Harrogate vs Billingham
By Peter Kitching
In a very close contest, Billingham deservedly won by sticking to the right game plan in challenging, wet conditions.
Harrogate scored 2 tries to Billingham’s 1 but Pete Evans’s excellent goal kicking nudged the visitors ahead.
Billingham attacked from the off but made little headway against the Harrogate pressure defence. The Harrogate scrum dominated throughout the match and an early Martin Dodds line-out steal created still more home pressure. However, this line-out success proved to be a false dawn as Billingham had by far the better of this part of the game.
The first real break of the game was a strong Harry Barnard left wing run but he was tackled into touch. Debutant stand-off, Sam Watkinson distributed well and made an excellent clearance kick from an attacking Billingham chip. The first score of the match came from an Evans penalty after 18 minutes when Harrogate were penalised for kicking the ball in a ruck. This was quickly followed by Billingham’s only try. A line-out steal was quickly spread and Matt Kirby raced through the middle to score and the conversion made it 0-10.
Consistent Harrogate pressure forced the Billingham defence to concede penalties but Harrogate kept opting for unsuccessful attacking lines-out instead of utilising their scrummaging superiority. In the last move of the half, a scything Nathan Wyman break was checked but Danny Matthews was in support to dummy and power his way over. Watkinson’s touchline conversion made it 7-10 at the break.
Both sides’ defences contained opposition attacks at the start of the second half. A powerful Dodds run was eventually checked, the ball went loose but the Harrogate line-out was again stolen by Billingham. A midfield Harrogate offence led to a successful long range Evans penalty to make it 7-13. James Dyson then charged down an attempted Billingham clearance but unfortunately knocked on over the goal line. Harrogate continued to attack but a promising Matthews cross kick was a little too strong and went directly into touch.
Harrogate’s second try came from another good Wyman break. He was held up just short of the line but the ball was quickly recycled and spread to substitute winger Matt Lansdall who scored in the corner. Another Watkinson touchline conversion put Harrogate 14-13 ahead. Remarkably, neither he nor Billingham’s Evans missed a single goal kick throughout the match.
Luke Riddell made a great take from a challenging Billingham restart kick and Harrogate attacked again. However crucial handling errors and strong Billingham defence led to moves breaking down. Another Evans penalty goal regained Billingham’s lead and they showed good ball retention skills to hold on to it till the final whistle.
Harrogate: Riddell, Edwards, Wyman, Fox, Barnard, Watkinson, Matthews, Driscoll, Larder, Harris, Brady, Millington, Dodds, Dyson, Harvey. Subs:- Ward, Yorke, Lansdall
Billingham: Husband, Hopley, Gardner, Wilson, Kirby, Evans, Fewster, Westall, Foulds, Spoor, McAlorum, Whinn, Burns, Richardson, Dixon. Subs:- Shaw, Walton, King
Referee: Adam Morrison (Northern)
Match report by Bill Barrack