For the second week in a row, Baildon miss out on bonus point in last minute
You can measure the progress. Team spirit. Performance. Better, more fluent rugby. At some point, surely, the rewards must come?
A fantastic crowd, including past players, assembled at Jenny Lane to watch an improving Baildon who were still smarting from losing a winnable fixture the previous week at Corinthians.
Opting to play up the slope and into the wind, Baildon spent the first ten minutes in the opposition 22, but without any attacking venom (see what I did there?) The Baildon attack had little movement and the back line appeared to stand too shallow with no runners coming at pace from deep. The home side were guilty of attempting to move the ball wide before any driving play to suck in defenders. On occasions passes went behind the receiver, putting Baildon on the back foot. All Pythons had to do was fill the pitch and press. Despite the dominance of the Baildon pack in recent weeks, it was clear that the Pythons exerted squeeze at scrum time. It seemed to many of the Baildon faithful that it might be one of those long afternoons.
These fears were soon realised when Harrogate got the ball and showed what direct running could achieve, carving deep into Baildon territory and winning a penalty at the breakdown for Baildon side entry at the ruck. (0-3)
Baildon had a chance to annul the advantage with a kick at goal following a Python no arm tackle. (Well they are pythons). The kick drifted wide.
Baildon were poor at the breakdown and gifted penalties, resulting in a Python attacking line out. After only two or three phases a tackle was missed and Pythons slithered over under the posts. (0-10)
Baildon responded. The energy, as so often, came from an aggressive defence. Pythons spilled the ball forward and the whistler played an excellent advantage. Cusy fired quick ball and Robbie Hill put Chris Peel in space. Peel put his head down and when the last defender was sucked in got his arms free in the tackle to release Tom Cluett on the wing who scored with a flourish. (5-10) Where did that come from?
Another soft penalty for side entry allowed Harrogate easy points. (5-13)
Baildon attacked again, Dale Tabiner on and making an impact. Luke Strauss broke the Harrogate line and cantered 50m, but was hauled down by a good scramble defence covering across. Tabiner was involved again, this time delaying a pass and drawing the defender, Matty Dixon, looking fit as a butcher's dog, took the ball on and fed Tom Cluett, who beat the cover defence to the corner for his second try, converted from the touchline into a strong wind by Matty Robinson. (12-13 HT)
Neither team played fluently at the start of the second half and frustration at errors crept into the game. When a bad tempered ruck/counter ruck ended in handbags, a Python punch was thrown. Unfortunately there was retaliation from Baildon. The game had not been bad tempered, but there is no place for this kind of behaviour and the referee had little option but to show a red card to the two offending players who had to endure the walk of shame.
Baildon perhaps had the better in a disjointed third quarter and earned a shot at goal to take the lead through a penalty, but the connection was poor and the shot drifted wide.
The next score was the sort that no side minds conceding. Pythons produced some stunning rugby and the try was a thing of beauty with quick hands, forwards and backs involved after many phases of precise rugby and recycled ball. No shame in conceding that sort of score. (12-20)
Baildon took their cue and produced their own beautiful rugby; Matty Dixon contorting to pass inside just before being taken into touch but sending Nathan King under the posts. (19-20)
In a sometimes scrappy game, rugby had broken out!
A high tackle saw Tom Cluett given a yellow card, meaning that Baildon had to end the game with 13 players.
Harrogate earned another penalty. (19-23)
Dale Tabiner took a blow to the head. When asked the concussion questions Tabiner replied "I didn't expect the Spanish inquisition". *There was a jarring chord and Cardinals Ximinez, Biggles and Fang appeared: " NOBODY expects the Spanish Inquisition! Our chief weapon is surprise...surprise and fear...fear and surprise.... Our two weapons are fear and surprise...and ruthless efficiency.... Our three weapons are fear, surprise, and ruthless efficiency...and an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope.... Our four...no... Amongst our weapons.... Amongst our weaponry...are such elements as fear, surprise.... I'll come in again."
This may or may not have actually happened or just been a figment of Tabiner's fevered imagination, suffice to say Tabiner failed the concussion test and was seen staggering off the pitch supported by Cardinals Biggles and Fang
Despite desperate Baildon defence, with only 13 players gaps were certain to appear. It was virtually the last play when the try was conceded and the chance of a losing bonus point lost. (19-30 FT)
More improvement, but frustration too that we conceded late on to lose the bonus point, as last week. Robbie Hill had one of his best games in a Baildon shirt. After a slow start, the backs showed some attacking flair with Cusy launching quick ball and Ollie Waddington looking more assured. Matty Dixon showed what Baildon have been missing and we hope he will be tempted to make pulling on a Baildon shirt part of his tough training regime. If I have criticism it is about our discipline. We must improve. It doesn't matter if the opposition give a running commentary, appealing for "high tackles" sometimes as they go into contact. When we start doing this too, we lose focus and heads go down.
Well played Pythons, deserved winners. Thanks to our tremendous supporters who were an "extra man" - or would have been if our discipline had allowed us to play with a full compliment.
The referee deserves a special mention: he got every decision spot on, communicated well, played good advantage, allowed some pleasing rugby to entertain, was sensitive to the game and to player welfare. The standard of refereeing has been very high this season and although I sometimes see things differently in my incredibly one sided match reports, I hope that we always support our match officials. The whistler has a difficult job and when all is said and done, the whistlers are the sole judge of fact. Indeed we play much better when we trust our match officials.
Congratulations to our second XV, winning away at Cleckheaton. Ruffy is in danger of eclipsing his father's try scoring record in half the number of games that his father had seasons.
The next few weeks will be challenging. With a front row player carded, Chinny injured in the first few minutes and another with concussion modifier unable to undertake a graduated return to play protocol we are going to have to dig deep up front.
*In match reports about Harrogate Pythons I am contractually obliged to insert a Monty Python reference. This particular reference brought to you on the insistence of Sarah Hoyle.