1st XV Match Report – Yorkshire Silver Trophy
MATCH REPORT by BOB CHAMPION
The dull and dour conditions set the scene for a dull and dour encounter that saw Ripon exit the Yorkshire silverware competition, that seems to become less attractive to many clubs as each season passes. County Cup Competitions were once the great opportunity for clubs at any level to set out their stall and pit their skills and wits against similar and better teams. This season, as with recent ones, less clubs are keen to compete against League rivals and so credit to Ripon and Wetherby for committing to this game.
On the downside, Ripon’s commitment to play resulted in their sixth consecutive defeat to Wetherby in all competitions in the last three years and the opposition perhaps officially elevated to the position of “Bogey Side”.
As far as selection was concerned, Ripon made an unprecedented eleven changes to the team from last week. This included five positional changes from previous selections: Hassall from Lock to Full Back, Nicholson from Hooker to Centre; Audsley-Beck from Scrum Half to Wing, Payne starting at Hooker and Newcombe starting at Lock. Four recalls to the squad were: Sam Pillar testing himself at Fly Half, Hamish Mainey returning to the fray at Scrum Half, Connor Eddleston looking to make his mark again at Flanker and Mark “Stonehenge” Sadler propping up the bench. Debutantes this week also on the bench, were exciting prospect Nick Perez, hotfoot from the USA and club stalwart Dan Watson, looking to add wisdom and experience wherever necessary.
Ripon kicked off into the moderate breeze and immediately succumbed to a high intensity assault from the hosts. From good support play and poor tackling, this took the home team deep into the visitors’ 22 metre area and from a high tackle in defence, the hosts were gifted a penalty goal attempt within two minutes of play. Fortunately for Ripon this fell short and avoided the embarrassment of an early score. Ripon have worked hard on penalty avoidance and this was a grim reminder of the consequences of conceding needless penalties.
From the drop out, The Blues made good ground in recovering the kick and possession was worked through phases. Callum Findlay fielded a clearance kick to good effect and broke for a typically “Bagatelle” style run for some forty metres. The breakdown recycling was sadly marred by an interception and the initiative was returned to the hosts. Ripon worked well however to recover the momentum and through Eddleston and Hassall, forced a turnover from the counter attack. Unfortunately a further turnover saw the hosts regain possession and shift the ball quickly to the left field. The advancing hosts were too quick and close in support for Ripon and their Left Wing ran in unopposed to open the score with a converted try after 10 minutes of play. 7 – 0.
The hosts continued to press from the restart and within a further five minutes, were gifted another penalty goal opportunity which also went wide. It’s not certain whether Ripon sought solace in the ineffectiveness of the home goal kicker, but they did proceed to concede several more unnecessary penalties, despite a pre-match commitment not to do so.
The remainder of the first half saw the hosts score two further converted tries. Both of them were from interceptions of Ripon’s attempts to play attacking Rugby, but just falling short of clinical completion. Overall, Ripon’s play was spirited and enthusiastic. It lacked shape at times and, as has too often been the case, led to a reliance a complacent reliance on individuals. The set piece worked well and showed good results from the continued investment in Plant and Slator at Prop, both of whom scrummaged effectively, carried well in attack and contributed positively to the close order defence.
Also notable was Mainey, who despite his diminutive form, punched well above his weight to earn the hosts’ award of “Man of the Match”. Connor Eddleston made a nuisance of himself in the loose, following ably in Euan Findlay’s footsteps and Will Smith was a tower of strength in challenging for 50/50 balls at every opportunity. Sam Pillar stepped into the Number 10 berth with coolness and maturity and sought every opportunity to progress attacks. Graham and Nicholson tried their hardest to penetrate through the midfield, but the home defence remained resolute.
A chink of hope opened up for The Blues in the final moments of the first half. Ripon gathered momentum with several phases of play, encouraged by two successive penalty advantages. Good retention and offloading saw Will Smith finish off a slick move to redress the balance slightly. Pillar was off course with the conversion attempt however, but with the final whistle of the first half signalling a 21 – 5 deficit, Ripon were clear about the second half ask.
What was necessary was a reiteration of the commitment to stop giving away penalties. The first half count of seven to Ripon and two to Wetherby spoke volumes. Ironically the half time team talks both dwelled on penalties and the second half saw Ripon concede no further infringements to the hosts’ five. Great discipline from Ripon; unfortunately it couldn’t be turned into points.
The second half of the game was notable for few reasons. Wetherby conceded far too many penalties and had two players removed for Yellow Card offences. Ripon failed to capitalise on those moments and didn’t exert as much pressure as they could have. What did happen however, was that The Blues got themselves into a cohesive pattern of play that dominated most of the final thirty minutes of the match. From set piece to open play, Ripon attacked at all opportunities and shut down any home attempts to fight back. The resolute home defence was the key to winning the match and if Ripon had found a consistently reliable way of breaking through, that might have made a difference.
Ripon therefore continued to batter and Wetherby continued to defend. At the turn of the last quarter however, Ripon took advantage of a succession of quick penalties and pressed home a sustained attack through burly Tom Graham to score Ripon’s second and final try. Pillar added the conversion to take the score to 21 – 12.
The final quarter was a real clash between creative attacking and solid defence. Try as they might, Ripon could not break through and much credit to Wetherby, all attacking options were effectively snuffed out at source. Whilst not seeking, or needing to take advantage of the considerable experience of Sadler and Watson from the bench, Ripon did welcome the 1st XV debut of Nick Perez at Flanker for the final quarter, who made an immediate and physical impact on the game.
At the final whistle, this was an unfortunate exit for Ripon from this competition, but a good opportunity to concentrate on league performance from now on.
Next Saturday Ripon are back in Yorkshire Division Two action with an away game at old friends and rivals Leodiensians, who are seeing something of a resurgence this season. A very interesting and entertaining encounter at Crag Lane awaits and all travelling support is very welcome for the 2.15 kick off 2.15pm.