Ghostly stadium awaits ‘tactically astute’ Gate

Jake Brady
Jake Brady

Harrogate will have the strange experience of playing in front of more than 23,000 empty seats when they tackle Darlington Mowden Park in National Two North on Saturday (3pm).

Mowden Park moved into the 24-000 all seater Darlington Arena, the former home of Darlington FC built by millionaire George Reynolds in 2003, last year .

But, with Mowden Park attendances averaging less than 1,000, the stadium produces an airy atmosphere for their rugby fixtures.

The promotion hunters have been one of the form teams in the league this season, winning 15 of their 17 matches in second spot.

Harrogate have also returned to form and clinched back-to-back victories for the first time since early November when they edged Luctonians 18-15 at Claro Road on Saturday.

Gate director of rugby Mike Aspinall is sweating on the fitness of several bruised players and is monitoring forward Tom Harvey’s progress as he nears a return.

Aspinall anticipates a flowing match this weekend, with Mowden Park possessing the “most threatening backline I have seen in the league other than ours.”

“They are a well rounded outfit and have their eyes firmly fixed on promotion,” he said.

“It’s a big occasion. The boys will be looking forward to going. We go with our own goal and I think it’s going to be a really good game, with two teams that can really play.

“Whilst other teams rely on others making mistakes, Mowden Park are a team that cause you a lot of problems.”

Gate second successive league victory hoisted them up to ninth in the table, seven points behind sixth-placed Birmingham Solihull.

A dazzling opening 20 minutes put Gate into an early ten point lead against Luctonians. Fly-half Callum Irvine split the defence to score under the posts before Joe Rowntree converted and added another penalty.

Luctonians struck back with tries from hooker Chris Cundliffe and Jimmy Norris to lead into the break.

Jake Brady, Tim Heaton and Nathan Smith all set up powerful counters after the restart before hooker Aarin Yorke was forced out into touch during another attack.

Gate’s try finally arrived when Irvine broke the line again and passed to Sam Bottomley who crossed over.

With the scores level, Rowntree held his nerve to kick a tricky penalty and seal the four-point win.

“We played a tactically more astute game. The character at the end was very nice for me to sit back and watch,” Aspinall added.

“Tim Heaton and Kyle Dench put in massive shifts defensively, and it was an astute performance from Callum. I was also very pleased with how well Joe played.

“All the subs also came on and played their part. We needed every bit of freshness.

“I am hopeful we can see the best of this team from now onwards.”