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With some regulars missing and a crop of young newcomers, ‘Ensians opened their League campaign with a mixed afternoon. They climbed back from a 20 – 7 deficit at half time to get within three points of Pythons with 9 minutes to go, but careless mistakes and wrong options allowed the visitors to score a crucial try on 75 minutes which put victory out of reach.

Starting against a strong wind, the hosts settled well, but despite the efforts of the front row of Tom Twist, Rob Lyon and Ross Myers, the scrums were untidy and the heavier Harrogate pack took several scrums against the head. A penalty put the visitors on the scoreboard, but the home side got into their stride with some enterprising rugby from centres Nathan Rogers, Johnny Ratahi and winger Luke Cowdell. Good support play and timely offloading put flanker Dale Kennedy through for a fine try under the posts which fly half Kristian Keinhorst converted to give ‘Ensians a well-deserved 7 – 3 lead on 10 minutes.

Using the wind, Harrogate booted play into the home 22 where their powerful pack put together some strong drives to score an unconverted try to take the lead at 8 – 7 on 15 minutes. The home side were still competing well, but a serious shortage of clean possession made life difficult for half backs Ieuan Cranswick and Kristian Keinhorst. In the lineouts newcomer locks Alex Armitage and Ali Campbell just about managed to command their own ball against much bigger opposition.

A badly directed 22 drop-out put Pythons on the attack again, resulting in a try on 22 minutes and a good back move from the visitors stretched their lead to 20 – 7 at the interval.

With the wind in their favour, ‘Ensians used the boots of Kristian Keinhorst and full back brother Nick to push play deep into Harrogate territory. Moving into the centre, Cowdell made some powerful runs and on 52 minutes, he put replacement winger Declan Jackson away on a forty-yard dash in which he outpaced and eluded three defenders for an excellent try in the corner. A superb conversion from Kristian Keinhorst narrowed Harrogate’s lead to 20 – 14.

The visitors’ pack was still a handful and they made good ground against the wind with the limited supply of ball reducing the attacking opportunities for the hosts. However, good foraging from ‘Ensians back row of Sam Featherstone, Rob Arbuckle and Dale Kennedy provided enough possession to keep play in the Harrogate half and Kristian Keinhorst landed a penalty to move the score to 20 – 17 to Pythons on 71 minutes.

The hosts had had a forward yellow-carded so the task of the home pack was made more difficult and the Harrogate forwards helped to set up a try in the corner stretching their lead to 25 – 17 with five minutes to go.

‘Ensians managed to work play downfield, but controlled handling and support play seemed to desert them and they made a mess of at least three scoring opportunities in the final minutes, handing a 25 – 17 victory to Harrogate.

This was a match where ‘Ensians could have pipped Pythons in the final quarter, but jittery handling and a lack of cohesion let them down. However, a plus side was the fact that, with a much-changed side, the hosts competed well for long periods against a team who were promotion contenders for much of last season.