Pythons beat the drop after comeback win over rivals

Max Sharp bursts through to score a crucial try in Harrogate Pythons' triumph over Stocksbridge
Max Sharp bursts through to score a crucial try in Harrogate Pythons' triumph over Stocksbridge

Harrogate Pythons are safe from relegation after they came from behind to beat fellow strugglers Stocksbridge in a must-win encounter on Saturday.

Dan Birds’s side went into Saturday’s fixture just one place and one point above their hosts in the Yorkshire Three standings, knowing that defeat would see them fall into the drop zone.

And despite finding themselves 22-10 down midway through the second half, the Pythons showed great character as they managed to recover and inflict a first home league defeat on the Sheffield-based outfit since October.

Bird’s charges kicked off down a steep slope and made a solid start, with their forwards more than holding their own against the massive Stocks pack and full-back Max Sharp looking comfortable under an early aerial bombardment.

The Pythons gained good field position following a long touch-finder from Ross Fallenstein, and were then awarded a five-metre scrum.

The Harrogate pack heaved Stocks back over their own line allowing number eight John Reah to touch the ball down and open the scoring in the fifth minute.

The hosts looked for a way back into the game, but visiting captain Dan Shortman and Sandy Dunlop made some big tackles, forcing their opponents to cheaply kick away possession.

A Stocks runner eventually broke through two tackles to put his side in a good attacking position and home persistence paid off as the forwards crashed over the line for a 7-5 advantage in the 20th minute.

Their try visibly lifted Stocks and their vociferous supporters and the men from Harrogate suddenly found themselves on the back foot.

Reah broke from a scrum but damaged his ankle in the process and followed the already-crocked Nathan Wake in limped off the pitch to be replaced.

Stocks continued to press again and Pythons’ Steve Smith was yellow-carded, leaving his side a man down.

The seven-man Harrogate pack held firm initially but eventually they ran out of defenders as the hosts went wide to score in the corner for a 12-5 lead.

From the re-start Andy Quirk broke downfield, only to be tackled into touch just short of the try-line.

Stocks were then penalised, and a quick tap saw the ball spread wide for Sharp to sail through a gap and touch down to reduce the deficit to two points at half-time.

With all to play for in the second period, Stocks pinned the Pythons on their own line, forcing the visitors into some desperate defensive work.

Eventually the South Yorkshiremen forced a five-metre line-out and a series of forward drives led to a try and a 17-10 lead in the 46th minute.

The writing looked to be on the wall for the side from Pennypot when shorty afterwards Stocks forced a similar position allowing their forwards to drive over again, moving the score on to 22-10.

With his team’s season hanging in the balance, captain Shortman rallied his troops behind the posts and the Pythons lined up for the re-start determined to rescue the situation.

Returning scrum-half Gareth Drane began to display his fine range of passing, allowing the visitors to make quick progress up the field, and following a break from Liam Kernoghan, Stocks were penalised deep in their own territory.

More fast thinking saw a quick tap taken and the ball went through the hands to allow Ivan Drane the space to cross the whitewash out wide.

His try was converted by Fallenstein and the Pythons were back in the game at 22-17 with 20 minutes remaining.

Bird’s troops began playing with confidence and a series of forward drives forced Stocks back into their own 22.

The ball was released quickly to the Harrogate backs and an inside pass from Fallenstein to winger Gareth Bass saw him pick a beautiful line straight through the defence to score under the posts.

Fallenstein again booted over the extra two points and the game was turned on its head as the Pythons took a 24-22 lead with 68 minutes on the clock.

Stocks re-started with a deep punt and Dunlop set up a ruck. The ball was fired through the backs from inside the away 22 and into the hands of Quirk who rounded his opposite number and set off on a stunning 70-metre run for the line.

Fallenstein added the extras and rounded off a 31-22 success, some fine Pythons defensive play denying Stocks a fourth try and a crucial bonus point during the final minutes of the match.

The men from Pennypot bring their season to a close on April 22 when they host Knottingley.