Report by Simon Plumb
AFTER a close, but losing encounter with league leaders Billingham, 4th placed Harrogate appeared, on paper at least, a tall order for a young, 6th placed Lymm team shorn of injured captain Adam Bray and star player Ollie Higginson.
However, on a damp Yorkshire day, noted for its constant drizzle, Lymm gave a display of both doggedness and flair, to nearly, and justifiably, steal the honours at the death as they were beaten 14-11.
The home team’s pack showed dominance at scrum time and constantly put their big second rows racing through the middle channels at every opportunity. But this did not daunt Lymm’s back row ankle-biters who felled them like frenzied lumberjacks time and again.
During a deep foray into Lymm’s half Harrogate’s left winger got away but was tackled by full back Tom Bray, who then committed a professional foul by stopping what could have been a try-scoring offload. Ten minutes and off you go Tom! The resultant attacking line-out gave their big pack its platform and they trundled over for a well-rehearsed rolling maul of a try, well converted, 7-0 after 7mins.
Lymm responded with a penalty from scrum half Cormac Nolan after 10mins, for not releasing in the tackle, 7-3. Harrogate, who were discovering their magic at the line-out, scored another well-worked converted try and this seemed like it was going to happen throughout the game. 14-3 after 15mins.
Lymm’s plan was always going to be based on running the legs off the big opposing forwards, by creating a constant flow of open rugby on a wet, but firm surface. Nolan was a constant pain in the rear of the scrum, distributing sharply and intelligently to his adventurous back line.
At one point, following his own charge down, the ball went loose and Nolan made the most remarkable pick-up while actually gaining speed as he did so. Even the doughtiest of Yorkshire supporters could not help but be impressed by this intuitive piece of skill. Lymm began to press and go through the phases but the try was proving illusive.
A penalty for offside after 22mins allowed Nolan to close the gap making it 14-6. A poor clearance kick allowed the Harrogate full back to run back with fierce intent, evading several tackles and take play to within 5m of the Lymm line. Last ditch tackling now became the norm and prop James Mawdsley injured his shoulder in this strong defence, to be replaced by Matty Hand after 31mins. Yet another attacking line out 5m from the line, gave Harrogate that platform again but, and not for the last time, Lymm disrupted the throw and cleared their lines. The magic spell was broken.
Then came the game’s turning point but not in a way anyone expected. Tom Bray was penalised for a high tackle and his second yellow card, which then became a red. At this rate his kit would not need washing! This seemed a bit harsh and Lymm had to play the remaining 50mins with 14 men – a tall order, against big men.
The sending off seemed to galvanise Lymm in a way adversity can often do on days like this and the increased energy and effort by every player appeared tangible. The half came to a close with Lymm on the back foot but still in with a shout at 14-6.
Shortly after the re-start, Joe Watson, at open side, intercepted a pass and carried deep into home territory, but the final pass went to ground, in the home team’s 22. This seemed to spark an attacking mode and Lymm basically camped in Harrogate’s half just as the home team had done in the first half. There was a clear feeling Lymm believed they could win this game and the next 20mins proved the point. Sustained pressure from Lymm was met with stern defence, but that did not stop some remarkable interplay particularly from the blossoming centre pairing of James Kimber and Steve Pilkington.
Going for broke, and with 10mins left on the clock, the pack and backs produced a sublime series of phases until the ubiquitous right winger Nathan Beesley, received the ball wide out and beat his opposite number to touch down in the far right corner. Silence fell, except for the tiny contingent of away support, who received blank stares from the disappointed homers.
The conversion was missed but at 14-11, and with Lymm’s tail up, anything could happen. The Harrogate line out was now being regularly plundered and those big men, as anticipated, were visibly tiring as the fresh-faced, but depleted ranks in the Lymm team found a new gear.
The opportunity for Lymm to win the game was presented by a penalty kick into the corner for an attacking line out but touch was marginally missed and the moment was gone. Harrogate then had a final foray in Lymm’s 22 but it came to nought.
Harrogate breathed a major sigh of relief at the final whistle and a score of 14-11 was a reasonable reflection of the game. However, Lymm know, despite taking a losing bonus point from this game, with a bit more fortune, they could have won in Yorkshire. Over the years, that has never been an easy task for the Cheshire side.
If Lymm can maintain this form throughout the season, and with senior players coming back to fitness, they will be formidable opponents for any team in this league.
‘Very proud of how the boys performed’ commented DoR Adam Fletcher. ‘We talked all week about the conditions at Harrogate, their strengths and Lymm staying in the fight. Unfortunately we didn’t plan for staying in the fight with 14 men.
‘The longer the game went on, the more confident we became and we actually looked more likely to win. Although we didn’t get the win, we can take so many positives from that performance.
‘There is no game next week and the boys are deservedly looking forward to the week off, before welcoming Carlisle to Beechwood on Sat 7th December.’
Team: 1) Gav Woods, 2) Cash Chilvers, 3) James Mawdsley, 4) Aaron Rasheed, 5) Will Baldwin, 6) Matty Connelly, 7) James Lewis, 8) Joe Watson, 9) Cormac Nolan, 10) Scott Redfern, 11) Joe Senior, 12) James Kimber, 13) Steve Pilkington, 14) Nathan Beesley, 15) Tom Bray (c). 16) Matty Hand, 17) Alex Hickman, 18) Josh Hadland.
Referee: Mr Tom Doig – RFU North Group