Rugby Union: Harrogate emerge from gritty battle to beat West Hartlepool 24-17

Mike Aspinall scored Harrogate's last try.  (120922M2f)
Mike Aspinall scored Harrogate's last try. (120922M2f)
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Harrogate maintained their flawless start to life in National Three North on Saturday, beating West Hartlepool 24-17 at Claro Road on Saturday.

The side have now won eight from eight, but were made to work hard for the victory against a nuggety set of visitors.

On paper, Mike Aspinall’s troops look perfectly poised to claim the sole promotion place back to National Two.

But they are by no means guaranteed that spot, and although they did enough to overcome a somewhat lacklustre West Hartlepool, greater tests of Harrogate’s unbeaten record await when they go up against rivals Chester and Percy Park next month.

It’s also to be hoped that lightening quick winger James Audsley-Beck won’t be out for too long, having left the game in an ambulance and fracture boot after a ferocious Hartlepool tackle midway through the second half.

It took a bit of time for the league leaders to find their rhythm but they drew first blood.

Good early pressure from Harrogate pushed West Hartlepool back deep into their own territory.

Harrogate drew a fourth-minute advantage with a Joe Rowntree penalty after forcing their visitors into an error

But Hartlepool hit back after six minutes, when having worked the ball upfield, fly half Stu Waites opened up the Harrogate defence and prop Adam Coates pushed his way over for a try fly half Stu Waites failed to tag the conversion to.

Harrogate signalled their intent when fly half Mike Aspinall made a break, and with centre Sam Bottomley in support and the dazzling pace of winger Audsley- Beck out wide, Harrogate powered back upfield.

Audsley-Beck was brought down but referee Claire Hodnett flagged deemed Hartlepool offside and awarded a penalty, Rowntree slotting Harrogate a point in front.

Then, thanks to a superb 50-metre dash by wing Noel Minkin, a pass from Bottomley to Audsley-Beck saw the winger use his pace to scramble over near the corner for the hosts’ first try.

Although Rowntree failed to add the extras, this was more like it from Harrogate.

But Hartlepool were then awarded a penalty for Harrogate killing the ball, and Waites opted to kick for the corner.

When Hartlepool’s pack drove forward Harrogate left themselves wide open once again, as Coates spotted another gap and dived over.

Waites missed the conversion but there was now only a point’s difference.

Harrogate seemed unable to control the ball at the breakdown, and it was starting to cost them.

Just before the break, Harrogate went close to another try through a series of pick and drives but ran out of time to produce it.

They returned to the field with Phil Wickham replacing Rowntree at scrum half. But it got off to a bad start when Harrogate conceded a penalty within a minute from a scrum.

Fortunately, Waites’ poor kicking style cost him again as it veered wide.

Ten minutes into the half, Harrogate were penalised again for coming in at the side, and Waites kicked downfield.

But after a dodgy Hartlepool lineout, another Aspinall break saw Harrogate attempt to run the ball, and quick hands down the left found Audsley-Beck in space.

He raced across the whitewash for a much-needed try, full back Rob Almond missing the conversion.

Sadly for Harrogate, Audsley-Beck was to leave the field shortly afterwards with a supected fractured ankle following a fearsome Hartlepool tackle in the centre of the field. The game was halted for him to receive treatment, but with the club doctor swiftly on to the pitch and a fracture boot and stretcher needed, it looks as though the winger will be out for some time.

Rowntree was brought back on, and had no trouble booting a penalty when Hartlepool were caught deliberately turning the scrum.

Harrogate were now nine points in front, but Harrogate were then reduced to 14 when hooker Steve Maycock was yellowcarded for persistent offside.

Waites kicked for the corner, but as Hartlepool drove for the line again and again, a superb show of Harrogate defence kept them out and Pinchen was held up over the line.

With only a few minutes of normal time remaining, Rowntree was released and his pace took Harrogate upfield.

A pass to Minikin found Aspinall in space, and he raced through a gap to touch down near the far corner.

Almond missed the conversion but Harrogate were now 24-10 ahead and their visitors had left themselves too much to do.

They pushed hard for a try late on, but pushed perhaps a bit too hard as Coates was yellow-carded for a professional foul.

However, they kept up their pressure and from an attacking lineout, prop Andrew Davies bulldozed over in the ninth minute of injury time.

Waites kicked the conversion, and it ended perhaps a little flatteringly to Hartlepool who picked up their bonus point at 24-17.

National Three North

Harrogate 24

West Hartlepool 17

Ref: Claire Hodnett

Teams:

Harrogate: Rob Almond, Noel Minikin, Kyle Dench, Sam Bottomley, James Audsley Beck (Rowntree 60), Mike Aspinall, Joe Rowntree (Wickam ht), Dan Metcalfe, Steve Maycock, Ben Innes (Musetti 45), Tom Harvey, Max Lewis, Chris Wilson (Smith 75), Tim Heaton, Jacob Brady; Phil Wickham, Nathan Smith, Dom Musetti .

West Hartlepool: David Heckles, Greg Edwards, Andrew Cheslin, Luke Watson, Colin Cheslin; Stu Waites, Andrew Foreman; Ian Pinchen, Andrew Rollins, Adam Coates, Andrew Davies, Michael Hogan, Dan Boatman, Tom Armstrong, Stewart Grazier; Andrew Dixon, Nathan Myers.