Harrogate vs Billingham
In the opening game of the season, a 92nd minute try gave Harrogate the narrowest of victories and Billingham have since had some excellent results against good opposition.
Last week, they beat League Champions Preston Grasshoppers so Harrogate knew they were in for a tough match today. This was confirmed when Billingham raced into an early 12 points lead. However Harrogate had done their homework on how to beat Billingham and this, together with their superior fitness, ensured that they won comfortably.
The skilful Billingham backs opened with attacking moves and, after 2 minutes, winger Tom Briggs sprinted clear for a try converted by Luke Wilson. Almost immediately, Harrogate’s Harry Barnard gathered a towering Billingham kick to counter attack but Harrogate were penalised at the breakdown. A quickly taken tap penalty set up another attack and Briggs’s second try gave Billingham a 0-12 lead after 6 minutes.
Harrogate’s pack upped their game with dominance of the set pieces and well controlled driving mauls. Danny Dixon, the powerful Billingham No8, had wreaked havoc in the September fixture but his efforts were largely nullified today by Harrogate’s back row Martin Dodds,. Jonny Coser and Tim Heaton. Dixon’s most memorable contribution turned out to him being yellow carded for foul play towards the end of the half.
Steve Maycock seemed to have scored after a series of Harrogate driving mauls but was penalised. However, this was only a temporary respite for Billingham. More driving mauls followed, the ball was spread and centre Keane Naylor sprinted clear for a try converted by Luke White. It was now Harrogate’s turn to take a quick penalty after a Billingham scrum offence. Winger, Harry Jukes seemed to be totally hemmed in at halfway on the left touchline. Nevertheless, his speed and strength took him clear of the cover to touch down for a converted try under the posts and Harrogate were 14-12 ahead.
Throughout the game, Dan Finney, Billingham’s scrum half succeeded in partly countering Harrogate’s scrum dominance by tackling his opposite number Danny Matthews while the ball was still in the scrum. Inexplicably, this was never noticed by the referee. On the half hour, a Billingham turnover produced good ball which was quickly passed to Wilson and his try restored their lead. Five minutes later, there was an almost identical turnover but this time it was the other centre, Joe Evans who scored to make it 14-22.
Towards the end of the half, young stand-off George Hampson came off the bench for his first team debut and immediately distinguished himself by gathering a Billingham attacking kick under pressure and putting in a long clearing kick. Unfortunately, he had to come off with an injury early in the second half but he certainly showed great promise during his brief appearance.
In the second half, Billingham failed to score as Harrogate’s pack took more and more control. The late spring weather improvement had at last produced a good playing surface and Harrogate’s backs took full advantage. Having said that, it was second row Sam Brady who actually scored Harrogate’s next try after forwards and backs had linked well. An even more spectacular forwards/backs combination followed when Jukes’s speed made the initial break and it was again Brady who was in support to score and restore Harrogate’s lead.
Billingham were now visibly tiring and their attacking attempts were continually ended by Harrogate turnovers. From just such a situation, full back Doc Doherty broke clear on the right and Naylor was in support to score his second converted try. Again, it was a Harrogate turnover which led to the next try. It was another Jukes break which started the move and Barnard, his fellow winger, raced in to score a converted try.
With 5 minutes remaining, an attempted Billingham counter attack ended, almost inevitably, with a Harrogate turnover. Barnard again ran strongly and passed to Naylor for his hat trick converted try which was the final score of the match.
Harrogate: Doherty, Barnard, Naylor, Fox, Jukes, White, Matthews, Purkiss-McEndoo, Maycock, Ward, Brady, Boyde, Dodds, J Coser, Heaton. Subs:- Woodworth, Larder, Hampson
Billingham: Hopley, Kirby, J Evans, Wilson, Briggs, P Evans, Finney, Wallace, Foulds, Spoors, Walton, Blackburn, Whinn, Burns, Dixon. Subs:- Reay, Kirkbride, Gardner.
Referee: Elliott Lewis (Northern Division)
Match report by Bill Barrack