In this promotion decider 'Ensians came off second best by a narrow margin despite dominating territory and possession for much of the second half. They battered the Harrogate line for lengthy periods, but the home defence was rock-solid and it looked as though a draw was on the cards when the Python's fly half dropped a goal five minutes before the final whistle to take a lead for the first time. The visitors had their chances with kickable penalties, but their normally reliable kicker missed two difficult ones and one easy kick which could have turned the tables. Flanker Sam Featherstone crossed the line, but the score was disallowed as the referee adjudged it to involve a double movement and winger Ali Campbell also had a try disallowed in the second half.
Starting off playing down the slope, 'Ensians withstood a period of early pressure as Harrogate competently drove and re-cycled the ball. Centres Nathan Rogers and Matt Garratt defended well. When they did get the ball half backs Ieuan Cranswick and Luke Freer set their backs moving and a good line break by Rogers took play into the home 22. The hosts infringed and a penalty by full back Kristian Keinhorst gave the visitors a 3 - 0 lead on 6 minutes.
Pythons responded with some good interplay by forwards and backs to take play upfield. 'Ensians' defensive line held, but they were caught offside and the home side levelled the score at 3 - 3 on 15 minutes. It was now very much the visitors in attack with their backs benefiting from skilful distribution by Freer. Whenever Pythons did get the ball the 'Ensians back row of Sam Featherstone, Lee O'Donnell and Steve Wade were always there to harass and stop the moves. Quick ball down the blindside sent winger Josh Howarth away and he was pulled down five yards short.
The pressure told and when the home side failed to release, 'Ensians took the lead with a second Keinhorst penalty moving the score to 6 - 3 on 25 minutes. The visiting front row of Ben Copley, Rob Lyon and Greg Jones held their own against a solid Harrogate pack and flankers Sam Featherstone and Steve Wade were providing good possession from the lineouts to keep their side on the attack. A penalty half way out went narrowly wide and a few minutes later a long range one drifted away in the cross-wind.
The visitors' pack was posing problems for the hosts with locks Simon Hill and Josh Watts leading the way with some ferocious driving. They battered the home line for several minutes with No. 8 Lee O'Donnell and prop Ben Copley coming close. Flanker Sam Featherstone was tackled just short of the line and managed to reach out and touch down only for the referee to award a penalty against 'Ensians for what he deemed to be a double movement. This was a blow for the visitors just before the break as they faced a second half playing uphill against the wind.
Harrogate started briskly and used long kicks to gain territory. For the visitors the experienced No.8 Rob Arbuckle came on as replacement and helped the visiting pack withstand some dangerous drives by the hosts. When 'Ensians infringed, Pythons levelled the score at 6 - 6 on 46 minutes. This seemed to spur on the visitors and good inter-passing and driving took play into the Harrogate 22. Despite the slope and wind, 'Ensians pinned Pythons down and proceeded to attack the line through forwards and backs. Ali Campbell forced his way over for what appeared to be a perfectly good try, but it was disallowed. In one of these moves fly half Luke Freer took a heavy tackle and had to leave the field with a rib injury with Tobias Gill coming on as replacement.
With Pythons now under the cosh they started to give away penalties and, when a relatively straightforward kick was pulled wide on 58 minutes, 'Ensians resorted to kicking for the corners and driving from the lineouts. Again Arbuckle, Simon Hill and centre Garratt were pulled down inches short as the desperate home defence battled against the onslaught.
A knock- on relieved the pressure and Pythons used the boot to take play downfield. As 'Ensians backs tried to run the ball out of defence a spilled pass gave the home centre a chance to kick through and gather, but a strong double-tackle from Keinhorst and Rogers managed to hold him up over the line. Play then was then fairly even for a period and confined to mid-field before Harrogate managed to work their way into the home 22. Sound tackling by 'Ensians stifled a move, but from the subsequent ruck the Harrogate fly half dropped a goal to put his side in front 9 - 6 with five minutes to go.
From the re-start the visitors rallied and took play into the Pythons' 22 where again Arbuckle, Wade and winger Josh Howarth came close, but once more they failed to crack the home defence as the final whistle went.
This ended a very frustrating afternoon for 'Ensians in a game where, despite loads of commitment and having a clear edge in both possession and territory, time and time again they were unable to convert pressure into points. Credit must go to the Pythons' determined defence which managed to hold out against everything the visitors threw at them.
This win by Pythons moves them two points above 'Ensians into the second promotion spot in the League. Although there is one game remaining, Harrogate are at home to bottom-of-the table Knaresborough so an upset is most unlikely, whereas 'Ensians have a much stiffer test away at Ossett.