League leaders Harrogate put 43 points past a strong Southport side on Sunday
By Helena Landau
Harrogate Ladies refused to let their opposition score a single point and returned with the maximum once again
After arriving at Southport it was immediately evident that Harrogate could expect a more competitive match than the previous, where Southport were thrashed 79-0 at the Stratstone Stadium.
The conditions were not working in either team’s favour and were extremely wet and windy from the initial whistle.
From the kick off Harrogate were switched on but it was clear the Southport were ready for a battle, with their forwards posing a constant threat. In response, second row Annie Lyles and the forward pack smashed through every player who was in the firing line in front of them relentlessly.
Southport gained an early penalty which they used tactically to kick for touch, placing it menacingly close to the Harrogate line. The home team attempted to maul it in from the line out but Harrogate were set low in defence and managed to push them backwards.
Repeated efforts to crash the ball in and over the line in the arms of their solid forward pack followed from Southport. Though they were denied any room from Harrogate who made a number of try saving tackles in defence and managed to steal the ball back.
Captain, Rose Jay made the distance to the half-way line in the form of one of her trademark runs before finally being tackled and offloading.
The ball then came back across as centre, Kelly Morgan received it from Sarah Foster. With winger, Sophie Wilson also in support, Morgan saw the gap, sold a dummy and powered her way straight through before diving over the try line to score a screamer.
Fullback, Lauren Bolger followed with the conversion and the score was 0-7 within the first quarter.
The teams battled on despite the heavy wind and rain, with obvious efforts to keep mistakes to a minimum. Flankers, Nieve Jones and Lauren Clarkson made some serious steals in the breakdown area and gave Harrogate maximum possession and allowed them to attack.
Fly half Alex Wallace then broke through two defenders and carried on until she tripped and brought herself down. Still, she managed to roll and present, keeping the ball alive as she did so.
The visiting backs moved the ball quickly through the hands and to the right where it was picked up by winger, Rachel Demoraes. Demoraes touched down during a dramatic dive over the line and the score was increased to 0-12 in Harrogate’s favour.
There was a surprise and considerable break in play after medical assistance was required on the pitch and both teams sent back inside to keep warm. Upon the restart a Southport prop tried to tackle Wallace who prevented this from happening with a swift hand off, keeping the player at arm’s length before passing on the ball on to Morgan.
Harrogate played the phases before losing the ball and having to defend. Southport responded by continuously picking and going, giving the forwards a heavy hammering in defence close to the breakdowns.
The visitors then received a penalty in the opposition’s 22 though, due to poor discipline in the breakdown and took advantage. Wallace tactically took it quickly, broke through the line and used her classic hand off to push herself over the line and score. She added the extras with a successful kick too and increased the score to 0-19 in time for the half-time whistle.
After the interval Jay got her hands on the ball immediately. She smashed through the middle of numerous home forwards who were more than twice her size whilst on a determined mission towards the try line.
Jay was stopped in her tracks eventually before Wallace made her way down the Southport line after receiving the ball from Foster, handing players in her path off left right and centre.
Front row replacement, Lizzy Mason then powered through and over the line with Wallace making the kick from out wide, with a further 7 added it was 0-26.
Harrogate were on a role now, producing a display of accurate and efficient passing, playing the phases in full control of the game.
Winger, Izzy Harris made a precise pick up at the back and followed it through by putting her foot on the gas and making it all the way to Southport’s 22. Harris was stopped just short by an equally speedy Southport defender, but Foster was there in support to receive the offload and crossed the whitewash on the far left.
Again, Wallace made the kick from the touchline this time. The score was 0-33 with 15 minutes left on the clock.
Harrogate received the restart kick well and Number 8, Anna Hamilton ran the ball in with fellow forwards, Clarkson and Warriner in direct support. Props, Imari Epps and Chrissy Pratt then got involved too, sending the Southport defence backwards.
The visitors then shipped the ball out to the backs as Harris showed off that she had legs for days. She made another epic run up the left before she was caught and the ball was moved quickly to the other side of the pitch.
Harris’ fellow winger Simone Christopher caught a high ball before completely dismantling the defence and dotting down.
With 5 minutes left the visitors were hungry for one last try, though Southport weren’t making this easy. Replacements, Martha Riggs, Achele Agada and Emma Wintstanley made their marks on the pitch, aiding Harrogate to move forward with the ball slowly by surely.
It was Wilson though who made it count before the full time whistle blew. After a steal before half way, she took advantage of the space in front of her and made the run. She defied all defenders in her path, dancing around one and spinning out of a tackle with another, before she crossed the whitewash to make the final score 0-43 to Harrogate.
Player of the match performances were awarded to Lauren Clarkson, Rose Jay and Kelly Morgan. Harrogate Ladies now have a break in play until 3rd February when they will play Sefton at the Stratstone stadium (K.O TBC). The Harrogate Hens will play Sheffield II this Sunday at home - all support welcome, 2pm K.O.