Rugby Union: Harrogate RUFC 20-25 Leicester Lions

Gate in action
Gate in action

Leicester Lions bullied toiling Harrogate RUFC to a fourth straight National Two North defeat at Claro Road.

Two second-half tries from visiting winger Luke Veeble ensured the dogmatic Lions returned to the Midlands with a bonus-point 25-20 victory.

Had it not been for several crucial handling errors, Mike Aspinall’s ‘Gate might have grabbed an overdue victory.

Instead, a late Oli Denton try was needed to rescue a bonus-point as ‘Gate fell into the clutches of the relegation scrap.

The Lions played 60 minutes with 14 men, as prop Ken Buckton first received a sin-binning for a deliberate offside before he was sent-off close to the end for an off the ball incident.

In their first scrum, the away side’s strong pack snarled, earning a penalty as ‘Gate’s front row lifted. Jonathan Bowden slotted his first attempt through the posts for three points.

Errors crept into ‘Gate’s game and, after Tom Harvey’s withdrawal through a suspected ligament injury, the Lions pressed further ahead when number eight Jack Gibbons emerged from a driving maul over the home try-line for an unconverted score.

A mammoth Joe Rowntree penalty hauled ‘Gate to within five points before a contender for try of the season midway through the half brought the hosts ahead.

Minikin and Denton combined down the right before the half-backs spread the ball to the other wing for Steve Parsons to burst through, slipping Sam Bottomley away for a converted try.

However Leicester’s dominance in the scrum continued and the home penalty count rose.

One shove too many went in Leicester’s favour and, as the attack continued shortly before the break, visiting flanker Tom Morris put his side into a lead they would not lose. Another woeful kick put the away side three points.

A long period of pressure before the break saw ‘Gate camped in Lions territory. But Rowntree’s quick-thinking tap left him caught up in bodies on the line before Nathan Smith spilled forward with the half’s final play.

Within five minutes of the restart, the advantage had soon stretched to 10 points.

Vessel was left on his own down the left as ‘Gate’s defence were sucked into defending their tryline, and a long spin out wide saw the winger cross over before darting towards the posts past four statuesque tacklers. Bowden’s kick was easy, and converted.

A penalty for a Leicester offside allowed Rowntree to tap and go, and his pass sent Parsons swooping for the line. The try pulled ‘Gate five behind, but Rowntree’s thumping kick sailed wide.

The Lions grasped another chance inside the home 22. Veeble was again found in space to pour on the after-burners and dive over for his side’s fourth and final try.

A fractious end saw Buckton red-carded before ‘Gate grabbed their bonus point with one minute left on the clock.

Replacement Callum Irvine, on at full-back, targeted a limping Bowden down the right before Denton made the most of a bobbling ball to pounce on his own kick through.

A last thrash of pace could have stolen victory for ‘Gate, but another handling error allowed referee Michael Harris to call time on Gate’s fourth loss in a row.

Aspinall’s men travel to fierce rivals Otley next Saturday.

Read Thursday’s Harrogate Advertiser for full match report and post match comments from director of rugby Mike Aspinall.