Ionians offering little hope for Harrogate and chasing pack

Hull Ionians head coach Alex Crocket has challenged his high-flying squad not to take their foot off the gas in pursuit of an instant return to National One.

The Brantingham Park club have opened up an eight-point lead at the summit of National Two North after winning 15 of their 16 games to date.

It has been an impressive start to life as a coach for Crockett, the former Bath, Worcester and Newcastle centre.

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But in order to finish the job they started by securing a return at the first attempt to the third tier, Crockett believes his side can take nothing for granted.

“The players have played well so far, they’ve taken on my game plan nicely but now is the time to keep the foot on the gas,” said the 33-year-old.

“I don’t think there’s going to be any complacency.

“What the coaches and I have done is assembled a strong squad so if any player does ease off then we have someone ready to step up. That should ensure that complacency doesn’t creep in.”

Given the resources at his disposal and the fact Ionians won the division two years ago, the East Yorkshire side were always expected to feature prominently in the promotion race this term.

But the manner in which they have taken to the task in Crockett’s first season as a coach has caught the eye.

They start the new year eight points clear of second-placed Ampthill and with a healthy cushion of 22 points to the chasing pack, which includes Harrogate.

“I came into it with a blank canvas,” said Crockett of his arrival on the east coast last summer.

“I didn’t know what to expect. I wasn’t sure of the players, of the standard or of the opposition.

“I really was coming in blind in pre-season but they’ve done a great job.”

Today sees a tricky trip to seventh-placed Otley, a side who on their day, are a match for anyone in the division.

“If we have any sort of ambition to better ourselves then these are the games we want to be playing in,” said Crockett.

“As a player these are the occasions you lift yourselves for.

“Otley gave us a good run for our money at our place and a lot of teams have struggled to cope with them on their own patch.

“When you look at the second half of the season, this is going to be one of our toughest games.”

If Harrogate harbour any hopes of catching Ionians – or even second-place for a promotion play-off – then victory over the team they share third with, Caldy, is imperative.

Harrogate’s director of rugby Graham Siswick said: “It’s all nicely teed up for a memorable game and it’s likely to have an impact at the end of the season.

“The odds are against catching second, but we’ll keep reviewing the situation. We’ve got to play Ampthill at home, and we’re hoping to at least give them a hell of a good game.

“We need to win those sort of games and the sort we’ve got today at Caldy. We’d have to win virtually all of our remaining games to achieve second.”

Wharfedale are bidding for a fourth successive win in National One when they host Tyndale.