1st XV Match Report - 2nd December 2017
MATCH REPORT by BOB CHAMPION
Very much day of “what ifs” and “if onlys” really. For example: what if Patrick Whitaker had played for the opposition? His goal kicking prowess and the host’s ineptitude in this area, would surely have made the score-line very different in their favour. However, “Bob’s” six goal masterclass was an emphatic example of coolness and experience under pressure, mercifully for Ripon. Sadly however, not enough to win the game and one shouldn’t dwell on the single miss, that might have enabled Ripon to win by the narrowest of margins.
What if the Ripon set piece had held firm throughout and been a more solid launchpad for the back row and back division strike power? What if Adam Newcombe hadn’t been cruelly side-lined with a back injury at the end of the first quarter? The scrum might have held out more assertively. Critically, what if the nominated Prop replacement hadn’t been abducted by aliens suddenly before the game, might the outcome of the forward battle have been different. Finally, if only the squad could keep the penalty count down to single figures, then scoring options for the opposition would be severely limited.
As would be expected from a mid-table clash, both sides were looking to make their way out of the bottom half of the table to make things more interesting for the league leaders. Ripon made further changes, with Seal dropping to Full Back to make way for Guy Watkinson to return to occupy the Number 10 berth and Harrison moving out to the Wing to cover for the unavailable Leeming. The pack remained the same apart from the return of skipper Barker. Despite a relatively stable squad however, Ripon must have been unsettled by the loss of two replacements relatively late on, one for a valid reason and so took to the field in the knowledge that it was “do or die” for most.
What followed was a game played close to the best of everyone’s ability apart from three critical factors. Firstly, the Ripon penalty count followed a similar pattern to previous weeks in that the early discipline faded as tiredness took over late on in the second and fourth quarters. Secondly, despite some effective attacks, including impressive handling throughout the team; lack of support at the vital moment, made the prospect of scoring tries very limited. Thirdly, with a match official seemingly more intent on enhancing his dramatic performance rather than his decision-making skills, this was always going to be a tough one to play out.
The hosts overall, looked sharper in the set piece and defence and through sustained attacking phases, managed to get close enough to score what appeared to be two tries to Ripon’s nil. That said, of the first, more later and the second try, which was given as a penalty try at 70 minutes, was a harsh blow on two counts. Firstly, in that the five-metre scrum awarded to the hosts following a defensive error from the previous scrum, was a tough challenge for stand in Prop Tom Gilchrist. Gilly had manfully held up five previous scrums after taking over from Newcombe and on his first slip, was penalised with deliberately dropping the scrum. Secondly, if it had not been a penalty try, which is automatically awarded seven points, the likelihood of the home Number 10 in converting the try was very slim. So, if the scrum had led to a normal try, the score-line again would have been more favourable to Ripon.
Having said that Ripon never looked like scoring a try, that is not intended to underplay the heroic efforts of many around the pitch in developing and sustaining some meaningful and memorable phases of play. The likes of Stead (Man of the match) and Euan Findlay, rampaged freely with ball in hand and often took three or more defenders to bring them down. Callum Findlay and Dom Dalby, were the pick of the pack defensively, with some crushing tackles and great battles to achieve turnovers. Patrick Whitaker stepped up, with his kicking boot, timely delivery and selfless defensive play.
Across the back line, the team played with instinct and passion. Spilman and Graham in the Centres, did some serious damage in both attack and defence, but sadly were too often isolated. Watkinson looked comfortably in control of the game at 10 and was untroubled by defensive interference, whilst the back three of Harrison, Seal and Audsley-Beck all showed explosive pace in attack and counter attack.
As far as the game was concerned, the weather conditions, as were the partisan home crowd, were cold and thankfully still. The first half saw much action from both teams with little in the way of results. Both sides attempted to play openly and test each other out. The initial exchanges were evenly matched, and the early deadlock was broken by the first of Whitaker’s six penalty goals after nine minutes. No further scoring opportunities arose until the beginning of the second quarter. After losing Newcombe, Ripon hastily reorganised their scrum to bring on Rob Nicholson at Hooker and move incumbent Hooker Gilchrist to Loose Head Prop. Manfully, Gilly stepped up to the challenge and in the face of a five-metre scrum, held firm. The following hosts back row move faltered on the line and whilst everyone apart from the referee saw a knock on, he went on to award the try. With the easy conversion in front of the posts, the hosts took the lead at 7 – 3 and that was the last score of the first half.
The second half saw Ripon try pretty much everything in the book. Whitaker banged over a further five penalties to regain the lead twice, missing only one. The hosts threatened well enough, but apart from two penalty goals and the penalty try, didn’t look close to crossing Ripon’s line again. Definitely one to put behind us and move on. More to be done on the training field and more to be done around player availability and commitment. Sitting at the halfway point in the league at the halfway point in the season is not a desperate position by any means, but perhaps not reflective of the investment in time energy and commitment from the coaching and other back room teams that aspire to put the club in a better position to compete more effectively with the best.
Next Saturday, Ripon entertain new league leaders Pontefract, who seem to be making a habit of racking up high try scoring wins. A test for Ripon’s forward power to re-establish control and the back division to show their true mettle as well as their exciting potential. It being the last home game of the season for the 1sts, with the 2nd XV squad at home too, let’s hope for a solid performance from both teams to deliver another “Blue Rinse”. Kick offs at 2.15pm, all supporters continue to be very welcome.