Wolfpack take the venom out of the Pythons - By Si Davies
Aire sing Gold for first time in a while.
As you will all know, I am an animated character on the side lines while watching our lads play. I get totally into what they are doing and often get carried away with emotion which sometimes can cloud my judgment as to what has gone on during 80 mins of rugby. This being my first ever match report, I'll be honest, it's not going to be 100% factual cause this weekend was no different from the others that has preceded it.
Aireborough, 2nd from bottom, having won 1 and drawn 1 but lost 13 in their previous league games travelled to high flying, top of the league Harrogate Pythons who were looking to make it 10 straight wins in a row. The writing was already on the wall, Aire would be on a hiding to nothing, some would see this as a free hit where the end result would be insignificant to the boys in claret and blue however it would be the performance and fight that would matter (improvement week on week).
In the morning, Aireborough lost outside centre Liam Cree to illness. Not through lack of trying, we were unable to get a replacement to travel to Harrogate so travelled with 19 men. Again a sign that yet again things may not go our way.
That said, since a players meeting 2 weeks ago, the mood in the camp has changed, positive numbers in training, a new focus and backed up by a good draw vs Rotherham Phoenix last week, we were in a good place. In the face of adversity we as a group have decided to come out swinging and today was going to be no exception.
Having lost the toss, Aireborough would play the 1st half with the elements in their favour. We knew that we would have to build a good score to have any chance of coming away with anything.
From the off, Aire took the game to their opponents, hard running, committed tackling and clever kicking saw Pythons pegged back in their own 40. The first 2 scrums could have been a concern though, but Rich Lister and Lewis Eastwood were using those scrums to weigh up their opposing props (and didn't go backwards again). Having missed his first kick at goal, a ruck infringement saw Aire given the chance to get a score on the board. This time, Nick Holdsworth was bang on the money, making no mistakes, first strike to Aire 3-0.
Although the kick off was not gathered by Aireborough, they were again in the ascendancy. With quick ruck ball, Stuart Wilson fed the ball to Jonny Mackey, in turn he popped the ball to Mikey Dolan who was hitting a hard line. He found centre partner Nick Holdsworth. Stuart Wilson, following his original pass then ran a switch of Holdsworth before rounding the opposition fullback for a fine Aireborough try. Nick Holdsworth converted and Aire found themselves up by 10.
Following another good kick off by Harrogate, Aireborough conceded a penalty around 35 metres out from their own line. With their 1st opportunity to post some points, Harrogate's scrum half duly obliged and reduced the arrears to 7.
The rest of the half belonged to Aireborough. Again, the forwards took control of the game and intertwined with good kicking from Stu Wilson and Ollie Catherall while in defence, nothing was going to get through Nick Holdsworth and Mikey Dolan with the help from our back row who covered nearly every blade of grass on the day.
2 more penalties and a great individual converted try scored, all courtesy of Nick Holdsworth and Aireborough were 23 - 3 up with 5 mins of the half to play. In amongst Aireborough's domination, a turnover led to a counter attack by Pythons who shipped the ball wide right, their winger showed genuine gas to round his opposite man and outpace the covering defence. That said, Ollie Catherall didn't give up the chase forcing the wing man to touch down out wide, and the scrum half missed the conversion. 23-8 with 2 mins remaining in the half.
Again, Aire forced an error which led to a penalty just outside the 22. Again Holdsworth obliged, kicking the 3 points and ensuring Aireborough went into half time 26 - 8 up.
Now we knew that there was going to be a reaction by Harrogate in the 2nd half. After all they weren't top dogs in the league for nothing. We weren't wrong but heroic defence by Mikey Dolan, Christopher Chapman and anyone in an Aireborough shirt meant that their efforts were repelled for the first 20 mins of the half.
Aireborough lost Anthony Clitheroe to concussion meaning 17 year old Adam Bishop came into the fray at 9 with Stuart Wilson moving to the now vacated full back position. Bishop played with maturity beyond his years while Wilson enjoyed open spaces to pick his kicks which again pegged the Pythons back and ensured that threats in attack would have to be launched from a long way out.
The last 20 mins is a bit of a blur for me. Aireborough flying into tackles, turning ball over, playing with patience and frustrating Harrogate. Harrogate turned the screw scoring 2 tries, of which the latter was converted. It wasn't enough though as Aire kept their heads and saw out the remainder of the game, defying the odds and coming away with the spoils.
If you were in that circle at the end of the game, you will have seen what it meant to the players. It's been a tough season so far but hopefully this is the start of big things for this bunch of players.
Harrogate were gracious in defeat and complimented how good we were on the day. They didn't understand why we are where we are in the league. We have heard that before but it is what it is and we will continue the fight to climb the table.
There were many outstanding performances with Nick Holdsworth scoring 21 of Aireborough points. Mikey Dolan was immense playing out of position. Ollie Catherall's overall control of the game was something to behold. I could go on..... My Men of the match were Nick Holdsworth for the shift he put in and points he scored and Christopher Chapman, who led the pack well, tackled everything that came before him and was a general nuisance.
Sheffield Medics at home next week. All the effort and more will be needed to ensure we continue in our resurgence and overturn what has been a disappointing season this far. See you at Nunroyd.