1st XV Match Report - Saturday 28th April
MATCH REPORT by BOB CHAMPION
In not so “spring-like” weather, Ripon played out their last home and league game in front of a sizeable crowd, swelled by the ranks of the Wath “Massive”. The vagaries of the Northern Competitions Committee saw this fixture as more important than Ripon’s still awaited game against West Park Leeds, and more influential on the final placings of clubs in Yorkshire Division Two. The fact that Wath were due to play in the Silver Shield final at Twickenham and neither Ripon, nor West Park Leeds had anything to play for, made the playing of this fixture even more bizarre. A game is however a game and Ripon effectively closed down their season with a mighty six try exhibition of fluency and control of possession. The score-line did not do justice to Wath’s determination to make a game of it, but with Ripon’s control of most aspects of play, this was a good way for Ripon to end the season and move dramatically out of the relegation zone, into a solid mid-table position.
Ripon made a few minor tweaks to their consistently well performing squad and aimed for a fourth consecutive win for the first and last time in the season. The back line looked similar to usual, with James Audsley-Beck starting in place of the absent Tom Leeming and a long awaited debut at Full Back for Under 18 Academy player Oliver Williams, to bring his many and varied talents to the fray. Sticking with the recently tried and tested half back pairing of Tom Graham at 9 and Harry Scurr at 10, Ripon were sure of a bulky and emphatic interface between forwards and backs.
Scurr mastered the positional domination from the outset, with high bomb restarts and punishing territorial kicks. Graham, similarly used his boot to great effect with some fine box kicks. The only downside to Ripon’s kicking game was the lack of consistent follow up. Restarts were mastered perfectly, but some opportunities from positional kicking went begging due to lack of effective chasing.
Across the back division, Audsley-Beck got involved early on and made some good yards in attack and stepped in ably at scrum half as play progressed at a pace and whilst Graham was caught up in the “wet work. Scurr played a typical Number 8/Hooker game at 10 and used his considerable skill set to great advantage in controlling the game, both in attack and defence. In the Centres, the well-established partnership between Seal and Butler started off well, until Butler’s untimely departure with a leg injury posed some challenges. Callum Findlay put in his usual diligent shift on the Wing and showed great maturity in adapting to his seemingly established position. As well as showing great pace in attack, Callum’s “sleight of hand” and agility in the tackle area is becoming legendary. The final component of the back line was the long awaited debut of U18 Oliver Williams. Williams not only showed a coolness under pressure to kick five out of six conversions, but showed great intuition in his lines of support running, as well as a rock solid defensive display.
In the pack, the starting line-up differed from last week in the inclusion of Will Smith for the otherwise occupied Nicholson and with Gilchrist, Pritchard and Hassall Jnr on the bench, the options for a pacey game were wide open.
On the whole, the game went in accordance with Ripon’s plan. Wath, appearing in a cup final next week, naturally sought to rest a number of players, but also sought to test the mettle of would be travelling replacements. Thus, there was never going to be any love lost between the two sides, or a lack of commitment for a decent result. That certainly played out in the first half, which finished a not too comfortable 19 – 5 in The Blues’ favour.
Despite their considerable bulk up front, Wath were unable to stamp any real authority on the game. Their scrum creaked at times and Ripon were able to secure two balls against the head. The home line out worked very well and stole a fair amount of the opposition’s put in through Taylor and Britton and open play saw Ripon seeking to exploit every chance with players at pace and in numbers.
A down side to Ripon’s performance and similar to last week, but worse, was the concession of 19 penalties, when in more recent weeks, this has been restricted to single figures. Unforced indiscipline cost the team dearly and with two players yellow carded for repeat offences, there is a massive lesson for Ripon to learn. There will be sides that Ripon comes up against that play with similar passion and will play the referee to the edge of their compliance with the laws, but Ripon also need to acknowledge that repeated indiscretions lose players and points.
In front of an unexpectedly large crowd (no disrespect intended to Wath), Ripon kicked off with a high altitude strike from Scurr. Despite putting intense pressure on the reception and subsequent attempts by Wath to break out of defence, Ripon just got into the habit of giving away needless penalties. Wath did seek to exploit their bulk early on through myriad pick and goes, but Ripon defended resolutely, so many of the penalties were unnecessary.
The first few minutes of the game were thus occupied by slabs of Rotherham’s finest beef, offering themselves up to the local butchers. An opportunity for a penalty goal for Wath was missed at 7 minutes and so it looked like any scoring would be a long way off. After 15 minutes however, Ripon strung together a couple of phases from a scrum, that saw Sam Britton wrong-foot the opposition to slice in for the opening try, converted by Williams.
The next 10 minutes saw much in the way of creative work from Ripon, initiated mostly from the solid first phase platform of the rock like scrum and athletic line out. In the pack, Greenwood stood out again for his work rate in and out of the scrums, Skipper Barker leading inspirationally from restarts and perhaps the greatest unsung hero, Sam Britton, for his dogged and workmanlike performance in the second row, as well as his two well-deserved tries. The Back Row of Smith, Taylor and Findlay were something else apart. The pace, skill, aggression and sheer commitment of these three were quite remarkable and long may they continue to play a driving force in the club’s forward journey.
Not wanting to miss anyone out, Dalby and Newcombe did magnificently in their scrummaging and line out work, as well as the tough close order tackling and hard yards running.
During the remainder of the first quarter, Ripon’s back gained in confidence and many moves saw Audsley-Beck and Williams linking well from centre breaks and Findlay joining in attack as well as stifling any counters.
The Blues’ efforts continued positively at around 25 minutes and from a close encounter on the visitors’ line, Ripon were awarded a 5 metre scrum put in. From the attempted back row move, three breakdowns ensued, which through effective retention, gifted Harry Scurr with the opportunity to plunge over for Ripon’s second try. Williams added the conversion to take the score to 14 – 0.
Soon after the restart, Ripon’s defensive discipline deteriorated and was compounded by the loss of Britton to a Yellow Card at the half hour mark. Pouncing on the advantage, Wath exploited the overlap to run in a quick try on the right wing, which remained unconverted.
In the dying minutes of the first half, Ripon stepped up their game and the pressure and came close to crossing the visitors’ line on two or three occasions. With successive penalties, Ripon kicked to touch and despite a fine catch and drive from the first line out, the line wasn’t crossed successfully. Conceding another penalty, Wath gave Ripon another penalty touch kick and line out put in. This time the catch and drive was executed perfectly enough for Euan Findlay to spin off from the maul to score his sixth try in three games. Williams narrowly missed the conversion attempt to leave the half time score at 19 - 5 to Ripon.
At half time, there were no stern words in the Ripon camp, just encouragement to do more of the same. So Ripon started the second half with an intent to build on power in the set piece and fluidity in open play. Wath however, turned the screw effectively enough to force Ripon into a succession of needless penalties. After 12 minutes of the half played, Wath exploited Ripon’s disarray at a penalty to take a driving maul over the Ripon line for their second try and with the conversion, took the score to 19 – 12.
Shortly after this score, Ripon’s defence looked like it was going into meltdown, with penalties being offered at will. Fortunately some order was restored to proceedings at the end of the third quarter by an act of sheer brilliance. Wath had crossed the home line, but were held up and offered the put in to a five metre scrum. Ripon were gaining the ascendancy in the set piece by this time and so when some indecision between the visitor’s Number 8 and Scrum Half offered an opportunity, 17 year old Flanker Will Smith seized it. After dispatching his opposite number with quite the most “adult” of hand-offs, Smith took up the ball and outstripped the defence to complete a sprint of the full pitch to touch down under the posts. A memorable moment for Smith and family and long to remain in the memories of the touchline faithful, who cheered him on to success. Williams slotted the conversion with ease to take the score to 26 – 12.
The final quarter of the game was taken up with Ripon trying to experiment with confidence and Wath doing their best to limit the damage. A further exciting moment came to Ripon at 30 minutes, when the home side were offered a penalty in the visitor’s 22 metre area. Skipper Barker opted for the kick to touch and the ensuing line out saw a perfectly executed “front peel” (For the old school boys), that saw him take the offloaded ball on the charge in the 5 metre area and crash over for the Blues’ fifth try, magnificently converted from the touchline by Williams.
On a roll now, Ripon responded dramatically from the restart with Barker catching and taking the ball into the heart of the opposition. Newcombe carried on the attack, before bringing Barker back into the action. Effective retention helped and from the next breakdown, Dom Dalby stepped up to crash through the opposition to make a further 30 metres before unselfishly offloading to ever-present Sam Britton to cross for his second and Ripon’s sixth try of the game. Williams’ conversion attempt was faultless to conclude the scoring at 40 – 12. A great final flourish at the end of the season and a great testament to the Ripon Academy structure that supports the development of talented players and integrates them successfully into the adult game with great effect.
That concludes Ripon’s playing season in Yorkshire Division Two. This was a solid win against a solid side. We wish Wath a happy and positive experience at Twickenham in another demonstration of the power of Yorkshire Rugby. Despite not playing the last game versus West Park Leeds, Ripon’s season now closes with a decent mid-table placing and much to look forward to for next season. With the likely promotion of such nearby clubs at Northallerton and Old Otliensians, the away games will be more forgiving and the chances of more friendships being developed becomes a reality. There is a last call for interest in the Club Dinner, to be held on Friday 4th May at the Clubhouse from 7.00pm. If you haven’t booked tickets already, please do so through team captains.
My parting note is that this has been a difficult season for a number of reasons, but we have ended up in a decent position and long may our aspiration to continuously improve achieve realization. Until September…