A DISPLAY of true grit earned Market Harborough a notable victory at second-in-the-league Dunstablians.
Their line-up had a makeshift look about it but what they might have lacked in continuity, they more than made up for in commitment and work rate.
In the early stages the home team were very much in the ascendancy, using their heavyweight forwards to punch holes in the Harborough defence and then release quick ball to their talented fly-half.
They took the lead with a penalty awarded for a scrum infringement and might well have added to their score immediately afterwards when the visiting defence yielded a five-yard scrum when spilling the ball in their own in-goal area.
Harborough scrambled this ball away, courtesy of a superb steal by Michael Goode, but they then failed to halt a long-range attack as the home team added to their lead with an unconverted try.
Although possession was equally shared between the sides, it was the home team who looked the more threatening but they suffered a setback when their playmaking fly-half limped from the field, victim of a couple of crunching tackles.
Harborough’s own attacking plans were ambitious but flawed as they attempted to move the ball through hands but, with their midfield never having played as a unit before, too often possession was conceded.
With much of the first half being played in their half Harborough had to work overtime to prevent further scores but were suddenly lifted with a charging run from Jack Johnson.
Although the ball was subsequently lost, the frailties of the home defence were exposed and this galvanised the youthful challengers.
Five minutes from the break Harborough made the rarest of visits into home territory and, from a lineout, they drove their heavier opponents backwards a good 20 yards, resulting in a try for the outstanding Michael Goode. Will Taylor converted, which saw the interval deficit down to 8-7.
This score signalled a turn round in the balance of play as Harborough began to play with much more certainty.A series of drives was illegally halted, giving Taylor the chance to claim the lead with a well-struck penalty. And within 10 minutes he had added two further scores to give his a 16-8 advantage.
A further score may well have broken the hosts’ resolve but a couple of innocuous errors by Harborough players conceded territory to Dunstablians and, with the referee finding fault with the scrambling defence, the balance of the game shifted again.
With 10 minutes remaining Matt Sneath was yellow-carded following a series of Harborough infringements and, with the man advantage, the home pressure was rewarded with a try wide out.
Further drama was to follow as Taylor was also sent to the sin-bin, leaving his team-mates to defend their narrow three-point lead with only 13 players but Harborough hung on to win a thrilling contest.
Harborough team selections for this Saturday:
1st XV (semi-final of County Bowl at Aylestone St James, meet midday, ko 2.15pm) – squad E Bale, T Bale, S Blades, A Blatchly, M Goode, J Grant, H Hollis, H Hurst, T Lockwood, S Morris, C Owen, D Peart, C Ralston, K Robinson, M Sneath, C Standley, M Woodford, S Ziemelis.
2nd XV (pool fixture) – squad M Alcorn, A Ball, B Bee, A Blackler, D Broughton, C Brown, L Butler, R Charlesworth, H Davis, J Jeacock, G Lee, J Lee, C Lepper, A Lyle, T Naylor, E Sanderson, D Shepherd, B Smith, C Smith, C Smith, R Smith, B Spowage, P Wilson.
Veterans have cup game at home to Leicester Thursday (2.15); Colts have a pool match.