A much improved second-half performance from Market Harborough wasn’t enough to undo the damage done during a woeful first 12 minutes in which they conceded 24 points.
Derby were in good form and scored their first try within a minute of the kick off, as their centre waltzed through a static defence from a scrum in midfield to cruise under the posts.
With more tackles being missed and Harborough nowhere near matching their opponents in terms of intensity, it was 19-0 to Derby less than 10 minutes into the game, and the deficit grew to 24 points soon after as Derby secured the 4 try bonus point.
During the 20 minutes that followed Harborough gradually garnered some momentum, but just after half an hour of play Derby scored two more quick tries to take a 36-0 lead.
Finally the home side galvanised and began to string some phases together, Laurence Joel ran a great line off of Jake Fordham following a controlled passage of play to dart through a gap in the defence to score a try he duly converted. Harborough were finally on the scoreboard but there was still time for Derby to get another try of their own and at halftime the score was 41-7 to the visitors.
Harborough started the second half much better and could have scored within a couple of minutes of the restart but didn’t take advantage of an overlap inside the Derby 22. However, Chris Bale scored soon after with a trademark try as theforwards started to match the intensity and physicality of their opposite numbers up front.
Harborough were also restricting the quick ball that had made their opponents so dangerous in the first half by competing more effectively at the breakdown. This strong defensive pressure from Harborough forced a Derby handling error in the home sides 22 and they broke with pace upfield through Basra and Slade. A few phases later Kyle Merrigan bulldozed over from close range to score his first league try for the club since joining last season. 41-21 and momentum was with Harborough but a lack of concentration resulted in a penalty to derby on the half way line from which they executed a slick break away and score from a quick tap. Any hope of an unlikely comeback disappeared with that score but the aim now was to secure a 4th try and the bonus point that would bring.
A Harborough attack seemed to break down when a pass went to ground but it popped up nicely for Carl Strickson who chipped ahead and tackled the covering full back who had collected the ball. A turnover at the resulting breakdown allowed Basra to run in a deserved try with 73 minutes played. There was still time for another try apiece. Derby scored another to take them past the 50 mark and a kick to the corner from Harborough allowed Fin Clarke to use his considerable pace to touchdown in the right corner to make the final score 53-33 to the visiting side.
Derby were arguably the best team that this young Harborough side has faced in the past 2 or 3 years, but by no means unbeatable. They made several unforced errors when put under pressure and the Harborough scrum was on top for a vast majority of the match. Harborough simply didn’t turn up in the first half and left too much to do. They cant take huge encouragement from their second 40 minutes in which they outscored the visitors 26 to 12.
The aim will be to take that second half performance in to next week’s game and do themselves justice by performing to the level they are capable of from the first minute. A bonus point and a brutal lesson in what is required to be in contention at the top of this league were the takeaways from this game and it was great preparation for the games coming up against other early frontrunners in the league.
If Harborough play a full 80 minutes to the level they are capable of they will be more than competitive against the better sides; Saturday's second half showed that.
Congratulations to Timmy Waterfield for his Man of the Match award.