Pythons come unstuck against title-chasers

Rob Lunn competes for line-out ball during Harrogate Pythons' defeat to Halifax Vandals
Rob Lunn competes for line-out ball during Harrogate Pythons' defeat to Halifax Vandals

Harrogate Pythons RUFC remain in a relegation dogfight after a 36-13 defeat to title-chasing Halifax Vandals, despite a spirited performance at Pennypot.

Dan Bird’s side sit just one place and one point above the Yorkshire Three drop zone, following what was a 10th defeat in their last 11 outings.

They did however make a fine start against the legue leaders and led 5-0 after just five minutes of Saturday’s encounter.

From their first meaningful spell ofpossession, Joe Bentham passed early to winger Gareth Bass who ran over his opposite number and showed great power and speed to race away and touch down in the corner.

The Vandals responded by putting pressure on the Harrogate scrum and looked to have equalised, only to see a forwards drive held up over the try-line.

From the resulting scrum, the ball was swiftly transferred to a Halifax centre, who made no mistake and crashed over by the posts.

The extra two points were added for a 7-5 lead on 12 minutes.

The visitors’ time in the ascendancy was short-lived however as the Pythons stung them with an instant reply.

Having forced a line-out near the Vandals’ line, a fine take by Dan Shortman saw the home pack drive their opponents backwards and Ivan Drane’s well-timed pass allowed Liam Kernoghan the space to sell a dummy and cross the line for 10-7.

The Harrogate side were seriusly worrying their high-flying opponents and Bass was released again, only to be tackled into touch in the in-goal area and denied a crucial third try.

Play then switched to the other end and Halifax made good territory through their pack, creating room for their winger to step inside the cover defence and touch down out wide to nudge his side back in front.

A Vandals man was then penalised for holding on and Drane stepped up to convert the resulting penalty, the lead again changing hands as the Pythons seized the narrowest of advantages at 13-12, five minutes before half-time.

There were no more scores in the first period, but the visitors wasted no time in setting about trying to turn the game around after the resumption.

The Vandals pressed Harrogate hard, only to be met by ferocious defense with Sandy Dunlop, Matt Leach and Andy Lambert making some telling hits.

Halifax’s back attempted to spread the ball wide but a pass was intercepted by Sam Gibb who made 60 metres before being caught.

Bass then made another powerful run, but when the attack broke down and possession changed hands, the well-drilled away pack set off an a driving maul, and with the Gate defence drawn in a well-timed run by a Vandals saw him go clean through to score under the posts.

The conversion was then booted over, moving the score on to 19-13 in favour of the visitors.

Undeterred, the Pythons came again, and looked set to score their third try of the afternoon having broken quickly from a midfield scrum, but with Halifax looking stretched out wide the final pass to Bass was intercepted by the Vandals winger who darted 60 metres to snatch a crucial interception try.

Trailing 24-13 with just a quarter of an hour to go, Harrogate knew that they had to go chasing the game and looked to run out of defence, but the ball was dropped by Andy Quirk and the away side went through the phases to add another try and end the game as a contest.

With the Pythons’ heads starting to drop, Halifax added a further touchdown in the closing minutes to put a gloss on their victory.

On Saturday, Bird and his troops travel to second-bottom Stocksbridge, who sit just one point behind them in the league standings, knowing that a win is a must.