1st XV Match Report - Saturday 13th January
MATCH REPORT by BOB CHAMPION
Bogey side or not, Wetherby further enhanced their winning ways against Ripon in this local Derby, to make it four wins out of four games, move further up the league table and despite winning a second losing bonus point in a row; pushed Ripon down to an unenviable 10th place.
With some changes in the backs, one positional to try Tom Leeming out at Full Back, the re-introduction of Harry Scurr guesting at Fly Half and the perseverance with Callum Findlay on the Wing, the side still showed strength in defence and blistering pace and aggression in attack.
With the call up of Ed Challis to the bench, the chances of a free flowing game looked good. The immaculate playing surface at Grange Park also bode well for some decent running and only the cold weather threatened to slow things down amongst the backs.
Ripon’s pack remained unchanged from the previous week, sticking with Adam Newcombe to beef up the second row and the welcome return to action for Matty Taylor on the bench after a long injury lay off. Hoping to build on last week’s emphatic set piece success, Ripon went into this game confident of winning first phase possession and confident of using that possession to make plentiful scoring chances. That they did to a great extent. With the ball in hand, when they got it, the Blues looked fluent and dangerous. The difficulty was in gaining decent first phase ball from a decidedly creaking scrum and a well contested line out. Coupled with many phases of possession stymied by last pass failures, or attempts to go it alone, Ripon squandered the best of their possession and were fortunate to get the one try that they did. One might argue that a number of penalty opportunities went begging too. With the hosts’ indiscipline resulting in 12 penalties against them, plus a yellow card, Ripon could well have chipped away at the scoreboard through penalty goals, but chose for the touch kick and line out options.
Coupled with Wetherby’s tenacity in defence, creativity in attack and a determination to play the full 80 minutes, it looked and felt like a tough call for Ripon and showed that areas of dominance in a game one week can easily be turned into areas of pressure another. It is the consistency to play to strengths week in week out, where Ripon are lacking just now and only the commitment of the full squad on the training field can make a difference to that.
Ripon opted to kick off the game and immediately wished they hadn’t. The catcher scythed unopposed through the Ripon chasers, offloading once to take play up to the Ripon 22 metre line within 5 seconds. A definitive try saving tackle from James Audsley-Beck momentarily saved the visitors from further embarrassment. Not gaining much ground from the 22 metre drop out, Ripon continued to weather the onslaught.
The first handling error by the hosts gave Ripon the chance to show their scrum dominance. Unfortunately, Wetherby didn’t know about this and knocked the Blues back some yards. A hastily scrambled recovery from Dudley Stead took play back towards the halfway line and a further home offence gave Ripon their second scrum put in on the five minute mark. This time the Wetherby shove was even more powerful and took the ball against the head. To add insult to injury and perhaps saved the indignity of that possession resulting in a try, the referee awarded Wetherby a penalty for a slipped binding in the Ripon front row. The kick from in front of the posts in the eighth minute was simple and allowed Wetherby to open the scoring at 3 – 0.
Ripon then picked up the pace and strung some decent plays together. Struggling to remain composure at the scrum, it was through the good offices of Stead that Ripon were able to make anything of this set piece. At 18 minutes, Ripon recycled effectively through some six phases to get into the home 22 metre area. A defensive clearance gave Ripon a line out and the catch and drive took the visitors to within a sniff of the home line. Repeated attempts to cross resulted in a 5 metre scrum to Ripon and a chance to show some solidarity. Stead picked and made sufficient ground to feed Harry Scurr, who barged his way on before offloading to Rob Harrison. Harrison aimed a deftly placed chip behind the Full Back, but was beaten to the final touch down by a fingertip.
Reacting positively from the drop out, again Ripon attacked through Stead and Scurr, with the latter gaining great ground with a well-placed kick towards the corner. The defensive clearance gave Ripon another close range line out and with quick ball to Harrison seeing him release Leeming, a try looked inevitable. Fate and a final knock on over the line conspired against everyone at this point and a second scoring opportunity went begging.
At 28 minutes, with Ripon seemingly dominating open play, another attack saw Stead, Barker and Leeming making great yards, but again the melee at the point of crossing the line, simply failed to deliver a score. Great character was shown by Wetherby in defence and reminiscent of Ripon on good days, when they held the likes of Goole and Old Crossleyans at bay against repeated onslaughts. Something had to give however and in the last few minutes of the half, Wetherby came alive again.
The home side broke out of defence from two successive scrums and a long probing kick sent their Left Wing haring off for the line. A second try saving event was delivered by Audsley-Beck with the defensive touch down. From the drop out, Ripon regained possession and put the ball into touch. Wetherby didn’t dally over the line out and a quick ball to their Number 10 saw him shimmy through two tackles before releasing their Inside Centre for a soft try under the posts. The conversion added insult to injury and gave the hosts a 10 – 0 lead.
With moments to go on the clock, Ripon restarted and from a defensive handling error were awarded a scrum. In perhaps the worst scrum of the day, Ripon were knocked back like nine pins, but somewhere in the mess, the referee noticed an offence of boring in the home front row. Euan Findlay took the initiative with the quick tap penalty, but was hauled down. Gaining a further advantage from the opposition not being 10 metres, Ripon took another opportunity to run and on this occasion, a Wetherby player deliberately knocked the ball on to prevent progress. With enough time left for a line out and with a home player yellow carded for the offence, Ripon kicked for touch and hoped that the line out would hold firm. That it did and in an expertly worked move, the throw was returned to Hooker Rob Nicholson to smash his way through the 5 metres to the line and open the scoring for Ripon. Patrick Whitaker emphatically added the conversion from the touch line to take the half time score to 10 – 7.
The second half offered a great opportunity for Ripon to get back into the game, secure the first phase possession and make something out of the lack of penetration from the hosts. What played out was however, a lot of effort for little gain on both sides. A purple patch for Ripon nearing the end of the first quarter saw such desperation in defence, that they gave away four penalties in two minutes. The referee was blowing his whistle so hard; he was at the point of sending for a new pea! Thankfully none of the offences warranted a card, but the side does need to look at its discipline in times of intensive pressure.
Towards the end of the third quarter, the home pressure started to show and a penalty for handling on the floor was punished by a Wetherby penalty kick to touch. The line out catch was driven straight over the visitors’ line and with the conversion attempt failed, notched the scoreboard up to 15 – 7.
Valliant efforts continued by both sides, but with Ripon taking a number of wrong options though individual efforts and not being able to effectively finish off attacks, the game seemed to be slipping away from them. A glimmer of hope for the losing bonus point came with an injury time penalty, which Tom Leeming calmly slotted over from 40 metres to close the score at 15 – 10.
For Ripon, more work has to be done on discipline and composure; consistency in the set piece and better understanding and communications in support play. For Wetherby, a decent performance that stopped Ripon from playing.
Next Saturday, Ripon entertain Wath upon Dearne to Mallorie Park, for what promises to be another keenly contested battle up front and a chance to regroup and with Wath’s record at Ripon not so good, possibly a return to winning ways for the Blues. Kick off at 2.15pm; all supporters continue to be very welcome.