1st XV Match Report - Saturday 7th April
MATCH REPORT by BOB CHAMPION
In a solid and long-awaited return to winning ways, Ripon hosted Halifax Vandals, who were gamely struggling to avoid relegation, in what promised to be a battle for pride; and emphatically showed the hosts’ potential as an in-form team. Without wishing to over-egg the superlatives, this was a sterling performance by Ripon, who had to dig deep into reserves of discipline and integrity as the game unfolded and rely on skills, fitness and sheer determination to put months of squad training to good effect over the 80 odd minutes played. From humble and perhaps even shaky beginnings, this turned out to be an eight try extravaganza of team work, determination and making the most of possession. This was also Ripon’s highest scoring game of the season, with most tries scored in one game and the biggest points difference between teams. Had the ground conditions been more conducive to goal kicking, then the gap could have been even wider. Alas, despite the best efforts of Guy Watkinson, Tom Leeming and Harry Scurr, most attempts at goal narrowly failed. Two amongst the many positive and notable elements of the game were a “family hat-trick”, with Euan (2) and Callum (1) Findlay adding three tries to the scoreboard and young Matty Taylor adding a brace of tries as a reward for his pace and strength in attack.
This week saw a largely unchanged side, with a few positional tweaks and some experimentation with the youth and experience balance. Opting to reserve the playing experience of Scurr and Britton on the bench for introduction later on, Ripon set out to establish a pacey start to the game and utilise the successful products of the Academy system, by selecting “Wills” Smith and Pritchard in the starting line-up. The bench was further shored up by the selection of the legendary Owen Drane to introduce his leadership and flair at Half Back, as and when required.
The pack looked in good shape with Euan Findlay taking the Number 8 berth and faith committed in the dogged front row partnership of Newcombe, Greenwood and Dalby. Sounding rather like a firm of Victorian accountants, they defied the nomenclature however and played superbly throughout the game, leading by example in the loose and establishing a solid and effective set piece. Elsewhere in the pack, Pritchard partnered Skipper Barker in the engine room and Smith joined Matty “Boots” Taylor on the flanks.
In the backs, Rob Harrison re-occupied the Full Back position and powerhouse Tom Graham switched from Centre to an experimental outing in his schoolboy position of Scrum Half. Dom Butler relished the prospect of playing in outer space at Outside Centre and had the privilege of doubling up as front row replacement. Whilst a more than adequate Hooker and Flanker, thankfully Dom wasn’t called upon to do anything more than his selected role.
In mild, but dank surroundings and with a very heavy playing surface, this was yet another game of two halves, with both sides testing each-others’ strengths and weaknesses in the first session and a completely different performance from Ripon that simply blew the opposition away in the second.
Ripon received the initial kick off and through Smith and Pritchard (Who both showed immense maturity and resilience throughout the game) started to make some incremental progress up-field. Playing through phases of tight possession, the Blues racked up the yards and after five minutes an unnecessary offence of kicking the ball out of Tom Graham’s hands from the base of a ruck, gave Guy Watkinson his first attempt at a penalty goal, which he converted with ease to put Ripon 3 – 0 ahead.
The reception of restarts has been problematic for Ripon this season however this one went well, with Barker catching and burrowing into the oncoming chasers. Unfortunately, the Ripon back line were deemed offside at the breakdown, though still in possession and the visitors were awarded their first penalty after seven minutes. Vandals opted for the kick to touch and the perfectly executed line out catch and drive wrong footed the defence to push the visitors into the lead at eight minutes with a converted try 3 – 7.
Restarting in earnest, Ripon took play back to the opposition, using short order driving play and the likes of Newcombe and Barker playing dominant roles in making progress. At 14 minutes after a visitors’ off side decision, Ripon kicked for touch and effected a quick play from the line out to release Dalby and both Findlays into the action before Matty Taylor fought his way over in the corner to take the lead to 10 - 7 with a try converted by Watkinson.
From the next restart, both sides looked to bludgeon their way through short order play and virtually ground the game to a standstill. Against the run of play, Vandals in a rare encounter into the home half were awarded a penalty at 22 minutes, which was finely struck to even the scores at 10 – 10.
Unusually, through somewhat lenient refereeing, it was 32 minutes before the first scrum of the game was necessary. Ripon, given the first put in, sought to make yards through Euan Findlay. A penalty for off side saw Euan tap and take on the attack to the opposition goal line. Being held up, Ripon were offered the 5 metre scrum put in, but a miscommunication saw Vandals successfully striking against the put in. Having successfully cleared their lines, the visitors sought to press home their attack, but through a handling error, offered Ripon their third scrum put in within 10 minutes. Approaching half time and desperately wanting to gain an advantage in the scrum and the game, Ripon held firm and from the base Euan Findlay launched himself again at the opposition. Covering some 30 metres and bouncing through three attempted tackles, Euan dramatically broke the deadlock with the first of his two tries. Watkinson narrowly missed the conversion, but that settled the score at the end of the first half at 15 – 10.
Playing with the wind, down the slope and with what posed as sunshine at their backs, Ripon launched into a second half that saw home dominance, excellent team work and some spectacular individual performances. If there was any criticism to be levelled, it was at the lack of responsiveness to refereeing interpretations, particularly around when a line out finishes. Ripon will surely learn from that and take suitable advantage of options offered in future.
Ripon kicked off the second half and saw Vandals try to build up some phases. A turnover by Euan saw him break swiftly to feed brother Callum, before Matty Taylor was on hand to drag the defenders over the line for his second try with three minutes of the half played. With Watkinson replaced through injury by Scurr, Tom Leeming took up kicking duties and was narrowly wide with the conversion attempt, but the score line at 20 – 10 was moving in the right direction.
After a further five minutes and using both scrums and line outs to good effect, Ripon again built up phases through Newcombe, Greenwood and Dalby, crashing on and soaking up defenders. Play continued through phases and then opened up towards the left wing with Euan and then Dalby stampeding over open ground before releasing 17 year old Will Pritchard for his debut adult try in the corner. Leeming was just short on the conversion, but again, the scoreboard ticked up to a more favourable 25 – 10.
Immediately from the restart, Barker received the kick to gallop up-field before feeding Graham, who chipped ahead for Callum Findlay to chase. Regathering superbly, Callum unselfishly fed brother Euan to release him for his second try to take the score to 30 – 0. Leeming’s attempt was tantalisingly close on this occasion, but no cigar.
After a somewhat static period of play in which everyone regathered their breath, Ripon again launched an attack through phases. Exploiting a gap with one of his classically timed and angled insertions, Dom Butler stood the opposition still, to run in the Blues’ sixth try, this time ably converted by Leeming to take the score to 37 – 10.
With 15 minutes to go and both Scurr and Britton coming off the bench to make their mark, it was time to release Owen Drane on the unsuspecting opposition. Bringing a dimension of mastery at the breakdown and organisation in both defence and attack, Drane showed he is still a valuable asset to the club in any team and long may he continue to be so.
Thus the final ten minutes of the game were dominated by Ripon exploiting the set piece, exploiting the reduction of opposition players through yellow cards and the increasing frustration of the referee with the critical comments from the visitors. From a scrum in the home half at 74 minutes, Euan broke for a typical 30 metre run before offloading to Callum for his first and the family’s third try of the day. Leeming had outdone his luck by this point and narrowly missed the conversion to restrict the score to 42 – 10.
In a final flourish, the visitors caved under pressure again to a driving move up the left touchline that saw Dom Dalby crash over from five metres to score Ripon’s eighth and final try. Despite the fresh boots of Scurr, the conversion attempt went begging, but left the score a very creditable 47 – 10. An emphatic win for Ripon and much needed league points at this stage of the season. This was a sad loss for and commiserations to Halifax Vandals, for a game performance throughout, but not enough to secure a future in Yorkshire Two. We wish them the best of luck in the new season and hope that their aspirations of greater success are achieved.
Next Saturday, Ripon travel to Pontefract again for their third encounter of the season, having lost the previous two fixtures, but putting in sterling performances along the way. Already promoted Pontefract will be a force to be reckoned with, but with a new found energy and well performing set piece for Ripon, the scene is set for a mouth-watering match. Hopefully an up-turn in the weather might attract a good turn out from the Ripon faithful. All support will be very welcome to spur The Blues on to another winning performance. Kick off is at 3.00pm.