Harrogate ran Leicester Lions close on Saturday but the visitors went for the kill and won 41-36 in a late victory.
The lead had changed three times in this fascinating match when the Lions drew level in the 72nd minute.
It changed a fourth time with Leicester’s winning try in the last move of the match.
The sides scored five tries each and it was a case of the home forward power against scintillating Harrogate back play.
Inexperienced referee Calum Howard gave a series of eccentric decisions throughout the game which, on balance, were of more benefit to the Lions.
An early Harrogate attack went to ground and they were immediately penalised for holding.
Jon Boden’s kick opened the scoring and he soon had another opportunity from a Harrogate offside offence.
He and one of the ARs thought he’d missed but the other AR signalled that it had gone over and Mr Howard awarded the score.
A powerful run from home hooker, Oliver Taylor, was then well supported by scrum-half, Dan Campbell and Boden’s conversion made it 13-0.
A Sam Bottomley break was carried on by Joe Rowntree and Callum Irvine was in support to open Harrogate’s account with a fine try converted by Rowntree.
However, Harrogate’s powerful inspirational captain, Jake Brady then had to leave the field with an ankle injury and Leicester’s Taylor had to go off with a nasty head wound.
A series of Harrogate forward drives followed with Ben Reaveley, Rob Adair and Aarin Yorke well to the fore.
Phil Wickham delivered quick ball to Irvine whose dazzling break cut through the defence for a brilliant individual converted try which put Harrogate ahead.
Harrogate made a mess of the restart and then went offside after defending home attacks. Boden’s kick restored the Lions’ lead and he also converted Leicester’s next try. This came when centre, Steve Cross crashed over from a well worked backs move. More Harrogate attacks followed with Bottomley, Harry Parrish and Steve Parsons stretching the home defence and Irvine’s hat trick converted try closed the gap. Another Boden penalty put Leicester into a 26-21 half time lead.
The Lions were penalised for holding soon after the resumption and Rowntree duly added the 3 points. Harrogate’s defence then had to withstand prolonged home pressure and Parsons won great turnover ball to relieve the pressure.
Nathan Smith and Tim Heaton were also prominent in defence but the Lions drove strongly from an attacking line-out and replacement prop, Tom Williams scored.
Rowntree turned defence into attack with a brilliant interception and outstripped despairing Leicester tacklers for a superb try. Replacement scrum-half, Danny Matthews then made a half break and Bottomley seared through the midfield to deliver a scoring pass to (guess who) Irvine. Rowntree’s conversion made it 31-36 but Leicester’s forwards continued to exert pressure and their efforts were helped when Harrogate’s Yorke was somewhat surprisingly sent to the sin bin. The Lions opted for a scrum from the ensuing penalty and Drew Rudkin drove over to score and make it 36-36.
Most people thought that a draw was a fair reflection of play but another controversial decision led to Leicester winning with the last move of the game. Bottomley was in support of an Irvine midfield break but he was “taken out” before the pass was delivered.
Inexplicably, Mr Howard waved play on, Leicester kicked ahead and replacement back, Andrew Murdoch won the chase to score in the corner.
Leicester Lions: Boden, Robertson, Douglas, Cross, Veebel, Greendale (Murdoch 31), Campbell, Spokes, Taylor (Williams 21), Murray, Cheney, Tuckey, Morris, Rudkin, Gibbons (Young 58)
Harrogate: Rowntree, Parsons, Bottomley, Edwards, Parrish (Audsley-Beck 63), Irvine, Wickham (Matthews 61), Metcalfe, Yorke, Reaveley (Browne 52), Brady (Dewsnip 21), Wilson, Smith, Adair, Heaton.
Referee: Calum Howard (RFU)