Mud-soaked ‘Gate Ladies see off York to extend flawless start

Evie Jackson on the charge against York R.I. Picture: Caught Light Photography
Evie Jackson on the charge against York R.I. Picture: Caught Light Photography

Harrogate RUFC Ladies made it seven wins out of seven in Women’s National Challenge North East One when they beat local rivals York Railway Institute 44-5 at a muddy Stratstone Stadium.

In what was a top-of-the-table clash in difficult conditions, the hosts produced another impressive performance as their march towards the title continues.

The first ‘Gate try arrived just five minutes in after the home forwards went through the phases.

Following some huge collisions between the opposing forwards, space eventually opened up for scrum-half, Leah Birkin who was able to touch down under the posts.

Full-back Evie Tonkin’s conversion put the home side 7-0 ahead.

The severely muddy conditions resulted in a series of scrums, with Harrogate holding their own against a strong visiting eight.

A second score was soon to follow, however, the ‘Gate backs displaying some excellent passing rugby that saw centre Kelly Morgan commit the defence before offloading to overlapping winger Simone Christopher, who dotted down.

The hosts’ 12-point advantage quickly became 17 when prop Amber Barnicoat picked up York’s re-start kick and crashed through the first line of the away defence.

The ball was momentarily lost before flanker Lauren Clarkson turned it straight back over in a ruck.

Birkin took possession and dummied cleverly before moving through a gap on the right and offloading to Rose Jay, who finished off by diving over the whitewash.

Harrogate then had to work hard in defence to keep the visitors at bay as they enjoyed a spell in the ascendancy, but the home team demonstrated impressive strength around the breakdown.

Lucy Barnett’s side showed good line speed to keep the pressure on York and winger Emily Rushton rushed forwards to complete a perfectly-executed interception.

Not only did Rushton manage to plough through two visiting players as they attempted to recover, but she kept going and raced up the remaining three quarters of the pitch to touch down.

Tonkin added the extras with the boot to bring the score up to 24-0 just before the half-time whistle blew.

Both teams started the second period brightly, but the York defence couldn’t keep the home side out of their half for long. After the backs had moved the ball through the hands, number eight Ellie Ward broke through for another ‘Gate try.

York responded positively and made headway into the hosts’ half, pushing them back as far as their own line.

Some relentless attacking play led to the visitors being held up three times by a resolute defensive effort before York’s number eight finally managed force her way over and get her team on the scoreboard at 29-5.

York remained on the front foot for another 10 minutes, but Harrogate’s forwards soon found themselves back within touching distance of the York line. The home backs then took over, Birkin passing out to captain Josephine Riggs who sold a defender a dummy before diving over to make it 34-5.

Fresh legs allowed Harrogate to push straight back into York’s half of the pitch from the re-start and, with a matter of minutes to go, Rushton scored her second of the match, stepping York’s winger to slide over the whitewash.

Upon the last play, Clarkson caught the kick before shipping it to Barnicoat on the right, who in turn moved it speedily to Kirstie Plummer who ran in from the halfway line to round things off.