1st XV Match Report - Saturday 17th February
MATCH REPORT by BOB CHAMPION
“Nearly, but not quite” was the name of the game on this bright and almost Spring-like Saturday. Maybe it was Yarnbury’s challenging league status, or maybe even their much criticised gate prices, there was certainly a dearth of supporters, home or away, who may well have enjoyed a decent match. In a game in which Ripon led from early on and then again on three further occasions, this was a sad and cruel conclusion to what was probably amongst their finest efforts of the season. The hosts, to their credit, whilst largely uninventive, used their powerful scrum to great effect and ran solid lines to keep the Ripon Defence on their toes. Ripon on the other hand, played a pacey and continuity focused game, that saw a lot of penetration and cohesion, that has been lacking in recent weeks. Thus, not a huge lot to differentiate between the two sides, who successfully tried to play two different types of games, scored tries when they needed to and challenged the opponents fairly and effectively. Not to make too big a deal out of the final “penalty shoot-out”, if Ripon’s final kick had gone over, the result would have been very different. A “close run thing” then, with the hosts exploiting their hefty pack to great advantage and Ripon slicing their way through the home backs at will. Stout defence on both sides limited the scoring, but at three tries to two, this was a fair reflection on the openness of the game.
With the absence of Audsley-Beck, Whitaker was an obvious shoe-in at Scrum Half and the recall of Rob Harrison, a minor reshuffle, saw a similar back line to last week. Critical however, was the call up of Jason Bell at Full Back, to bring some maturity and experience to the side. The pack was unchanged apart from the addition of Newcombe to the front row. With Seal, Matthew Taylor and Greenwood on the bench, there was a strong air of confidence in the squad’s experience, pace and fitness to deliver a decent result.
Ripon kicked off the game with the sun at their backs and down the slope to create all sorts of havoc through Euan Findlay. From the home fumble came a penalty to the visitors, which was perhaps too hastily taken and resulted in a knock on. Yarnbury managed their first scrum well, but the ensuing clearance kick only found Bell, who linked in the counter-attack twice with Tom Graham before unleashing Rob Harrison, who was close in support. Harrison then passed on to the ever present Euan Findlay, to scatter the defence over a further 40 metres towards the right wing before delivering the perfectly timed pass for Tom Leeming to cross the line to open the scoring for Ripon with just three minutes gone. Whitaker slotted the first of his six successful kicks to take the lead at 0 – 7.
Restarting well, Yarnbury started to make inroads and whilst Ripon’s overall penalty count for the game remained in single figures for the third week in succession, there was a flurry of offences that gave the hosts the upper hand for a while. At 10 minutes in, the hosts took a penalty line out option and moved from the drive upfield into the Ripon 22 metre area. A further penalty saw them take a scrum option and from the home Number 8 pick up, their pack smashed at the Ripon line for 3 phases before the line breach. The following conversion levelled the scores at 7 – 7.
After a further eight minutes, Ripon pressed close through Harrison to gain a penalty. Unfortunately the goal attempt was just out of Whitaker’s range. However, Whitaker did make amends to retake the lead with a penalty goal to 7 – 10 at the half hour mark. Just prior to that, the play that led up to the opportunity, saw a characteristic break by Euan Findlay, which allowed Whitaker to place a well-timed cross kick for Leeming to follow. Unfortunately in the scramble to touch down, the ball went into touch in goal, so despite everyone’s best efforts, no try arose. The last few minutes of the half saw Yarnbury keen to exert the pressure. However, the coolness of Bell and sheer work rate of Callum Findlay in defence, saw off any attacks with interest. So the half ended with the scoreline at 7 – 10 and despite the last moment yellow card for Butler for tardiness in releasing a tackled player, a cracking game to get back into.
After the restart, Ripon harassed the defence well, but then Yarnbury started to gain territorial advantage. At just 3 minutes into the half the hosts kicked deep and Bell had limited options to offload, so conceded a penalty for holding on. The hosts reacted quickly and from the tap kick exposed a gap in the Ripon defence to score their second try. The conversion taking them into the lead at 14 – 10.
Within moments of the next restart, Ripon were gifted a further Penalty chance, which Whitaker slotted over with ease, to reduce the deficit to 14 – 13. In an almost “tit for tat” move, Yarnbury secured their own penalty advantage from the next restart to advance the score with a further penalty goal, with great use of the upright to 17 – 13.
Towards the end of the third quarter, Ripon were piecing together some creative and penetrative passages of play. The introduction of Greenwood, Taylor and Seal, saw an injection of pace and urgency to the team and sparked the game back into life. At just short of 20 minutes into the half, several phases saw the likes of both Findlays and Britton involved in a move up the left touchline, which saw Leeming carry well before setting Sam Britton up for a well-deserved try. Whitaker’s conversion from the touchline was inspirational to regain the lead at 17 – 20.
Further thoughts of the game finally going Ripon’s way were enhanced at 23 minutes into the second half with a further long range penalty goal to increase the score to 17 – 23. What could possibly go wrong? A Yarnbury resurgence was one thing. Well into the final quarter, the hosts picked up the pace and started challenging the Ripon defence more. At 36 minutes, the home line out worked well on three occasions to gain ground before spreading the ball quickly wide to score a further try, which with the conversion, nudged the score to a tantalising 24 – 23.
In true style, Ripon didn’t take this lying down and turned the last five minutes of the game into an absolute frenzy, with both sides attacking at pace and forcing many mistakes. At 39 minutes Whitaker coolly retook the lead with another breath-taking penalty to increase the score to 24 – 26 and maybe induced the team into one of those “they think it’s all over” moments?
Undeterred, from what was hoped to be the final restart of the game and well into injury time, Ripon attempted to break out from the deep kick and fell foul of a defender holding on to gift Yarnbury yet another penalty attempt in front of the posts. With heads in hands, the Ripon squad and visiting faithful supporters expected the final whistle to blow at 27 – 26, but no. With seconds on the clock remaining, the referee adjudged sufficient time for the restart and any continuous play thereafter. What followed from the restart, with four minutes of injury time played already, seemed to flow in slow motion. The deep kick was chased by Leeming and Findlay and the ensuing holding on resulted in a penalty to Ripon. With insufficient time to take the touch kick and line out, Whitaker stepped up to make it seven out of eight attempts on goal. Unfortunately the “Goal Gods” has ceased smiling and with the final whistle Ripon were left bewildered by a 27 – 26 defeat after a great performance.
Frustration and sadness was well evident, but also a recognition that a team that trains together well, can play together and win together well.
Next Saturday, Ripon travel for the rearranged fixture at Old Grovians. Ripon will undoubtedly be fighting hard to continue to move out of the relegation zone. Travelling supporters willing to make the trip will be very welcome. Despite the brighter afternoons, kick offs remain at 2.15.