Rugby Union: Harrogate aiming to hit the ground running

Harrogate chairman James Smithies outside the new clubhouse.
Harrogate chairman James Smithies outside the new clubhouse.
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Harrogate RUFC are preparing a thunderous welcome for old enemy Otley to start to life at Rudding Lane.

Harrogate take to the field for their first competitive fixture at the new ground on Saturday with a bumper crowd expected to roar them on against their fierce West Yorkshire rivals (kick-off 3pm).

After 119 years of memories carved out on the pitch at Claro Road, the latest generation of first team players are bidding to create a memorable season in National Two North, with promotion to National One top of the list of priorities.

It has been a long wait for competitive rugby at Rudding Lane with delays to the ground move last season due to planning and building issues.

But after almost two decades of trying, the move is complete and director of rugby Mike Aspinall has urged his side to hit the ground running at the new base.

He said: “Off the back of the targets that people have set, we can’t afford a slow start.

“There have been seasons where we have lost four of our first five games.

“If we’re being realistic to the challenges we have set ourselves, we have to make sure the hiccups along the way are shortlived and making sure we can be on top from the off.”

Star fly-half Callum Irvine has spent the summer recovering from an ankle injury sustained during the Yorkshire Cup final win over Wharfedale in May.

The 21-year-old was on the bench in Saturday’s final pre-season clash against Hull Ionians and could feature in Aspinall’s plans against Otley, an opportunity he did not want to miss.

Irvine said: “There’s no bigger way to start the season than Otley at home at a new ground.

“It’s not just going to start our season, but the next ten, 20 years, 100 years.

“People are going to look back in 50 years when they’re on the touchline with a pint and saying, remember that Otley game.

“It’s massive for the club and the individuals. You are just grateful to be part of it.”

Otley will be seeking revenge following two defeats against the Cockerels 12 months ago, but Gate captain Jake Brady insisted his side were in no mood to hand over the bragging rights.

Brady said: “I feel really privileged and honoured every time I get to pull the Harrogate shirt on let alone captain the side, whether that’s at Claro Road or anywhere else.

“It is a very special thing. Harrogate is a very old and famous club.

“To be the captain now, and leading them out for a league game at the new ground, it’s pretty special.”

After gaining promotion to National League Two North at the end of last season, Sandal will be hoping to get off to a flying start when they entertain Luctonians at Milnthorpe Green, kick-off 3pm.

Wharfedale, meanwhile, take winning form into their National League One opener at Coventry, again with a 3pm kick-off.

Wharfedale kicked off their close-season programme with a close-call 22-19 defeat at Stourbridge, but then rallied to overcome Tynedale on home turf 45-21.

Cleckheaton have a regimented home-away start to their National League Three North campaign over the opening two months. First up are Firwood Waterloo (H) on Saturday (kick-off 3pm) with a trip to Huddersfield YMCA scheduled for the following week.

Cleck wrap up September with a home game against Sheffield Tigers followed by a clash at Lymm on the 26th.

Doncaster-district Wheatley Hills provide the host opposition for Morley in North One East.