HRC scored an all-important 25-20 win over the Warriors in Saturday’s derby in the men’s championship. The bonus-point victory keeps the Big Guns in contention for a top-two finish and home advantage to the semifinals.

The game started under a grey sky with an ominous resemblance to the season’s earlier meeting. Penalties started to pile up early and pinned HRC to their own tryline. The blue defence cracked only after a yellow card for repeated infringements had made a hole in the wall, which helped the visitors to 5-0 lead after 15 minutes of relentless pressure. After the opening try HRC was able to gain some possession and build offensive play. Less than half an hour in the clock Joonas Bask broke through to score from the wing, but the resulting conversion came back from the post. Steady flow of penalties continued to cripple HRC’s efforts and led to a second yellow card five minutes before the break. Warriors thanked and scored their second of the day to take 10-5 halftime lead.

The second half started with HRC forcing the game to the Warriors’ zone. A yellow card for high tackle to a Warrior at the beginning of the half gave HRC a chance that wasn’t left unused. Dario Forneris leveled the score and Wertti Bask crossed the line soon after with Joonas Bask kicking in the conversion to 17-10. After the barrage of points the game bogged down again to a set-piece slugfest. Third yellow card for HRC tipped the balance and Warriors crawled over the line to narrow the gap to 17-15. HRC responded with Joonas Bask’s succesful penalty kick with less than ten minutes in the clock. The pivotal moment of the game was seen a few minutes later. Dario Forneris made a dazzling solo run from the own half close to the Warriors tryline. The runaway was caught but an offload freed Paavo Honkanen to score. Conversion from Joonas Bask lifted HRC to 25-15 lead, but the visitors did not give up and scored once more from close distance with seemingly zero in the clock. After the try HRC had to battle through 10 minutes of added time, but the Warriors’ charge did not carry further.

Considering the whistle blowing against HRC for over 30 times and three yellow cards, the win was a staggering feat from the Big Guns and probably the best performance of the season. Mainly due to the nature of the game on Saturday, the best offensive flow was not seen, but HRC  looked dangerous almost every time the backs got their hands on the ball. Relying pretty one-dimensionally in pick-and-go’s and set pieces the Warriors benefited greatly from the game riddled with penalties .

– We knew it was going to be a challenge for us as a team, but we believed that if we could limit the penalties, we had the talent in the tquad to get us on top. Unfortunately we had many penalties against us again, but this time our resilience made the Warriors have to work a lot more for their attempts than in the match before. I think the forwards deserve a mention for defending so many phases of Warriors carrying close to the ruck, while the backs managed to unlock the Warriors defense when they got their chances, HRC’s player-manager Jake Pratley said.

Saturday’s win lifted HRC to second place three points from the leading Warriors. The top trio in the championship is within five points. HRC’s regular season’s last game is next weekend in Kuopio.

HRC-Warriors 25-20 (5-10)

Tries: Joonas Bask, Dario Forneris, Wertti Bask and Paavo Honkanen
Conversion: Joonas Bask
Penalty: Joonas Bask
Yellow cards: David O’Connor, Antti Järvenpää and Riku Lempiö

1 Mikko Aalto
2 Paulo Pannuzzo
3 Chris Denholm
4 Wertti Bask
5 Ville Siiskonen
6 Antti Järvenpää
7 Iikka Ahlfors
8 David O’Connor
9 Luke Parsons
10 Jake Pratley
11 Joonas Bask
12 Paavo Honkanen
13 Riku Lempiö
14 Mika Takala
15 Dario Forneris

Substitutes: Kevin McCarthy, Emmanuel Courbin, Samuel Kuutti, Jesperi Virtanen, Ilja Prohorov, Saxby Young, Anton Nevalainen and Andrej Solovian

Text: Mika Huopainen
Original photo: Mika Sirviö