Another heart breaking defeat for Wharfedale and the large away support. The match was won by the Harrogate eight’s control of the ball. In the first half they dominated the scrum and they closed out the game with simple old fashioned rugby, not entertaining but effective. The first 20 minutes were dominated by Gate and with the referee happy to award penalties David Doherty kicked them into a 12-0 lead. Wharfedale had touched the ball twice in this period but knock ons cost them dear.
On their first real attack Scott Jordan regathered his own chip, good hands from Jimmy Bullough sent Josh Prell through and up to the line. The forwards finished off the move with Josh Burridge crashing over. Jamie Guy was no match for the strong wind and could not convert. Harrogate’s restart was run back by Jordan and a high tackle led to a Wharfedale penalty. The kick to the corner was followed by a catch and drive and a try for Ian Larkin. Again the wind won the battle for the extras. Another penalty from Doherty gave Gate a 15-10 advantage at half time.
Dale started the second half strongly and were held up over the line. As Dale could not field a fit front row a player had to leave the pitch and the scrum was uncontested. A clever move from Huw Morgan standing at 10 sent Jamie Guy under the posts and he converted to nudge Dale into the lead. Dale’s next possession was spilled and Harrogate pressed through the forwards. Phases later they squeezed over in the corner. Try scorer David Doherty could not beat the wind with the conversion but Gate were now in front again. The home side finished as they started with the forwards keeping it tight. Any short moments of possession by Dale were given away and Harrogate ground their way to the finish completing spells of phase after phase of controlled rugby.
These were the main moves of the game. Open rugby it was not. If Wharfedale have been criticised for not tackling in the past then they certainly deserve credit for this display. The first half was fairly even with just over thirty tackles each. The second half, with Harrogate nursing the ball as though it was a bar of gold, the Green defence made 112 tackles to Harrogate’s 20. In their 20 carries Dale made five mistakes whilst Gate only lost the ball twice in their efforts. In the first half Harrogate were even more clinical, no mistakes, with again Dale being less careful with three errors. In percentage terms only 1% of Harrogate possession was lost by their own handling! Am I being too critical? If I am then forgive me. With the meagre possession Dale had, they still outscored the opposition by three tries to one. All players were putting their bodies on the line.
The scrum penalties cost Dale six points in the first half, and having to go down to fourteen men as Dale could not fulfill the front row commitment, may have contributed to Harrogate’s only try. The mistakes and the scrum penalties were sometimes very costly. At the start of the second half the defence was brilliant with tackle after tackle driving Harrogate back. The relieving kick was then dropped and a penalty to Harrogate given at the ensuing scrum. From struggling to break out of defence Gate had an attacking line out in the visitor’s half.
Oh, the swings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Last week George Hedgley was yellow carded for an innocuous no arm tackle. In the opening exchanges a Harrogate player with a slightly higher no arms tackle (ie just above the ankle) was just penalised – not even a lecture. Not moaning about this week as it was probably the right decision. Near the end of the 1st half Scott Jordan nearly had his head taken off – just a penalty. Even the Harrogate supporters were amazed that no card was produced. Maybe refs have a thing about Geordies – they can be hurt but they can’t hurt others. Again, one thing I have noticed this season, Wharfedale took all the these with humility yet again; all I could hear was appealing from the other side.
George Hedgley was Man of the Match with an outstanding display in the backrow, closely followed by Josh Burridge and Lewis Wilson. The handling errors came from the backs but I will not dwell on this as they played well; were far more effective than the Harrogate backs who may have been treated for hypothermia. Scott Jordan showed marvellous invention in creating the first try and all the backs contributed to the tackle count. It was good to see Richard Rhodes and Oliver Cicognini back in action and Rhodes made an immediate impact winning a turn over almost as soon as he entered the fray.
On the darker side the injury count may have grown with Ian Larkin, Jimmy Bullough, Joe Altham and Sam Gaudie all having to be helped off the playing surface. We wish them a speedy recovery, especially young Gaudie.
The main good news after a dismal, cold afternoon, was that this was Wharfedale’s first point away from home and that Harrogate stay bottom with Dale fractionally ahead on points difference!
With Tom Barrett hopefully returning to the ranks next week we need every available voice at the Avenue for the encounter with Sale.
Wharfedale Jordan, Prell (Wellock 40), H. Bullough, Morgan, Cicognini, Guy, J. Bullough (Gaudie 33, Prell 80), Altham (Huck 40), Stockdale (Poole 45), Huck (Larkin 25, Stockdale 53 – 58), Allen (Rhodes 18), Ward, Hedgley, Wilson, Burridge (c)
Scrums – Wharfedale 7 from 8 (3 uncontested) 1 lost
Harrogate 5 from 5. (2 uncontested) 3 penalties awarded
Line outs – Wharfedale 7 from 8
Harrogate 9 from 11 ( 2 not straight)