rugby union Harrogate ready to clinch great escape

Harrogate, National Two's longest-serving club, must win at Waterloo tomorrow if they are to be certain of avoiding relegation.

The visitors are fourth from bottom but coach Rhys Morgan is expecting pursuers Nuneaton and Bracknell to win, so feels that only victory will preserve their status in the league where they have been since 1994.

Harrogate looked doomed in February but a run of four wins in five games has taken them away from the abyss; as with Leeds Tykes, though, their relegation rivals have also been winning.

“I can’t believe how well it has gone,” said Morgan. “Yet we still need to do it again. There is no way we can go out and think Nuneaton and Bracknell will lose.”

Morgan appreciates that the club’s prudence has ensured that they will not go into meltdown if they are relegated but that safety net has not diminished his desire to stay up.

He said: “We have been in the situation before where we chucked out too much money, more than we could afford. Once bitten, twice shy. We are in the position financially where if we go down, we could cope and come straight back up again. We could not have done that five years ago, and I think some of our rivals would face an uncertain future. But we enjoy playing at this level and we will do our utmost to make sure we stay here.”

There is a distinctly end-of-season feel to the rest of Yorkshire’s National League games.

In National One, Otley could secure a highest in history fourth-placed finish should they beat champions Bristol at Cross Green and other results go their way. Most of Rotherham’s first-team squad make their swansongs against Exeter at Herringthorpe Stadium.

National Two champions Doncaster entertain Moseley, and Wharfedale send a youthful side to promoted Newbury.

National Three North winners Halifax, having blotted their copybook with their first defeat of the season last week, entertain Darlington.

There is much more at stake for the three Yorkshire clubs involved in promotion play-offs.

Hull Ionians will enjoy the ‘bonus’ of a return to the National Leagues if they beat Kettering at Brantingham Park. When coach Mick Watson arrived at the club last summer, Ionians were a side on the slide, seemingly waiting to be overtaken by upstart neighbours Hull.

“We only had 10 people at my first training session,” said Watson, whose charges recovered from a slow start to pip their City foes to second place in North One. “My brief was to make sure we didn’t go down. I thought a mid-table position would be great, “ added Watson, who is out with a broken arm. Open-side James Watt is concussed.

A return to North One is the prize at stake when Huddersfield take on Stockport at Lockwood Park, and Yorkshire One runners-up Wheatley Hills travel to Durham City, aiming for a place in North Two East.

Yorkshire have arranged a double header at Harrogate tomorrow week, with the senior county side playing their Championship opener against Northumberland (3.30pm) and the Under-20s taking on Gloucestershire in their semi-final (1.00pm).