Harrogate Pythons RUFC hopeful of making history with top-two finish now guaranteed

Harrogate Pythons RUFC look set to play Yorkshire Two rugby for the first time in the club’s history next season.

By Rhys Howell
Friday, 15th April 2022, 12:11 pm
Updated Friday, 15th April 2022, 12:12 pm
Harrogate Pythons prop Nathan Wake burrows his way through to the try-line during Saturday's 50-0 thrashing of Skipton RFC. Picture: Submitted
Harrogate Pythons prop Nathan Wake burrows his way through to the try-line during Saturday's 50-0 thrashing of Skipton RFC. Picture: Submitted

With one game remaining this term, Dan Bird’s team are guaranteed to finish in Yorkshire Three’s top two and could yet be crowned champions.

A Rugby Football Union restructure of the leagues means that it is yet to be confirmed whether two teams will be promoted as usual, though the Pythons remain confident that this will be the case.

The Station View outfit have been on a sensational run of form in recent months, racking up 16 consecutive victories following an indifferent start to 2021/22.

Sign up to our daily Harrogate Advertiser Today newsletter

Saturday saw them steamroller Skipton, running out 50-0 winners at the Jim Saynor Ground to maintain their three-point advantage over second-placed Barnsley, albeit having played one game more.

"We continue to hope congratulations are in order. The RFU are still holding back on conformation of their re-structure," said Pythons chairman Julian Tatlow as he considered the reasons behind the club's stunning campaign.

"We had an interrupted 2020/21 season, but thanks to Dan’s superb training programme, he was enable to keep all the players interested and involved.

"Unlike other local clubs, we gained new players and increased our player numbers which gave us the boost it needed.

"We’ve benefited from Roy MacKay joining Dan’s coaching team. Roy retired from Harrogate Grammar School and brings a wealth of experience to our club. Player safety is something we push hard and added Gabriel Storey to our pitch-side team.

"Winning each week is a boost too."

With a large and vocal crowd in attendance, it was actually the visitors who made the better start to proceedings, though some stubborn Pythons defence ensured the score remained locked at 0-0.

‘Gate then made good progress down the field from a Sandy Dunlop turnover that was followed up with Jed Carr’s pin-point kick.

The ball then popped out of the back of an attacking ruck and captain Will Butler picked up and drove over from five metres out.

The first scrum of the afternoon saw Skipton driven off their own ball, allowing Hugh Tatlow to pick up and combine with Andy MacKay to put Tim Evans in the clear. The latter proceeded to run through Skipton’s full-back and touch down by the posts. Carr added the resulting conversion for a 12-0 after 10 minutes.

Clean line-out ball from Marcus Fotherby then saw James Audsley-Beck stopped just short, however Nathan Wake picked up to power over from close range, Carr adding the extras for 19-0.

With the Pythons in full flow by this stage, a four-try bonus point was secured midway through the first half.

A Matt Leach carry was quickly spun wide and Harry Parrish drew the Skipton winger to put Liam Kernoghan in the corner.

Skipton responded well but met stubborn resistance with Jon Pickard and Jordan Payne tackling everything that moved and Tatlow weighing in with some of his trademark big hits.

The ball back in ‘Gate’s possession, Max Sharp and Evans combined well in midfield to give Audsley-Beck the opportunity to step on the gas and he sped outside his opposite number and the full-back to score a fine try, this time converted by Will Clough for 31-0.

And the hosts weren’t done there, adding more points to their total before the interval.

More dominant forward play saw Mackay pick out Evans, who linked with the supporting Sharp, who then side-stepped Skipton’s full-back to score by the posts. Clough’s conversion made the half-time score 38-0 to the Pythons.

Coach Bird made a number of changes at the break with the newly-introduced players stepping seamlessly into the fray.

Steve Smith ensured the home scrum kept its power and Calum Brock provided an endless stream of clean line-out ball.

With Scott Irvine and Ed Challis now providing the power in the backs, Skipton found themselves having to make tackle after tackle.

But, despite the visitors’ best efforts, some great support lines and handling put Sharp in the clear again and he accelerated away from a number of would-be tacklers to add his second try of the day, again converted by Clough.

Skipton, to their credit, kept on tackling the Pythons’ powerful runners, but had to commit too many men to the task and ended up leaving space out wide as a result.

This was exploited again when Irvine and Challis drove forward and were halted, but Clough saw Audsley-Beck in space and was able to put him away for a long-distance touchdown.

This took the score to 50-0 in the 65th minute and shortly afterwards the game was brought to a premature conclusion by the referee after a Skipton player suffered a serious leg injury.

The influential MacKay was handed the Whittaker’s Gin Man of the Match award.