Harrogate vs Wirral
By Peter Kitching
As half time approached, Harrogate were 26-3 ahead, had already secured a bonus point and were apparently cruising to a straightforward victory.
All credit is due to Wirral for a spirited fight back but, the disjointed nature of the game was due, in no small part, to some very inconsistent refereeing. This is not a criticism of the referee but it is an indictment of the current obsessive RFU policy of sidelining experienced referees and appointing youngsters. Last season, today’s young referee was functioning in Yorkshire 3 (Level 9) and to jump to Level 5 in one season is a huge leap. Today’s game was faster, more skilful and more physical than what he was used to and his inexperience led to some situations which were downright dangerous.
After early Harrogate attacks, play was suspended for almost 15 minutes because of a nasty leg injury to Harrogate stand-off, Sam Fox. Full back Oli Rosillo then launched a Harrogate counter attack from a Wirral clearance, centre Nathan Wyman made a decisive break and flanker James Dyson was in support to score. The dominant Harrogate scrum was then penalised and a further home offside offence followed. Jimmy Annetts, Wirral’s talented full back, kicked the penalty to open their account.
Another Rosillo counter attack from deep led to Harrogate’s next try. Andy Boyde drove strongly to take the move on and Wyman’s speed took him through despairing attempted tackles for a try which he converted. It was Rosillo himself who scored next. A searing break was followed by a chip and chase which he gathered skilfully to score another converted try. Dyson started Harrogate’s next scoring move with a strong run. A good tackle checked him but the Harrogate pack was in support to keep the pressure on and Dyson scored another converted try. This made it 26-3 but Wirral soon secured good turnover ball and Danny Harvey sped over for a converted try. In the final move of the half, Annetts again raced through for another converted try to make it 26-17. The Harrogate defence had been caught flat footed as they thought there had been a knock-on in the move.
There was a highly competitive start to the second half with Harrogate’s defence being fully tested. Wirral stole Harrogate line-out ball but Martin Dodds won an immediate turnover. Experienced hooker, Steve Maycock had been drafted in to prop at tight head today and gave a sterling performance in the tight and the loose. Tom Larder and Tom Driscoll were the other members of an excellent front row and, when Aarin Yorke and Evan Woodward came off the bench, Harrogate continued to scrummage strongly. Locks, Boyde and Sam Brady competed strongly throughout and the skills of the two flankers, Dyson and Dodds, complemented each other well. At No8 and in his 150th first team appearance, Tom Harvey gave a typically abrasive, all action performance.
The next score came from a strong Boyde drive which was held up and led to an attacking scrum. Harvey picked up at the base of the scrum and, with soft hands, gave a perfectly weighted pass to scrum half Danny Matthews who darted over for a try, converted from out wide. Wirral were still very much in the game and, from an attacking line-out, hooker Stuart Gratton drove over to score.
This inspired Wirral to attack and a succession of penalties were awarded against Harrogate. Woodward was yellow carded for killing the ball in defence but the 7 man Harrogate scrum continued to hold out until No 8, Rob Pearl drove over from a driving maul. The conversion made it 33-29 with minutes remaining and, when Boyde followed Woodward to the sin bin, the pressure was very much on. A final Wirral tactical decision proved to be crucial. Instead of going for a scrum against a 6 man pack, they opted to kick for touch and an attacking line-out. Dodds stole their line-out ball, Matthews cleared and the game was over.
Harrogate: Rosillo, Barnard, Wyman, Riddell, Lawson, Fox, Matthews, Driscoll, Larder, Maycock, Brady, Boyde, Dodds, Dyson, Harvey. Subs:- Woodward, Yorke, Lansdall
Wirral: Annets, Brooks, D Harvey, Speed, Loon, C Harvey, Murray, Yarker, Gratton, Higginson, Lewis, Dalton, Parry, Warren, Pearl. Subs:- Broadbent, Gidman,Harris
Referee: Chris Bloomfield (Northern)
Match report by Bill Barrack