Mud, Glorious Mud
In a game of high tension and narrow margins, Baildon's defence came out on top
Thirty years ago I had the privilege of caring for a brave but incredibly modest man who had fought at Paschendale in the First World War. I asked him what it was like. "Muddy" he said, "very muddy." In conditions that would have favoured a heavy pack, this might have been Baildon's Paschendale as they lined up against a side with a mean defence and strong set piece. But in a match that boasted no tries, where the conditions played their part, this was no attritional battle. Rather it was a glorious, resurgent victory.
Harrogate Pythons have found a wonderful new home having spent the last few seasons playing at the Army Foundation College on Penny Pot Lane. The clubhouse and changing facilities are indeed fantastic, but on Saturday after a week of heavy rain the pitch was heavy and waterlogged. The pitch made Aireborough's playing surface look like a pool table and could rival even Burley's infamous swamp. There is absolutely no truth in the rumour that Harrogate Pythons have asked to be renamed Harrogate Hippos, in keeping with their new playing surface. This is FAKE NEWS, but we shall none the less (for entertainment purposes only) refer to the opposition as Hippos throughout this report.
Baildon started with great defence, good line speed and communication; bringing down strong Hippo runners with equally strong tackling. The collisions were brutal. Baildon managed to string together phases of play despite the poor conditions and drew consecutive penalties when Hippos infringed at the ruck then failed to release in the tackle.
Baildon suffered an early setback when Adam Hewitt, a rock in the scrum, had to depart not with a case of trench foot but with a fractured thumb. Social media confirms that Adam has a fetching blue plaster which should aid hitch hiking endeavours on the M62 but will make holding a pint more challenging.
Chinny Tomlinson was alert at line out time, stealing opposition over thrown ball and putting the visitors on the front foot. Luke Stauss put in a length of the swamp run and looked certain to score had he backed himself and taken the outside, instead of checking and trying to go inside the last defender.
Baildon had another chance when they generated a two on one, but kicked possession away. The visitors repeated this profligacy with a three on one overlap.
Joe Robinson and Harrision Strauss were strong in contact winning turnovers. Nick Lister's commanding presence meant that Baildon used the boot with good effect and played their rugby in the right parts of the bog.
Tom Cluett put in a great kick and a good chase kept the pressure on. When the Hippos conceded a penalty for holding on in front of their posts Ollie Williams took the points. (0-3)
A Gavin Kershaw turnover at the restart kept Baildon on the attack, but when Matt Withers received a yellow card for a high tackle, Baildon had to endure a period of sustained Hippo attack. At one point the Hippos had a penalty advantage that was declared "over" after multiple phases/opportunities to breach the solid Baildon defence. Perhaps the Hippos deserved a pop at goal to level the scores?
Chinny Tomlinson won another turnover, but Baildon's scrummage had started to creak making every handling error a potential scrum penalty.
The half ended with Luke Strauss ripping the ball out of a tackle and sending Matty Dixon on a squelchy canter through the mud.
Baildon began the second half still a man down. Dan Fletcher kicked, chased and almost recovered the ball before a Hippo committed a coach killer offence by picking up a ball in an offside position. Baildon's Ollie Williams gratefuly accepted the gift of three points. (0-6)
Josh Laughrey and Tom Cluett put in tenacious tackles and the visitors were aided by the conditions getting the better of their opponents and forcing errors.
Baildon's kicking game pushed the Hippo back three deeper into the swamp and this created some space on the blind side Which Dan Cookson exploited. Cookson picked up at the back of the scrum, beating defenders and put Nathan King into space. King looked like he had gone over under the posts, but in fact had been hauled down just short, muting the touch line celebrations.
The referee was referring to "black" or "red", but truth be told both sides were by this stage of the proceedings kitted out in an identical shade of brown, from head to toe. Matty Dixon almost profited from this when he took a pass from a Hippo and set off on a muddy saunter. The move was brought back because the "pass" was adjudged forward.
As the clock ticked down Baildon became increasingly nervous that their lead would not be held. Matt Withers, substituted earlier in the game, came back on and added to an already solid defence. When Baildon, who had been under pressure at scrum time since Hewitt's departure, won two scrums against the head, time was up.
Credit to the Hippos for a great game, won by the narrowest of margins and where the visitors rode their luck at times. Thanks for the hospitality and congratulations on your new home.
A word of praise for the referee. Mr Ben Glover showed a maturity and authority despite his young age. He handled the tensions of a close fought encounter well. He plays back row and this was evident in his understanding and communication at the breakdown. The players reported that he was clear about who was the tackler or involved in the tackle, allowing a second player to "jackal" for the ball.
This was a tremendous win, lifting Baildon off the bottom of the table. Muddy features were wreathed in wide toothy grins. Every player put in a shift for themselves, their team mates, the coaches, our supporters and the club.