11:22am Monday 13th January 2014
By Tim Wellock
MOWDEN Park shrugged off a poor start to take an impressive leap to the top of National Two North on Saturday.
It looked unlikely when they trailed 14-0 to Harrogate and leaders Macclesfield were winning 19-5 at home to Sedgley Park.
But it all turned around as Sedgley came back to win 23-19 and Mowden scored three tries in each half to ease two points clear at the top.
Even though star fly half Grant Connon is unlikely to play again this season, they will take some stopping now, although they have a tough programme in March.
Last season’s scrum half, Zylon McGaffin, is expected to arrive from South Africa this week, adding further depth to a squad which is well covered in all positions.
With prop Josh Bayford suspended for another week, there might have been cause for alarm when Henry Sandys limped off after 15 minutes.
But Ben Simpson went on and helped to maintain Mowden’s scrum dominance, while everpresent prop Ralph Appleby did more than his share of tackling in an outstanding allround performance.
With increasing maturity, the likes of No 8 Guy Van Den Dries and lock Pierce Phillips will also comfortably make the step up to National One, as will skipper and centre Cameron Mitchell.
Winger Chris McTurk could probably go even higher, although after last week’s hattrick he was unable to make the line following his switch to full back.
The chief beneficiary of Mowden’s slick handling this time was left winger Shaun McCartney, who didn’t have too much to do in twice nipping over in the corner.
Harrogate proved a mobile side and were better than their league position suggests, perhaps lifted by playing on a good surface at The Northern Echo Arena.
They were competing well in an entertaining game at 26-20 midway through the second half when they opted to put a very kickable penalty into the corner.
They almost got over, but Mowden’s close range defence proved very strong after they leaked two early tries from around halfway.
They couldn’t get their hands on the ball for the first five minutes, but although Harrogate kept recycling the ball, they weren’t threatening to go anywhere and opened the scoring when Mowden’s first attack broke down.
Winger Stephan Parsons intercepted and raced to the posts and two minutes later centre Kyle Dench dummied his way through to scamper over.
Mowden hit straight back when Mike Wood made the initial incision, coming off the right wing to take an inside pass from Talite Vaioleti.
The ball was then moved left for McCartney to score.
Gavin Painter scuffed the conversion, but landed four of the other five, starting when the forwards drove to the line and hooker Ross Doneghan burrowed over.
A penalty was conceded on the restart for Harrogate to stretch their lead to 17-12 and it took until the 40th minute for Mowden to go ahead.
In a move going left Appleby rode a tackle and slipped an inside pass to flanker Anthony Harrison, who romped over from the 22.
The conversion made it 19-17 and four minutes after the break Mitchell intercepted just inside his own half and never looked like being caught.
A penalty kept Harrogate in contention, but they blew their chance to go back in front when a cross-kick intended for the winger went straight into touch.
With 15 minutes left Mowden kicked a penalty to the corner and, with the driving maul working well, Appleby touched down.
Good handling in added time allowed McCartney to complete the scoring ahead of this week’s trip to league doormats Dudley, who have lost all 18 games.
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