1st XV Match Report - Saturday 15th September
MATCH REPORT by BOB CHAMPION
Continuing in a similar vein to the last two weeks, Ripon failed to close down a game that was there for the taking. Unlike the previous two weeks’ performances however, the Blues started at pace and contained the game well throughout the first half. Unfortunately through a combination of injuries, some wrong options, a weakening scrum and at times; sheer bad luck, there was no second half resurgence. Nor was there a narrow score-line, nor critically the chance to earn a losing bonus point, reducing Ripon to an unenviable league position at second from bottom.
Perhaps the opposition: newly promoted and Twickenham visitors Old Otliensians were not given sufficient respect, but with unavailable squad players running into double figures, options were fast running out for Ripon; revealing a lack of strength in depth for tight forwards. In a game that matched two sides without a win to date, either a close fought duel would ensue, or a rout could happen. Not exactly a rout, by Ripon suffered a six try to one defeat and notwithstanding obvious challenges at the scrum, conceded far too many unnecessary penalties and relied too much on individual efforts rather than a cohesive team performance.
Those individuals, notably the likes of Newcombe and Barker in the first half and Graham and Sykes in the second, put their bodies on the line in making the hard yards, often appearing more than once in plays and attempting to grind the opposition down. The second half yardage gained by Graham in particular was memorable both for his sheer strength and aggression, as well the inability of the rest of the team to support him in sufficient numbers to finish the plays. Taylor Jnr excelled in the line out and created some excellent openings, as did Ranson, who competed well and gained confidence when carrying. Jack Newby tackled like a demon throughout and worked tirelessly to stop the close order work attempted by the hosts.
In the backs, Mainey delivered consistently and Hassall looked to vary his options, with a good passing game and some intelligent kicks. Perhaps the Centre pairing this week didn’t get the usual chance to shine, but restricted to a predominantly defensive role, there was little chance to develop plays. That said however, with ball in hand, both Butler and Davies, carried well and crossed the gain line with gusto. Seal added maturity and safety at Full Back, but was for much of the game, quite far removed from exerting his knowledge and experience on his younger team mates.
Ripon’s youth development policy came to the fore again this week, with an exciting half back pairing of Hamish Mainey and Archie Hassall. Both keen to show their skills and sheer guts on the adult stage, turned in mature performances and never gave up. Making up the trio of Under 18s was Richard Castle-Ward, making his debut on the Wing. Other changes in the backs included the re-introduction of Ollie Davies at Centre and a welcome return to Craig Sykes starting on the bench.
The pack had a minor re-shuffle with Jordan Payne starting in his preferred Hooker berth, Josh Ranson making his first starting line-up and a return for influential back rower, Euan Findlay. Completing the bench were Tom Graham returning from a pre-season injury and the quintessential Craig Wolloms, ever able to do a sterling job wherever selected.
The afternoon remained dry, if a little cool and breezy and the stunning backdrop of Pool Bank added a certain majesty to the proceedings. The hosts may be a relatively small club and with a relatively young history, but their obvious success in recent league and cup competitions, has given them an edge that many other clubs might wish to take note of. The pre-match hospitality and half time oranges were straight out of the “old school” rule book, as was the offer of a post-match cup of tea. Priceless!
Oh yes, there was a game. Ripon opted to kick with the wind on a perfectly flat pitch and so try to gain as much advantage of the conditions as possible. Ironically the wind dropped measurably during the first half and so any additional yardage gained from kicking was soon snuffed out. That said, the initial kick off was slightly over-egged by Seal and so bounced into touch in the home 22 area. The home throw in was gratefully received by Matt Taylor, who fed the quick ball off the top. Unfortunately the Blues back line was prepared for a defensive break out and so when the ball came hurtling their way, a knock on occurred. The referee at this point gave Ripon perhaps their only lifeline of the game and awarded a penalty to the hosts for off side, rather than the scrum.
From the following touch kick, Ripon again snaffled the line out through Taylor and released quick ball to the right. From Davies’ short pass Butler crashed through to take the contact. The following ruck just seemed to peel apart and gifted the quick thinking Josh Seal to run through the middle, pick up the ball and scamper between the posts completely unopposed. Seal added the conversion to his try to register Ripon’s seven and only points of the day. With three minutes played and with no significant home line out, Ripon could be forgiven for assuming some complacency. Oh and then there was the scrum. Ripon initially held their own and actually gave the hosts a hard time on their put in. That progressively changed however, with the later loss of Payne and Slator. However, what then ensued was a hard fought battle for the next 35 minutes, with the hosts retaliating with a converted try at 15 minutes to level the scores.
Both sides tested each other close in and out wide. The hosts developed an edge at the scrum and the visitors at the line out. Management of the breakdown was pretty even, though the penalty count against Ripon in the first half for breakdown offences seemed rather harsh. Ripon’s next real chance to get into the danger zone and score, came at 35 minutes and resulted in a narrowly missed penalty attempt by Seal. From the drop out restart, Ripon attacked again and unfortunately play broke down due to a knock on. Well into injury time the hosts were offered a scrum that saw them attack quickly out wide to the left. Slick handling by the hosts and poor tackling by Ripon let in the home Full Back for their second try. The conversion added insult to injury and left Ripon trailing 14 – 7 at the end of a 50 minute first half.
The second half saw the hosts kick off with a cunningly contrived fresh wind at their backs and it was clear that they aimed to try to dominate territorially. That they did and of the three or so ventures into the home half, Ripon never looked like scoring and as team play disintegrated throughout the half, more scores by the hosts were inevitable.
High points for Ripon in the second period were that they restricted the opposition scoring to four tries, but more commitment to tackling might have reduced that more and not gifting possession from lost scrums would have made a huge difference.
The lowest point for Ripon was perhaps the resorting to uncontested scrums, having lost Slator and Payne and hoping that restoring the equilibrium in that area might give them an advantage through their quicker back row. However, with the need to reduce the team to 14 players and despite a yellow card respite offered by the opposition, the Blues didn’t manage to achieve anything like a scoring position.
Old Otliensians did what they set out to do. They built a strong scrum platform and forsook their line out, but they also played cohesively as a team for 80 minutes, supported each other and always seemed to give every player options. Ripon however, showed great commitment individually and loads of talent, but when not translated into a team performance had little impact on the outcome of the game.
Despite a final flurry of activity from Ripon, the hosts’ organisation and commitment kept the threat at bay and gave them a comfortable final score to 38 – 7.
Key points of learning for Ripon include: Squad training, consistent commitment to tackling and consistent commitment to availability from senior players, particularly tight forwards.
Next week Ripon Entertain Wath Upon Dearne, in what promises to be another test up front and a challenge to the Blues to optimise their possession and capitalise on scoring opportunities. Kick off 3.00pm and all supporters welcome to get behind Ripon and cheer them on to winning ways.