1st XV Match Report - 25th November 2017
MATCH REPORT by BOB CHAMPION
With the Autumn Internationals jockeying for priority, this fixture was never going to attract a capacity crowd. Nor with England’s almost predictable success, was the bar going to be packed with indoor appreciators of the game. Thanks therefore, to the die-hard Ripon supporters and the solo Leodiensians patron, as well as a big mention to newly signed up match sponsors, a local business “Sporting Start”, for some touchline attendance at the game. Also a warm welcome was extended to our exchange Referee from the East Midlands, who exerted a decent control of the game and encouraged advantage to be played as much as possible.
With the weather undecided as to whether to let go of autumn, or welcomed winter, the ground was quite heavy, yet the atmospheric conditions, quite bright and windless. Not conditions to favour any kind of dominance, with the water table sufficiently low enough to eliminate bog conditions, and the surface, not quite conducive to anything other than straight running, so both sides endeavoured to play to their strengths and eliminate any weaknesses. The visitors’ with more to lose as a result of their lowly league status, were obviously keen at this point in the season to try their hardest for a decent result.
Ripon’s squad entered the game with an unprecedented statistic in recent seasons, in that some 45 different players have pulled on the 1st XV Blue Jersey so far this season. Such numbers of players used are usually accounted for at the end of the season, so to have used this amount at this point, is testament to the strength in depth of the club and the quality of players that are coming through the age grade system as well as newly joined adult players. The talent pool is not however bottomless and consistent availability of players has to be the way forward. With a poor showing of only 13 players available for the 2nd XV, this weekend, things need to improve.
So, to the squad. In the pack, in the absence of Skipper Barker, Sam Britton and returnee Jonty Lister locked the scrum and Callum Findlay re-joined his brother Euan in the back row. In the backs, Patrick Whitaker introduced himself to his fourth half back partner in as many games and in Josh Seal, welcomed an accomplished and experienced team mate. Outside was a welcome return to Mark Spilman at Inside Centre and a re-introduction to the back three for James Audsley-Beck. On the bench and hopefully set for a return to the squad list on a more permanent bases was Ashley Plant. Gary Nicholson also added his considerable experience to the bench.
Opting to receive the kick off, playing uphill into the sun and against such wind as was, Ripon set themselves up and completely messed up the opening receipt. Poor communication and ineffective responsibility, saw the visitors gifted with first touch of the ball and the opportunity to set up a series of attacking phases. Absorbing some spirited advances, the Blues showed robust defence and even more robust discipline. Going a full 15 minutes without conceding a penalty or free kick, spoke volumes for Ripon’s intent to avoid costly mistakes.
Apart from not committing any indiscretions, the hosts made some emphatic attacking plays, which were all sadly snuffed by either out-running support, or final passes going astray. During the first quarter Ripon looked to go wide early, but also used the bludgeoning power of Stead from the base of the scrum and Euan Findlay from the loose pickings. Tom Graham at Outside Centre made some hard yards carrying, mostly with one or two defenders hanging off, but pick of the game was Callum Findlay. Despite playing at Blind Side Flanker, Callum displayed an energy and enthusiasm to create havoc at every breakdown. Strong in the tackle and ferocious in his combat for the ball, this Findlay showed strength, composure and construction in his play.
Despite some exciting and passionately executed plays in the first half, it was by no means a one sided contest. Leos fought hard, defended well and troubled the hosts on numerous occasions. Whilst not dominating territorially, Leos had their fair share of possession and so at 20 minutes, during Leos’ third venture into Ripon’s half and as a result of Ripon’s first offence, the visitors were offered a penalty goal opportunity, which they accepted to take the score to 0 – 3.
Further lively exchanges between both sides saw no further scores, but missed penalty goal attempts by Leos at 30 minutes and Ripon on the half time whistle added to the frustration that the game needed to be dominated in some way. Thus ending the first half 0 – 3 down, Ripon realised that they were in a game and that all the positive hype about their ability and potential needed to be true. It was therefore down to the few on the pitch to make it all work.
With the slope, sun at their backs and an emerging wind, Ripon kicked off the second half well, with Leeming and Euan Findlay combininng well to hassle the catcher. Immediately under pressure, Leos conceded a penalty, which Whitaker banged over with ease to level the scores at 3 – 3.
From the restart, the Blues looked to retain possession and fought their way back up field. Not all easy going by any means, but Ripon used their scrum and line out effectively to progress incrementally. So at nine minutes into the half, a penalty touch kick to Ripon, saw a well won line out by Lister. The ball was shifted quickly to the right, with Spilman drawing his opponent perfectly before unleashing Tom Graham. Graham, being quite substantially built, managed to shrug off three would be tacklers, before touching down for Ripon’s first try of the day. Whitaker added to the spectacle of Graham’s personal effort, with a magnificent 50 metre conversion from the touchline. With the score line at 10 -3, not out of the woods, but Ripon gradually taking charge.
After a further 10 minutes of play, Ripon and Leos attacked each other with pace, guile and integrity. Scoring chances were however negligible and it did seem down to who made the first mistake. Crucially at the beginning of the final quarter, already in receipt of an off-side penalty advantage, Ripon were spurred into action by a late tackle on Rob Harrison whilst trying to evade the Leos pack with a chip and chase. Thankfully with Patrick Whitaker’s kicking boots firmly back in action, the penalty goal drifted over effortlessly to increase the Blues’ lead to 13 – 3.
The next 15 minutes saw many Ripon attacks snuffed out by resolute defence and Leos’ attacks similarly dealt with. Ripon went through a bit of a difficult patch and conceded a number of penalties, but none of that amounted to scoring chances for the opposition. During this phase of play and reinforcing earlier contributions, were Adam Newcombe’s liveliness with the ball, including an audacious grubber kick for Leeming to run on to; Dalby for the hard carries and Euan Findlay for his sheer strength as a runner.
The final quarter looked as if both sides were ready for the showers. In the impending gloom and lowering temperature, one could be forgiven for wanting to give up and quit whilst ahead. Not Ripon though. From a failed Leos attack, Ripon chose to run from deep and again, Euan Findlay popped up to carry on the attack. Making a full 40 metres again, Euan offloaded to Spilman, then Stead, who fed Gilchrist at pace and then finally on to James Audsley-Beck to finish off a classical demonstration of handling at pace. Whitaker calmly completed the exercise with his fourth successful kick from five attempts.
Not an emphatic victory by any means, but a continuing indication of the strength in depth of the club to accommodate injuries and other unavailability. More players available, more success.
Next Saturday, Ripon travel to fellow mid-table competitors, West Park Leeds, where the ample pitch should provide the perfect surface for Ripon’s backs to further develop their attacking repertoire. Hoping for an entertaining game, with both sides having much to prove, Ripon will be looking to increase their unbeaten run to a third consecutive month. Continuing to keep 15 players on the pitch for the full game will also be a good contribution. Kick off at The Sycamores, Bramhope at 2.15, all travelling supporters and potential sponsors continue to be very welcome.