1st XV Match Report - Saturday 14th April
MATCH REPORT by BOB CHAMPION
This game marked a turning point in many respects. A change in the weather, which despite a heavy pitch, offered a warm and spring-like chance for Ripon to continue to grow their green shoots of recovery to end a difficult season on a very positive note. A change in the maturity of the squad to accommodate more changes in personnel and still gel together into a match winning team. A change in the off-pitch support (Unintentional) that improved resilience and confidence in personal pre-match preparation and on-pitch recovery from injuries.
Already promoted Pontefract were undoubtedly the pundits’ favourites, but this Ripon squad dug deep into their values of ambition, courage and belief and turned in a monumental five try victory that was a solid gold performance from start to finish and gained valuable league points. The hosts played a strong part in the game of course and in scoring three tries, the game was never going to be out of sight either way. Ripon however, showed a calmness under pressure, superb discipline and solid control over all phases of the game, worthy of sides far higher up the division hierarchy.
A shame that the travelling Ripon faithful couldn’t make this trip and a shame that so many deeds on the day went unwitnessed, but such is life at the lower end of Yorkshire Two, that any support is good support. Talking of which, the finest support of the day went to the entire population of the Pontefract “West Stand”, who rose to their feet as one, to applaud Euan Findlay’s second try, which was a perfect example of a classic one – two move from the base of a scrum. Priceless stuff and much to talk about afterwards.
Opting graciously to travel with a 17 man squad so as not to deplete the 2nd XV, the Blues travelled with some minor changes, personnel and positional. The back line retained Harrison at Full Back and returned Seal and Butler to the Centre partnership. The “experimental” half back partnership of Tom Graham at 9 and Harry Scurr at 10 added much talent as well as brawn to the mix and James Audsley-Beck returned to add pace from the bench.
In the pack, the front five remained as usual, with the return of Rob Nicholson at Blind Side and influential Player-Coach Tom Gilchrist adding his wisdom on the bench. Congratulations to last week’s two U18 year olds, the two “Wills” on being fielded by Yorkshire Carnegie Academy and thus absent this week. We look forward to hearing of their exploits and them returning to the Ripon fold to continue to improve the squad.
Overall, the game went very much Ripon’s way and despite being behind for a while, the bounce of the ball and the application of belief to contestable situations, saw the Blues deliver one of, if not the stand out performance of the season. With a rock solid set piece and half backs capable of making much of the abundance of possession, the scene was set for a mighty challenge. The hosts, already promoted and awaiting their Yorkshire Silver Trophy final appearance, may have rested a couple of players, but still looked a force to be reckoned with.
Ripon kicked off with a bomb from Scurr. The scrambled reception resulted in a poorly executed clearance kick, which Dalby gathered and set up a counter attack. Graham picked from the base of the ruck only to get isolated and penalised for holding on. Ponte cleared well and then the next 15 minutes saw evenly matched play, with Ripon testing the defence with breaks from Callum Findlay, Harrison and huge kicks from Scurr.
The hosts seemed to lack penetration initially and their tactic of passing deep early to press out wide, was not yielding results as the Ripon back row smashed everything in their paths. Fortunes changed for Ripon however at 17 minutes, when after a Ripon indiscretion at a scrum, the hosts exploited penalty advantage to attack narrowly and at pace to score a converted try between the posts to open the score at 7 – 0.
Ripon attacked the restart reception through Nicholson and Newcombe and the team steadily built up phases into the home 22 metre area. Nearing the end of the first quarter, the visitors pressed as close as the home goal line and at one point crossed through Graham, who was unfortunately held up. The five metre scrum ended in a mix up which allowed the hosts to clear their lines, but Ripon were soon on the offensive again. At just over the half hour mark, the Blues were again in the ascendency and pressing towards the home line. Good work through Dalby and Newcombe saw a chance to open up the defence. Going open, Euan Findlay smashed through the defenders to open the Ripon scoring out on the left wing. The conversion attempt by Tom Leeming was close, but not quite and just enough to close the gap at 7 – 5.
Nearing the end of the half, things just seemed to click for Ripon. Quick ball from set pieces and breakdowns saw Graham and Scurr going alone, making plays or kicking ahead with dramatic effects. With ball in hand, Seal and Butler made savage intrusions and were solid in defence. Leeming and Callum Findlay both played critical parts in joining attacks and countering, while the Mercurial Harrison made a positive impact wherever he appeared. The line outs were dominated by Britton and Taylor and Findlay reigned supreme from the base of the scrum.
At 36 minutes, Ripon kicked a penalty to touch and opted for quick ball from the line out. After three breakdown phases, play came back to the right and Callum Findlay burst forward to selflessly feed Matty Taylor for the Blues’ second try. Seal stepped up for the conversion attempt, but hooked it slightly to leave the score at 7 – 10. The final few minutes of the half saw Ripon develop even more cohesion and introduce a level of frustration in the hosts that saw a yellow card handed out to them for repeated offences in trying to slow down the Ripon breakdown activities. With a half time score of 7 – 10, Ripon looked and felt in good form and aimed to increase the lead and avenge the two previous losses at the hands of the hosts this season.
Ponte kicked off the second half and against the run of play, some confusion in the Ripon ranks allowed the hosts to repossess the ball and work themselves into a position to score a further converted try at four minutes to take the score to 14 – 10. Swiftly capitalising on the advantage, Pontefract went into top gear from the next restart and launched numerous attacks to damaging effect. After a try saving tackle by Callum, Ripon’s defensive line out didn’t go as planned and so the hosts were gifted with a five metre scrum. Launching a rapid attack to the opposite touch, the ensuing try flat footed the Ripon defence and with the conversion, took the score to a worrying 21 – 10.
Undeterred, Ripon faced up to the restart and then took the final quarter of the game to another level of perseverance, luck, skill, judgement and sheer class. At almost 60 minutes, Ripon’s scrum on the home 10 metre line looked like a pretty innocuous attacking position. However, Euan launched himself from the base to cover some 20 metres before feeding Tom Graham to beat the opposition Left Wing, before passing back to Euan to step the Full Back and run in his second and Ripon’s third try under the posts. Seal made no mistake of the conversion to edge the score up to 21 – 17.
What followed next was pure brilliance and rarely seen in contests at this level. The hosts’ restart found the open arms of Tom Leeming, who simply scythed his way through the defence until faced with an open field. Deftly hacking the ball on to beat the Full Back, Leeming touched down for Ripon’s fourth try, within less than two minutes of the last. Seal again stepped up for the conversion to nudge Ripon into the lead again at 21 - 24.
In a virtual repeat of the previous restart reception. Leeming again set off with ball in hand. Stopped this time, play was quickly recycled left through Scurr to Seal, who unleashed Butler again to make some 30 metres. On hand to finish of the move was again the omnipotent Euan Findlay, who screamed in for his hat trick and fifth try in two games. Seal again banged over the conversion to take the score to a very creditable 21 – 31.
The final few minutes of the game saw some lively encounters from both sides, but none that worried Ripon into considering that they might lose control of the game or the lead. Solid performances all round and great team work were on show in this game and evidence that Ripon are capable of achieving much more in their league status.
Next Saturday, Ripon entertain Yorkshire Silver Trophy Finalists Thornensians, in what promises to be a lively encounter. A solid and uncompromising side, Thornensians will be a force to be reckoned with, but with two wins under their belt Ripon will be looking to build on their strengths for another win. Hopefully a continuation of the decent 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.