogate RUFC's rise to the top of the table
Harrogate RUFC took over at the top of the North Premier on Saturday afternoon, and director of rugby Dave Doherty believes that it is their mean defence that has got them there.
A 23-16 home win over Carlisle, coupled with a third consecutive loss for title rivals Billingham, saw the Aces go two points clear at the summit.
And, having praised his players for another resolute performance out of possession against the Cumbrians, Doherty went on to laud ‘Gate’s defensive record this term.
“The reason why we’re top of the league is because of our points-against column,” he said.
“Our defensive work has been brilliant pretty much all season and it’s won us a lot of games when we’ve been up against it or under pressure.
“Against Carlisle, we gifted them six points through two early penalties and they scored a try by charging down an attempted clearance, but they never broke our line.
“Towards the end of the game they went through something like 20 phases and kept the ball very well, however they never really went anywhere.
“I was really impressed with the defensive effort, as I have been all season. Andy Boyde, our defence coach, and Kevin Shattock, who works with the boys on their strength and conditioning, deserve an awful lot of credit for what they’ve done.”
The other big positive that Doherty was able to draw from Saturday’s bonus-point success was the impact that flying winger Harry Jukes made following his return from a long injury lay-off.
“It was definitely a boost having Jukes back,” the Aces chief added.
“The conditions underfoot were very difficult and a real challenge for the players, but not him. He made it look easy and certainly took his opportunity back in the first XV.
“He scored two tries and the first one was unbelievably well finished. It was a moment of genius and that’s what we ask of our outside backs, to produce that bit of magic that effects the game.”
Carlisle are one of only two sides to have beaten ‘Gate this term, and Doherty felt that the visitors came to Rudding Lane on Saturday confident of turning their hosts over once again.
“They turned us over at their spot and I think that gave them the belief that they could beat us again,” he said.
“They’ve got a very good fly-half, who kicks well, and a solid pack, so the conditions played into their hands – but that just makes the fact that we won the game and got a bonus point even more pleasing.
“Huge thanks go to the grounds team for getting the game on.
“Looking at the pitch on Thursday, I didn’t think we’d be able to play on it, so those guys did a great job and ultimately the result leaves us in a fantastic position in the league.”
Two penalties inside the opening 10 minutes saw Carlisle go 6-0 up before Doherty kicked a three-pointer for ‘Gate to half the away advantage.
James Brocket then charged down an attempted clearance kick to put the visitors 13-3 up.
‘Gate were however level before half-time. Steve Maycock got them back on the front foot, Marcus Mercer carried on the move and Jukes then finished things off superbly, scoring a fine solo try from 35 metres out.
Jukes then grabbed his second soon afterwards, before good work at a line-out by Maycock led to a touchdown in the corner for hooker Aarin Yorke early in the second period.
Another Jason Israel penalty brought Carlisle back into the game at 18-16, however Maycock went on to cap a fine performance with his side’s bonus-point try, rounding things off at 23-16.
Harrogate are without a fixture this weekend, but return to action on February 1 when they face a crunch clash away at fellow promotion-hopefuls Macclesfield.