A very mixed group of players turned up at Kettering for our annual Boxing Day fixture and given the fact that some only arrived shortly before kick off there was little time for a warm up, decide who was going to jump or lift in the line out or get to know the names of your team mates given that few had played together before. Sadly we only had 14 players and an incomplete front row which meant uncontested scrums although Kettering did lend us a player or players as needed. If George Lee had turned up it could of course have been different and hopefully next year there will be more commitment from players. Although traditionally we have treated this as an U24 fixture, Kettering do not and their pack in particular were over that age with their number 8 easily qualifying for Veteran status. However from the start it was clear that there was a considerable amount of rugby skill in the Harborough team and they looked fitter. They created a series of attacking moves, some from within their own 22 but found it hard to break down what was a much larger pack. The pressure did eventually tell and after pummelling the line it was one of the “guests” Rory who picked up loose ball and dropped over the line, Iain Barnett adding an excellent conversion to put Harborough 7-0 up. Sadly our try scoring hero had to leave the field shortly after with a calf injury, no doubt testament to the lack of a warm up. Harborough however continued to look the classier side but with Kettering using their size and strength it was difficult to contain their driving mauls. Harborough were also struggling a bit in the line outs with skipper Joel Nance drafted in as second row, no doubt because of his size, doing the lions share of the jumping. The driving mauls eventually proved to be crucial as Kettering rumbled forward and created a score to reduce the deficit to 5-7. The game was starting to turn as the penalty count against Harborough significantly higher than the home side and Harborough were clearly disgruntled at some dubious decisions. This really told as Kettering kicked deep into Harborough’s 22 as half-time was approaching, the ball was gathered by our guest footballer, Harry Preston, who even sported a footballers haircut! He decided to show that he had pace and made a break up the wing and as he pulled clear one of Kettering’s advancing players ran into the back of one of our retreating players. Despite this being about 15 metres away from our footballing ace the referee awarded a penalty for “crossing” and what looked like a potential try for Harborough became an excellent attacking position for Kettering. They kicked into the corner with Harborough believing that the ball had actually gone the wrong side of the flag but the referee awarded a 5 metre line out and Kettering realising that their strength was in the Maul managed to squeeze over for a second score despite some resolute defence by the young Harborough forwards. This brought the half time score to 10-7 in Kettering’s favour. The second half continued in the same vein but Kettering had the initial territory and when Charlie Beard tried to intercept the scrum half’s pass from the base of the scrum, not only was a penalty awarded but he was shown a yellow card, clearly someone had forgotten that this was a boxing day fixture! This put Harborough under more pressure but the next try was a bit unfortunate as the pass from the replacement scrum half behind the try line did not go to hand and Kettering pounced and scored their 3rd try, 15-7. This became 20-7 shortly after through another forward drive. By now Harborough were beginning to realise that they could not compete at the break down as every time they did they were being penalised and it was all one way. This was despite some outstanding performances from the forwards, not least Adam Stamp and James Melody who were making powerful runs with ball in hand demonstrating what Harborough had to offer if allowed to play. There was also some ferocious tackling notably from young colt Shay Harley who turned up to watch but was happy to play in borrowed kit. His first big hit out of defence almost sliced the opposition 10 in half just as he was in the act of passing and he followed this up shortly after with a second huge hit but this time it was adjudged to be late and although only marginally so the referee’s hand was going to his pocket but was no doubt persuaded to award only a penalty by the crowd reminding him that it was Boxing Day and this including the Kettering supported and indeed the players. This did not however stop the huge penalty deficit that Harborough were facing which was approaching a ratio of 9-1 in the second half and it was little wonder that they conceded 3 further tries. But even with a deficit of 35-7 Harborough refused to give up and showed that they could play rugby, mounting another great attack involving forwards and backs that led to an excellent try through another young player, Josh Owen, even if he decided to finish with a ridiculously theatrical dive over the line. Iain Barnett capped a fine all-round performance, including taking control of the makeshift backline, to convert from wide out to bring the final score to 35-14 to Kettering. The score-line flattered Kettering even though they were deserved winners on the day. The Harborough performance does however show that there are some great young players coming through who will continue to help build Harborough’s all-round strength as a club. Bring on next year when we entertain Kettering in the return match at Northampton Road.