BIG MATCH PREVIEW - Harrogate

 

BIG MATCH PREVIEW by Peter Woodroofe
Harrogate v Moseley, National League 2, Claro Road, Saturday, 18 February, 2.15pm


Flower power
After their outstanding display against promotion challengers Esher last Saturday which placed them top of National 2 in their own right, Moseley visit the pleasant spa town of Harrogate, home of a prestigious annual flower show and one of the most traditional of rugby clubs.

Early on scene
Harrogate were founded in 1871, two years before Moseley, and in a list published in the Guinness Book of Rugby Facts and Feats in 1981, they were placed as the 12th oldest of what was then regarded as a list of senior clubs and the 6th oldest northern club behind Liverpool, Manchester, Sale, Bradford and Birkenhead Park.

Moseley, founded in 1873, were placed 18th, behind Gloucester and Halifax, founded in the same year.

To digress…
The oldest senior club in the Midlands, though, is Burton, not regarded as a senior club, which was founded in 1870.They, in fact, provided an England international forward, FRED EVERSHED, who played against the New Zealand Native side, the Maoris in 1889 and scored a disputed try, with three of the visitors temporarily leaving the field in protest.

Moseley’s first international was J.H.Rogers, who won his first of four caps against Wales in 1890.

Harrogate’s first international was a three-quarter, A.S. PICKERING, who won one cap against Ireland in 1907. Their most well-known internationals are the England and British Lion winger PETER SQUIRES, the Welsh international prop, the late JEFF YOUNG and the England international fly-half ROGER SHACKLETON. Ireland’s SIMON EASTERBY is also a former Harrogate player.

Back to tradition…
After that digression, a return to Harrogate as a traditional club.

They raised £3,500 for club funds from their third annual Gold Day and Dinner that included an auction for a ball signed by the aforementioned Squires, Easterby and Young.

One of the most traditional events at Harrogate, witnessed by the Moseley players after their two enjoyable League visits to their ground at Claro Road, is the captain’s presentations to team members, the opposition, supporters and sometimes match officials for their performances, good or otherwise in the game – all good-hearted fun in the clubhouse after the match.

Few encounters
In spite of the age of both clubs, they have met each other on only seven occasions, twice in the RFU Cup Competition in 1981-12 and 1992-3, both at the Reddings, and five times in League rugby.

Moseley have won every game – three times at home in League matches, including 21-7 in 2003-4, a result that ended Harrogate’s run of seven victories, 49-12 last season, the highest number of points Moseley have scored at home in a League match.

Last October Moseley won 35-19 when DEAN BICK scored a hat-trick of tries and NEIL MASON one in a rampant pack early on, and NATHAN BRESSINGTON got over for a contribution from the backs. OLLIE THOMAS kicked two penalties and converted two tries. Harrogate came into the game in the second half with tries by MAIFEA MAIFEA, playing at centre, and winger STEVE PARSONS showing impressive speed, and a 73rd minute try by prop JIMMY BROWNE. MARK CHESTER converted two in a typical fightback.

At Claro Road, Moseley have won 42-24 in 2003-4 and last season 32-22.

The encounters have produced a series of high-scoring games with Harrogate generally fighting back after early reverses, except in the first game at Claro Road when it was Moseley who fought back after being 17-0 down, to win 42-24.

National 2 stalwarts
Harrogate have played in 12 consecutive seasons in the second division below the top level. Their best seasons were 4th in 2001-2 and 2002-3, with LEE CHOLEWA, now at London Welsh, their leading points scorer which he won for five successive seasons, with a career record of 1066 League points, 20 points behind RALF ZOING, whose career lasted from 1987 to 1999.

Last season they finished 10th, only two points clear of the three relegated clubs.

Close encounters…
This season’s results have been interesting to say the least. They are currently lying 13th, after losing last Saturday’s vital relegation game at Halifax. With re-organisation of the Leagues put off until April 28th, both the sides wanted to avoid leaving anything to chance.

Harrogate have only won two games to date this season, but have won 14 bonus points, the highest number in the League, five points for scoring four tries or more, and nine for losing by seven points or less.

Up to Christmas they had just 10 bonus points to their credit, but since then they have won twice - 32-31 at Henley Hawks on January 21 and the following week they 29-3 at home to Orrell. They won try bonus points in both these games.

Other try bonus points were won away at Orrell and Barking and home to Henley Hawks. Losing bonus points have been at home to Redruth, Stourbridge, Halifax, Barking and Esher and away at Blackheath, Manchester, Orrell and Wharfedale. Only against Moseley, Waterloo and Launceston have they failed to win a bonus point and they have played them only once.

Flyer’s return
The return of winger JAMES TAPSTER has made a significant impact on Harrogate’s game. Known as the Skipton flyer when he joined Wakefield, he went on to play in over 100 games for Harrogate and score 66 League tries before retiring at the end of last season to work in the health and fitness industry – not as his name suggests, a dispenser of drinks at the bar!

His return in 2006 has lifted the morale of the club and he scored a try in both Harrogate’s winning games against Orrell and Henley Hawks. After the Orrell game, once again he was drawn into the award ceremony. Not the Man of the Match, Champagne Moment or the Brown Ale Award for the most embarrassing act in the match – but he picked up the Gopher Award, which meant he had to act as right-hand man or servant to the Man-of-the-Match Maifea Maifea on Saturday evening. (Thanks to Paul English of the Rugby Times for this info).

New and not-so-new backs…
Newcomers to the club this season include winger PHIL WILLIAMS from Doncaster, fly-half MICHAEL ASPINALL and centre MARK PEASE from Hull Ionians, and later in the season NICK WAINWRIGHT, a utility back.

They join experienced full-back ED SMITHIES, over 150 appearances, 68 tries, centre JAMIE BARKER, 16 tries in 2003-4, winger STEPHEN PARSONS and scrum-half MARK CHESTER.

…and the forwards
New forwards include No 8 MAIFEA MAIFEA, who actually played at centre against Moseley, prop DAVE HARRITY from Havant, flanker PHIL SKILLEN from Ebbw Vale, hooker ED SPACKMAN, flanker ANDREW ENSTON and prop GARTH DODGSON and JIMMY BROWNE.

They join locks BRENDAN BACK, the captain, and MATT CHALLANCE, who joined from Leek Academy, prop ROB WILSON, hooker MARK ERVEN, over 100 appearances, and flankers SCOTT POWELL and SCOTT WILSON, several of whom figured in last season’s revival of five wins in the last six games to avoid relegation.

Other top men
Long-term official GRAHAM SISWICK is Chairman of Rugby and former player RHYS MORGAN is coach.

Who scores…
The leading try scorers are winger STEVE PARSONS with 10 and fly-half MARK ASPINALL, seven. The squad has scored 42 tries, the sixth highest try scorers in National 2.

The leading points scorers are Aspinall with 63, Parsons with 50 and Nick Wainwright, 31.

Feeling down
Harrogate will be disappointed by their 32-7 defeat at fast-improving Halifax, who jumped to 11th place above Stourbridge on points difference.

They are eight points behind Stour, who are now in the 3rd relegation spot.

How it stands
Having surmounted the Esher hurdle with something to spare last week, Moseley have three home games five away games to play. Promotion is now in their own hands, especially with Esher having to play Waterloo at Molesey Road on April 1.

Moseley are four points in front on Waterloo and seven points ahead of Esher. There is no doubt the cool heads of Ian Smith and Don Caskie will dispel any signs of complacency in the squad and tribute should be paid to Sara, the physio, and the ‘doc’ Peter Grime for their strenuous efforts in getting the players fit – especially for the Esher game after a spate of injuries and niggles.

Ollie Thomas, who has carried an injury, was on crutches on Sunday and is unlikely to play against Harrogate. With no game on February 25, he has three weeks’ rest and recovery time.

Stay focused!
Harrogate may be 13th in the League and have yet to defeat Moseley in their history in a first class game, but the five previous League encounters have been high-scoring games with Moseley scoring 179 points and Harrogate 84.

At Claro Road last season, there were only 10 points between the teams.

Harrogate are a resilient side showing typical Yorkshire grit, so there will be plenty of entertainment in the game for Moseley’s travelling faithful whose support is so much appreciated by the whole playing squad and back-up. Have a good day!

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