On a dark and distinctly autumnal afternoon in North West London, Harrow bounced back into form with an excellent 32-25 victory over an Eton College side who arrived full of confidence after a big win on Saturday.
If the scoreline makes it look like a loose and fast paced encounter though, it is misleading. Of the eight tries scored, five came from expertly executed driving mauls from both sides. That said, among the tries there was also room for a couple of spectacular tries too, with Harrow’s final try a particular thing of beauty, created by Jacob Ford at fly half and finished by his fleet of foot winger.
The Harrow v Eton game always has something of a derby feel to it. These are, after all, two of the most famous and prestigious schools in the world, let alone the country, which means there is a true rivalry on the field when these two meet.
That was certainly in evidence on Harrow’s excellent Sunley pitch, and with a bumper crowd lining the touchline, particularly for a wet and chilly Tuesday afternoon, the atmosphere was outstanding.
It was obviously inspiring for the home side as well, for they went two tries up with the opening ten minutes, and in all honesty they looked as though they could potentially run away with it at that point. No side much fancies a crack at 14-0 down inside less than ten minutes of play. The second came from an excellent running line from the Harrow second row, but the first came from an expertly worked driving maul. It was to become a theme.
Indeed the theme was firmly set when, after 17 minutes, Eton hit back through a driving maul of their own. Clearly allowing either side opportunities to kick to the corner was going to be potentially even more dangerous than allowing them to kick for the posts.
Harrow were straight back at Eton though, and in this game of dynamic mauling it was that route again that coughed up another try for them on the twenty minute mark. This time it was the Harrow openside who was the beneficiary, and a more fitting beneficiary there could not have been. All game he was the heartbeat of this side, charging down kicks, tackling, harrying, jackling, winning ball that he simply had to right to win. Magnificent.
That put the home side 19-5 ahead, and a Ford penalty ten minutes later made it 22-5 as half time began to loom. What was looking like a very comfortable half time scoreline was to become less so though after Eton again went to the corner following a Harrow yellow card.
Once again it was that outstanding maul that was the threat, and the threat quickly yielded points for Eton to make it into the half time break twelve points behind, at 22-10.
It had been something of an unusual game, Harrow were definitely the side on top, but the sequence of tries from mauls meant that it looked as though every single penalty was just about punishable by points in one from or another.
Harrow’s dominance was quickly to be question upon the resumption of the second half though as Eton’s number 8 plucked a Harrow pass out of the air and raced away to score. It was a timely score as Harrow had been on the attack and looked dangerous, but as it was the gap was now reduced to less than a converted try at 22-17.
That led to a much quieter period in the game as Harrow began to increase the amount of boot that they put to ball, trying to keep Eton pinned back. With a couple of injury stoppages and the rain coming in at an increasingly heavy rate, it just enabled Harrow to make the minutes just ebb away with the stop start nature that was brought to the game, the sides exchanged penalties to make it 25-20, but the gap remained the same.
With just under ten minutes remaining though, Harrow found the time to conjure the one truly special try of the afternoon as Ford took the ball to the line before finding half a space on his shoulder to put his wing through. It was no simple score though, the full back had to be rounded and the covering scramble evaded and both were done expertly, and with no little pace. It was a fine piece of rugby and made the game safe for Harrow at 32-20.
Or safe it seemed, but Eton had other ideas. Once again they sent a penalty to the corner, and once again they capitalised. For the fifth time in the game a try was scored from a driving maul, and this one had the potential to be game changing. With just a converted try no in the game, at 32-25, Eton suddenly had the momentum and the belief, but time was very much against them.
In the end it was probably only time that cost them, such was that late momentum shift, but it would probably have been unjust were they to have eked out more time from the referee, Harrow had by and large been the better side and deserved their win.
It was not a classic, neither side would say that, but for sheer drama at the end it was certainly entertaining. These are two very good sides, and they certainly made each other work for this one. Keep an eye on both for the rest of the season.
Full Time: Harrow 32-25 Eton College
You can see photos from the game in our Gallery: Harrow v Eton College photos.