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York 1st XV  @ Harrogate

York 1st XV @ Harrogate

Ian Coe18 Feb - 17:00
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Title fighters battle for a draw at "mudgate". Report from Huw Kane. Photos from Rob Long.

York had to draw deep on their squad and their collective heart to come away with two vital points in a hard fought 14 all draw that keeps their promotion hopes on track. If this had been a horse race it would probably have been cancelled, there not being a definition of the going worse than heavy, which Rudding Lane certainly was. Harrogate needed this game to go ahead, to try and clear their fixture backlog and increase their revenues. If you were a York supporter, you may have been in two minds. With a growing injury list, including Westaby, Scholey, Simpson, Atkin, Shackleton and Robson, the importance of the squad at this level came into clear focus. Some new faces in the team and some new roles. Paddy Hayes stepping in at loose head prop, a position he hasn’t played since colts and a big ask against a big Harrogate pack. Oscar Bell came into the back row and George Davies controlling things at fly-half in a familiar looking line up in the three quarters. Kyle Consterdine rotated in the front row from the bench with Jordan Layne and Andrezj “AJ”” Peplinski filling the final spot on the bench.

This fixture, with its added spice of the ‘local derby that hasn’t been played for many years’, has been prominent in peoples’ minds since York despatched Harrogate at Clifton Park earlier in the season. However, a win for both sides had added importance in determining who would be at the top of the table come the end of the season; both teams, together with Heath fighting for the honours. Fothergill was clearly expecting something stellar as he led the team out in his silver boots, soon to disappear in the sludge that was the alleged playing surface. Stellar he expected and stellar he got. The whole squad played with outstanding heart, courage and commitment to take the game to Harrogate from the starting whistle. The level of effort, sustained for eighty minutes, was matched by the vociferous and vocal support, most notably from the injured, all of whom had travelled to cheer their team mates on but also by the many York supporters lining the pitch. It was commented by the players after the game that it felt like a home game such was the noise generated from the crowd.

York kicked off up the hill, Hessay choosing an unorthodox kick from his armoury, flat across the ground and creating the first mistake of the afternoon, a knock on. It soon became obvious that keeping your feet on the surface was going to be very difficult. No purchase in the scrums meant Harrogate could not impose their weight advantage in the set piece with the effect they had perhaps hoped for. Kicking out of hand was difficult as the non-kicking foot slid away from under the kicker. Kicks that did get away did not roll but plugged in the surface. The surface was energy sapping, sucking the players down into the depths, every step an effort; fitness levels would be important. And so, the game settled into a turgid battle. Not pretty but incredibly exciting as any mistake could lead to victory for the opposition.

Harrogate camped in York’s 22m area for a considerable period of time after a long kick by Steene but good defensive line speed gave Harrogate no room and no momentum. Hard tackling was knocking them backwards, Barrick prominent in this area as ever, but everyone following his example. York fought their way into the Harrogate half with strong ball carrying and good support. Securing a position on the Harrogate 5 m line, York caught cleanly at the line out and drove the maul towards the line only to be held up. York played with more energy and pace but both sides were clearly struggling with the wet, greasy ball and the underfoot conditions.

Harrogate broke the deadlock after 33 minutes. Turnover ball, ripped in the tackle, enabled Harrogate to release their backs who had numbers on the right. Well timed passing enabled Harrogate to cross under the posts for a converted try. Harrogate 7, York 0. The effort was showing already, both sides walking to set pieces. Playing into injury time, York mounted another attack. Ashman found his feet and showed his speed to collect a kick forward. The ball kicked through again towards the Harrogate line, Ferguson chasing, almost touched the ball down but was impeded off the ball by the Harrogate defender. Mr Penfold had no hesitation in awarding the penalty try, Harrogate 7, York 7. A timely score as the whistle went shortly after to end the half.

The second half kicked off in a similar fashion to the first. It was almost impossible to tell who was who, in the mud. Both sides taking the game to each other resulting in end-to-end rugby between the 10m lines that sapped the energy. Six minutes in to the second half, Harrogate set up the driving maul and rumbled their way to the line. The try converted by a well taken kick, put Harrogate back into the lead 14 – 7. Whose fitness would tell in the end? Would the heavier Harrogate pack become dominant, or would York have the fitness to sustain their livelier style and run the heavier pack off its feet?

York responded quickly taking the play into the Harrogate half, Davies received the ball on the 10m line. Slipping the first tackle, he pushed forward cutting against the momentum of the defence, somehow maintaining his feet as all around slipped away. He made it to the posts carrying two defenders with him to score a superb individual try. Converted by Hessay, the game was all level again 14 – 14.

Despite a long period of arm wrestling in the middle of the field, York had the better of the second half. “AJ” Peplinksi made a notable contribution to the game when he came on showing good skills, lots of courage and some good pace. Harrogate, running the ball for a change, threatened the York line but good defensive work held them out and York exited well. A great break by the increasingly elusive Davies found himself in space with little support. Choosing to kick down the hill into the corner, he forced the Harrogate wing to clear to touch giving York a line out 10 m out. York set up a series of driving mauls, the forwards picking and going, retaining possession well before releasing the backs. Ashman had a clear opportunity as York had overloaded the left wing but couldn’t get the ball to him.

With time nearly up Harrogate threatened down the right again that had York hearts racing. Scrambling defence kept them out. York cleared to touch from the resultant scrum to bring on the final whistle. Final score Harrogate 14, York 14.

Despite it being a draw, this felt like a victory in many ways. The team spirit and camaraderie fuelled a performance that many didn’t expect in terrible conditions and the performance fuelled the team spirit. Two points keeps York at the top of the table. Importantly, two or three extra points denied to Harrogate, that they may have hoped for, keeps them having to chase hard in their remaining fixtures. Cleckheaton played their part on the weekend beating rival contenders Heath. A congested fixture list with Harrogate and Heath still to play the remainder of the top five sides other than York, gives both teams a difficult run in chasing the points that York has in the bag. Injuries playing a bigger part for all sides at this end of the season, York are in a good place but need to maintain the pressure by securing their own victories against the sides at the lower end of the table, all of whom will be fighting for survival.

Harrogate: MacNab, Miller, Dobson, Brook, Magee, Steene, Olley, Percival, Maycock, Butler, Pritchard, Brady, Coser, Kaisia, Hill. Rep: Peace, Edgar, Toomey.
York: Hessay, Atkinson, Fordy, Barrick, Ashman, Davies, Ferguson, Hayes, Mills, Jackson, Croft, Evans, Fothergill, Bell, Stockton. Rep: Consterdine, Lane, Peplinski.

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