National Two North: Harrogate eye quick start against league leaders Macclesfield

Phil Wickham in action against Sale (Photo: David Aspinall)
Phil Wickham in action against Sale (Photo: David Aspinall)

Youthful exuberance has transformed the fortunes for Harrogate RUFC but it will face a big test when league leaders Macclesfield head to Rudding Lane on Saturday.

Macclesfield head the National Two North table after a remarkable run of eight straight victories, with their only blemish on the opening day of the season at Stourbridge.

The Cheshire outfit have ran in the most points out of all the teams in the league with that run of wins, and sit three points above pre-season title favourites Sedgley Park.

However, Harrogate will enter Saturday’s encounter in defiant mood after a second comeback victory in as many weeks on Saturday.

Despite fielding one of the youngest sides in the club’s history, Harrogate came back from 19-6 down to defeat newly promoted Sale 25-22, and collect their second win on the road this campaign.

Director of rugby Mike Aspinall said: “It’s going to be a really good test for this young side. Sale hadn’t been beaten at home up until Saturday, that was a great test, but this will be another level up, or two.

“We have to be starting well against a team like Macclesfield. WE have been down at half time against Chester and Sale in the last two weeks and come back to win, but we are making life a buit hard for ourselves.

“We want to be in the game with 20 minutes to go, and then we can see what happens.

“But to achieve that, we will have to play our best first 40 than we have had all season.”

Without Steve Parsons and Cameron Leadley due to late withdrawals, Aspinall recalled Luke Edwards and handed Harry Barnard a start against Sale.

The front row was dominant against their Sale counterparts who included players with Premiership experience.

A Lewis Minikin penalty gave Harrogate an early lead but they were on the wrong end of some borderline offside decisions and Sale’s Liam McGovern, who kicked faultlessly throughout the match, landed four penalty kicks against one more from Minikin.

Early in the second half, an excellent Sale backs move ended with a Jack Moorhouse try and McGovern’s touchline conversion made it 19-6.

Harrogate’s superior fitness began to tell, though, and teenage flanker, Guy Coser crashed over to score after a series of driving mauls, converted by Minikin.

Another McGovern penalty soon made it 22-13 but Harrogate upped their game with dazzling back play.

Inventive attacking play from Callum Irvine created dangerous back moves from Harrogate’s youngsters but the next try came from their elder statesman Sam Bottomley, who showed pace, power and guile to get past despairing tackles in a 30 metres run on the right.

Attempted Sale counters were well contained by Harrogate’s defence, including the game’s champagne moment through Charles Morgan’s try saving tackle.

Barnard was a constant threat on the wing and he squeezed out of a tackle to put in an attacking chip over the goal line, but teammate Callum Irvine just beat him to the ball to score and another Minikin touchline conversion sealed victory for the visitors.

Aspinall added: “It was a very young side and they did very well, and it was even better to finish with a win and hold out like the way we did.

“I was pleased at half time even though we were down, because you could see the performance and the stuff we had been working on during the week.”