1st XV Match Report - Saturday 20th October
By Becky Naylor
MATCH REPORT by BOB CHAMPION
As the Indian Summer rolled on, yet another fine day provided the backdrop for Ripon’s trip down the A1 to Doncaster to take on recently relegated Wheatley Hills, in the first fixture against this side in many years. Thankfully a windless afternoon and a smallish, dry pitch provided a setting for a potentially entertaining game. What followed didn’t fail to deliver to Ripon’s expectations.
With two wins under their belt, Ripon were confident in their ability to score tries and given sufficient possession, score enough to win. Another seven changes, four in personnel and three positional, saw the Blues showing flexibility and adaptability. Back on the two Wings were Buckley and Callum Findlay; Rob Nicholson re-joined the pack at Hooker and Tom Leeming returned to the fray on the bench. Ringing the changes, Butler ping-ponged his way back into the Centre, Seal added experience at 10 and Audsley-Beck stepped into the vacancy at Scrum Half created by Mainey’s absence.
The rest of the pack remained the same to build on the strength of an improving set piece and an increasingly effective back row partnership. In a sterling team performance it is difficult to single out any individuals, but in the pack, Taylor and Euan Findlay were omnipresent and Smith carried hard to gain two tries for his efforts. Skipper Barker led from the front in all phases and Plant put in a solid shift in both defence and attack. The Ripon back line saw plenty of possession and made much of the creative options open to them. Graham and Butler dominated the midfield and the two Wings made many yards in attack and were rock solid in defence. At Full Back, youngster Ollie Williams joined the line at pace and kicked intelligently out of defence.
The hosts fielded a much vaunted pack, but they never seemed to gain any particular advantage from their strength in that department. In fact even with a succession of five metre scrums, the hosts only managed to cross Ripon’s line once and that wasn’t from a scrum. They did also have an effective line out, but again their attacking shape and strategy was one dimensional and easily defended.
Ripon opted to receive the initial kick off and Barker did well to take the catch after the ball hanging seemingly ages in the air and with several chasers around him. Once secured, Audsley-Beck sought to relieve the pressure with a clearance kick. Unfortunately the home Number 8 was up quickly enough to charge down and chase the ball over the Ripon line to open the scoring with less than 30 seconds on the clock. The mighty conversion attempt from the touchline was successful and being 7 – 0 down within a minute, gave the Blues a big wake up call.
From the restart, Ripon attacked again only to lose possession in the tackle. The attempted break out by the hosts stuttered when Nicholson intercepted, but again that attack broke down. A Ripon penalty gave a further opportunity to gain territorial advantage, but the kick narrowly missed touch allowing Wheatley Hills to kick back. This time, Audsley-Beck returned with interest and released Butler on the rampage. After the next breakdown the hosts cleared to allow Ripon their first line out put in. The quick release saw Butler make the break and then taking the offload, Tom Graham smashed his was through three defenders to open the scoring for the Blues. Williams just fell short with the conversion attempt, but left the visitors feeling more comfortable at 7 – 5 after 10 minutes.
Ripon then slowly started to gain composure and build momentum and shape to their game, with alternate close and wide attacks, using bulk and pace in equal measures. The hosts however, just sought to batter their way through route one, even though it wasn’t paying any dividends. At 17 minutes a Ripon line out saw an effective catch and drive for 10 metres before Nicholson broke free to release Slator towards the home line. Play broke down and Ripon recycled at pace across to the left, where the final and inevitably try scoring pass was deliberately knocked on by a defender. The perpetrator was sin-binned for ten minutes and Ripon took the penalty touch kick. From the line out Ripon handled right and then switched back left through strong running from Pritchard. Ben Buckley was on hand to take the second scoring pass in two minutes and with no interference from the defence, touched down for Ripon’s second try and after Williams’ successful conversion, pushed the visitors ahead to 7 – 12.
After a further 5 minutes, more questions were asked of the home defence from an incisive break between Nicholson and Barker, but a hastily scrambled recovery prevented a further score for the time being. Hefting the ball back into the Ripon 22, an attempted quick throw in resulted in a slight miscommunication between Buckley and Williams and an unfortunate knock on. At the half hour mark, Wheatley Hills packed down in earnest with the visitors’ line clearly in sight. Try as they might and with two penalties against Ripon and three scrum attempts, despite their considerable bulk, the hosts just couldn’t cross the Ripon line. A sincere test of everyone’s resolve and credit went to Ripon when the referee adjudged an early push in the third scrum from the hosts and Ripon got out of jail with a free kick. Quick thinking at half back saw Euan released up the middle and scythe his way through the defence. Buckley was on hand to carry on the attack. Cruelly slashed down by another high tackle, Buckley’s third scoring pass was prematurely foiled. Opting for the penalty touch kick again the Ripon line out machine worked faultlessly to allow Seal to make the break to the right. A miss move saw Graham take the ball out wide before feeding back inside to Barker. At the next tackle, Will Smith was on hand to drive the attack home for Ripon’s third try. Williams was unlucky with the conversion attempt but the score line at 7 – 17 gave Ripon some comfort heading towards the break.
The final 10 minutes saw a brief foray from the hosts with a penalty touch kick deep into the visitors’ half. From their line out Wheatley worked three phases before Tom Graham stripped possession from his opposite number and whacked the ball up-field to safety. Ripon saw out the half with the upper hand and despite a slick break from Williams, were unable to add to the score.
The second half saw Wolloms replace Slator at Prop, Payne in for Pritchard, Nicholson moving to Flanker and Leeming on for Callum. Ripon aggressively attacked their restart kick and effectively regained possession through Pritchard and Smith. Thus the scene was set for a further display of cohesive teamwork from an increasingly confident Ripon.
After 50 minutes, the Blues pressed from a line out and through the backs reached the home 5 metre line. After a couple of short order bashes, the defence held firm and then Jordan Payne pounced on a loose ball at the base of a ruck and was too quick to be seen by anyone let alone get tackled, to score Ripon’s fourth. The usually confident Williams just couldn’t get into his kicking stride and Ripon settled for the incremental creep up the scoreboard to 7 – 22 and Ripon’s four try bonus point. Another chance to increase the gap came after just 5 minutes, but Buckley and Findlay were adjudged to have illegally crossed. No harm in trying.
Undaunted and despite an increasingly weakening scrum, which the hosts failed to take advantage of, Ripon continued to press home further attacks with more precision. At 60 minutes, from another clean line out take from Taylor, Smith cropped up twice in the move, which involved Seal and Butler and evaded the defence’s attentions to finish strongly for his second try. Williams made no mistake of the conversion to take the score to a creditable 7 – 29.
Apart from a momentary surge, Wheatley Hills were resigned to defending strongly for the final few minutes and deny Ripon any further scores. Overall however, a solid team performance from Ripon, who kept the penalty count down well and didn’t overreact to provocation, despite some unsavoury incidents and dubious on and off the ball challenges.
Next Saturday Ripon continue the Yorkshire Division Two action and travel to Settle to take on also newly relegated North Ribblesdale. Showing consistently good form so far this season, the hosts will be looking to boost their chances of reinstatement to higher levels and Ripon will clearly be keen to continue with their pacey and creative style of play to increase their league standing. This will be the last 3.00pm kick off for this year; all travelling supporters welcome as usual to get behind Ripon and cheer them on. If ever there was a place to go on a bus trip?