1st XV - Report
Harrogate Pythons 10 Halifax 12
Halifax maintained their promotion push with a hard-fought 12-10 win over Harrogate Pythons, writes Grayham Smith.
In October last at Ovenden Park, Halifax produced a late surge to take the honours 18-17 and this game, as expected, proved to be worthy of a top-of-the-table battle.
With the other teams above Halifax all winning, the win did not alter the positions but they have a game in hand and their threat to the leaders mounts.
Halifax faced the significant slope in the first half and set about the task in an impressive manner, taking play close to the home line where, after only two minutes, Harrogate were penalised in front of the posts but Toby Turner pulled his kick wide. Halifax were playing with good assurance as pressure was maintained but Harrogate were no mean opponents and their swift three-quarters showed worrying touches as play switched to the other end.
Nerves also probably accounted for a Harrogate easy goal attempt failing but Halifax, in their enthusiasm, were beginning to offend, a trait which lasted for the whole game.
After 15 minutes, Harrogate opened the scoring with a penalty goal and thereafter made solid ground as their forwards drove powerfully at Halifax. Happily the defence was strong as it remained throughout.
It was relatively easy to gain ground playing down the hill, especially to the Halifax left because of the fresh breeze blowing across the field. Elliot Fletcher at full back was called upon several times to field the ball from deep which he did well but sometimes he caused consternation by trying to run his way out of trouble.
Towards the end of the first half, Halifax mounted a prolonged attack on the home line. They did not lose patience in retaining the ball tight up front as they inched their way inexorably to the line. It ended with prop Wayne Beverley reaching out and very positively grounding the ball over the line. Turner made no mistake this time with the conversion.
Halifax thus ended the first half in the lead having made a huge effort with little reward, despite facing the slope and some very lively Harrogate backs. Positively, they had defended with tremendous application and, through the forwards, had made some great counter attacks.
The belief was that, down the hill, the tide would surely favour them. It was not so easily to be. Harrogate tended to scrummage better whilst Halifax dominated the line outs. Halifax took the opportunity to pump the ball downfield. 50 to 70 metres were gained on several occasions but Harrogate dealt with the consequences and, assisted by the referee’s dislike for the nature of some of Halifax’s play, they ended back up the slope and threatening the Halifax line.
After 15 minutes they were over the line but the ball was adjudged “held up”. Halifax were perhaps fortunate when their opponents chose to scrummage again at a point where a penalty goal was a distinct possibility. This was at a point when their eight were clearly getting the better of that area of the game.
Halifax took the benefit of a free kick to make 70 metres again and this time a knock on by the defender enabled them to consolidate the position. Another free kick put the ball into touch ten metres out and Martin Smith made the clean catch from where the drive became irresistible; Iain Morris was credited with the try.
There were 15 minutes to play. Halifax did not help their cause by offending. First Richard Booth had a yellow card – 12 minutes to go. Harrogate were pressing but the defence held firm. Martin Smith was yellow carded – Halifax were down to 13 men.
Harrogate took a quick free-kick. Play went left and then back right. Halifax were stretched and the converted try meant that the margin was down to two. Booth came back on and for the last few minutes Halifax played their effective game of “keep ball“ until it was time to put the ball out of play.
Both teams had contributed to a thrilling and an importantly competitive game. The tension continues next week when Halifax entertain League leaders Leeds Medics at Ovenden Park.