1st XV Match Report - Saturday 3rd February
MATCH REPORT by BOB CHAMPION
After another week of inclement weather of seemingly Biblical proportions, there was a strong commitment to use any portion of Mallorie Park that would sustain a game and avoid a drowning. Given a choice of three pitches, Skipper Barker and his counterpart trod the ground carefully with the Referee, in order to select a choice between “Hackney Marshes”, the “Okefenokee Swamp” or Conan Doyle’s “Grimpen Mire”. And so, into the “mire” stepped the visitors and after the briefest of hiccups, wished that they hadn’t.
It was one of those days marred by the finest of drizzles, treacherous underfoot conditions, but reasonable air temperature and so it was on the basis that whilst cool and wet, nobody looked in danger of either contracting hypothermia, nor of falling foul of too firm a surface. Choking in the ever deepening mud was always a risk, but both sides endeavoured gamely to keep to their feet and mud wallowing was confined to when absolutely necessary. One hopes that the skin treatment was effective where needed.
Remarkably, the key difference between the two sides, both of whom are in a difficult league position, was that despite not having webbed feet or gills, Ripon simply owned the game in all departments from the second quarter onwards. If there was a 50:50 chance of a bounce, it went Ripon’s way, if there was a chance of a turnover, it went Ripon’s way and most importantly; if there was a chance of a dropped pass, it went Roundhegians’ way. Thus, with the rub of the green (brown), Ripon started to play with confidence and cohesion, in perhaps their finest display of teamwork in many weeks. With an increasingly competent set piece, The Blues established a firm control over the game and extinguished the visitors’ aspirations quickly and effectively. The game that followed and many thanks to the die-hard followers who braved the elements, was an emphatic return to form for The Blues and an emphatic five try, bonus point winning performance. Not that it had a huge impact on the league position, with other results going against the grain, Ripon are however well placed for a decent recovery, with a renewed ambition and three games in hand.
There were few changes to the Ripon side, but notably the reintroduction of Rob Harrison at Outside Centre and Harry Scurr at Number 8, added bags of guile, go forward and tenacity and courage in defence. Harrison probably made more tackles in this game that his last five or so, plus a try to boot and Scurr was a pillar of strength in making the hard yards up front. In this respect, Barker and Dalby also carried dominantly, with a try for the latter and an example to the rest of the team in solid attacking play and ball retention.
The pre-match deliberations over which bog to play on, must have taken more of a toll on Ripon, as when they finally got into the game, the visitors looked to have all of the energy and initiative. Roundhegians kicked off and immediately stifled any attempts to break out. After some scrambled attempts to clear their lines, within three minutes, Bob Whitaker eventually found touch. The Visitors’ line out was not straight and with Ripon’s first opportunity to assert scrum dominance, the put in was adjudged not straight which led to a further indiscretion that gave the visitors a chance at a penalty goal, which they missed. From the 22 metre drop out Ripon pressed, but were judged off side at the next breakdown and another penalty opportunity came Roundhegians’ way, which was well struck to take the score to 0 – 3 after 16 minutes.
Ripon attempted to push back from the restart, with good pressure on the defence. The clearance kick was almost gathered by Barker on the touchline, but not quite. The visitor’s line out saw quick ball back to the left field and a combination of Ripon’s back row and midfield halted the attack to recover possession. Unfortunately an attempt by Watkinson to move the ball wide through Graham was intercepted and the visitors scampered in for an unconverted try to nudge the score up to 0 – 8 at the end of the first quarter.
Then followed a period of Ripon quietly, but emphatically taking stock. This ranged from using the set piece to launch restrained attacks, designed to make small but effective yardage; to beefing up the defensive effort with aggressive tackling and hard carrying, through the likes of Barker, Dalby and Scurr. Rob Nicholson and Dom Butler added their mercurial running lines to the frame, as did powerhouse Tom Graham and evergreen Rob Harrison. James Audsley-Beck was outstanding at Scrum Half, with his sniping runs and laser-precise delivery and Tom Leeming created some fine counter attacking options and was so unlucky to near two try scoring chances and not get over the line. A key difference overall however, was that Ripon did score from five chances, whereas in previous weeks, the points have gone begging.
At 25 minutes, Ripon attacked through Butler and Dalby to force the defence into conceding a penalty, which Whitaker converted with ease to open the score for the hosts at 3 – 8. Within moments of the restart reception, the hosts took the play on, through Leeming and Harrison, who appeared twice in the move to touch down for Ripon’s first try of the day. Whitaker’s conversion took Ripon into the lead for the first time at 10 – 8. After another series of plays from the restart, Ripon retained possession well to push up into the visitor’s 22 metre area. A scything break by Rob Nicholson fed Dom Dalby to bludgeon his way over the last ten metres, seemingly carrying the entire Roundhegians pack with him, to score Ripon’s second try, again ably converted by Whitaker, to take the score into half time at 17 – 8.
After the break, Ripon tightened up their act measurably, with slick close order passing and constraint to play to their strengths. The visitors fronted up gamely, but injury depleted and suffering the indignity of two yellow cards for inappropriate play, they were never going to be in a position to assert themselves on the game. From the restart, Ripon kicked deep forcing the visitors’ to clear. A penalty opportunity gifted the visitors with possession, which saw them try to probe out wide to the right. Rob Nicholson hit the ensuing breakdown at the right pace to seize on the loose ball and run in for Ripon’s third try; converted by Whitaker to take the score to 24 – 8.
After a further few minutes of sound ball recycling, The Blues gained the initiative from a failed visitors’ defensive line out. With the maul pulled down, and a penalty on offer, Ripon opted for the scrum. Harry Scurr picked from the base and launched towards the line. Unfortunately, due to the change of pitch and the dramatically shortened in goal area, Scurr touched down over the dead ball line for Ripon’s second lost try.
From the 22 metre drop out, the visitors tried to take the hosts by surprise. However, wide awake Callum Findlay recovered the ball well enough to put in a well-judged grub kick for him to chase and touch down for Ripon’s fourth try. At the end of his kickable range, it was excusable for Whitaker to miss this kick, but the lead of 29 – 8 was looking insurmountable for the visitors.
Edging towards the end of the third quarter and perhaps Ripon’s best passage of Rugby in many weeks, again the hosts set off in earnest from the restart. Through Sam Britton’s catch and 20 metre break, Nicholson carried on for the same again before hacking the ball on down field. From the attempted recovery by the visitors, Ripon turned over and saw James Audsley-Beck nip over for Ripon’s fifth and final try. Whitaker added the conversion to conclude the scoring at 36 – 8 and a well-deserved victory.
Ripon will take heart and much confidence from this win. There are many very difficult games remaining to be played and such performances will show Ripon that they are capable of asserting themselves on games and coming up with favourable results.
Next Saturday, Ripon entertain old rivals and promotion hopefuls Pontefract at Mallorie Park, for a further attempt to play the fixture planned for the 9th December that got postponed at the last minute due to the frosty conditions. Pontefract are flying high at the top of the league currently and Ripon are keen to string victories together more than one at a time. A sparkling performance is guaranteed, whatever the weather. Kick off at 2.15pm; all supporters continue to be very welcome.