1st XV Match Report - Saturday 17th November
MATCH REPORT by BOB CHAMPION
In previous seasons, this would almost always be considered a relegation zone decider for both sides, but on this occasion, with the hosts clearly ensconced in the upper half of the table; this was Ripon’s battle from the outset.
With “Leos” on the up and apparently a relatively settled squad from a seemingly successful youth policy, not to mention being able to consistently field three teams, Ripon were going to be fighting against the odds again. The recent performances for the Blues have managed to sustain ambition, courage and belief in the squad, but enforced personnel changes, due to injuries and unavailability continue to take their toll. No club at this level seeks to experiment at this time of the season, unless of course they are home and dry. Ripon however, as a community club, relies heavily on the availability of squad players from schools, colleges, universities, armed and unarmed forces; as well as a host of other backgrounds. The club aims to provide Rugby for all and the success of the age grade and Academy system speaks volumes. The key challenge is converting all of that effort into maintaining an appropriate standing in the adult league system. And of course, creating an environment that attracts mature players to continue to commit to making themselves available to play in aspiration of the club’s success.
This week saw an unprecedented 11 changes to the squad overall, with five positional changes, three of which were this season’s recalls, two outings for previous squad members and a baptism of fire for Colt Evan Rees. Continually churning though the membership list reminds selectors of the current strength in depth of the club, but is also a grim reminder of the limited resource pool that strength is drawn from and the increasing reliance on younger, rather than older players.
Positional changes included Hassall Jnr returning from Full Back to Lock; Tom Graham slipping out from Centre to Wing; Rob Nicholson re-finding his comfort zone in the pack at Flanker (later Hooker), from Centre; Newcombe dropping from Hooker to Lock and Payne starting at Hooker. Such versatility is testament to the willingness of each and every squad member to make a positive contribution to games, wherever placed, as well as testament to the coaching team to instil skills and inspire confidence.
New additions to the squad came in the guise of Seal returning at Full Back, Tom Leeming returning to the Wing and Dom Butler returning to add some guile in the Centres. Beefing up the midfield was local Veterinary Spilman, who added volumes in maturity and experience, not to mention ferocious tackling and carrying throughout his first appearance in many months.
Completing the squad were debutante first teamer Evan Rees, hoping to continue Wales’ recent good fortune on the pitch by setting the back line alight; Will Champion, recalled after a couple of years in the wilderness, to add some bulk to the go forward effort and old colonial cousin Nick Perez to introduce some interesting cross-code antics that entertained immensely, as well as some sheer hard graft.
Credit also must be offered at this point to the multitude of Ripon faithful spectators, who made the short hop to Crag Lane. As the result suggested, Ripon were close, but no cigar; but the performance was no reflection on the passion and encouragement of the visiting support, who outnumbered the hosts considerably, for which the team were very grateful.
In summary, this was another classic Ripon game of two halves, in which the hosts bossed the first and the visitors ran away with the second. Consistency of application for 80 minutes remains a challenge for Ripon, as does consistency of availability of players. There is much potential in this squad and the club as a whole, all that is needed is a few weeks of the same players playing together and the results will roll in.
In very still, but dull and dank conditions, Leos kicked off and against recent form, messed up to Ripon’s advantage. It was not without some trepidation that Ripon packed down to a scrum within the first minute against an opposition front row that looked monstrous in comparison to the Blues’ front three. No dramas occurred and from the ensuing plays, Ripon managed five phases before conceding a knock on.
The early exchanges were evenly matched after that. Ripon’s pressure on the home scrum was evident and for once in a blue moon, this was an advantage to the visitors. The personnel in the pack changed significantly during the game, but what didn’t change, was Ripon’s dominance of that set piece. The resolve of Props Plant and Slator held firm throughout and Payne, then Nicholson, held the line at Hooker; to show that training and sheer determination can provide success at the set piece.
Unfortunately the same was not true at the line out. Ripon struggled throughout the game to win their own ball, let alone compete effectively against the opposition.
The first half went largely the way of the hosts, in that they scored a converted and unconverted try to lead at half time 12 – 0.
The score however, belied the intense efforts throughout the team to play their hearts out. A huge credit must go to Ripon’s defensive efforts, which whilst there could have been more than two tries, there weren’t. Massive in defence were Nicholson, Spilman and Butler, who smashed down the opposition and looked to turnover possession at every opportunity.
From the effective scrum, Findlay took the ball into the heart of the opposition and Eddleston demonstrated maturity in attack, as did Leeming in probing around the edges. Many plays were launched from the scrum and many anticipated plays were cut short from the line out. Thus Ripon’s first half played out with much to be lauded and much to consider. At the break, the score of 12 – 0 did favour the hosts against Ripon’s efforts, but points on the scoreboard are what count and the Blues sought to dig deep to gain a result from the game.
Ripon started the second half with an emphatic message that the half back pairing of Mainey and Pillar were showing strong signs of bonding after two games and from that partnership; some effective attacking opportunities were soon exploited. From this platform numerous options arose, to take the visitors to a second half performance of three unconverted tries to two penalty goals. In the host’s credit, they took what scoring chances they could in the second half and their previously successful goal kicker failed to drill home that advantage. If Ripon had fielded a consistently in-form goal kicker, then the score-line could have looked somewhat different.
After less than ten minutes of receiving the second half kick – off, Ripon positioned themselves close to the home line, through some grafting by Newcombe and Findlay. Repeated offences by the hosts saw a number of penalty opportunities for the visitors, which offered chances to exploit the emerging scrum confidence. From the third scrum at close range, Euan Findlay broke on a classical Bagatelle charge, eventually supported by Newcombe. Euan was back in action to receive the scoring pass to open the score to 12 – 5, with Pillar narrowly missing the conversion
Quickly getting back into action, Leos pressed from the restart and forced a penalty opportunity which they converted to 15 – 5. From the restart, Ripon sought to attack and use the newly fielded “secret weapon” of Nick Perez. Unsure at times as to what game he was playing, Perez added calibre in the tackle and air strike support in attack. With pace and strength, Perez is definitely one to fine tune for the future. Shortly following Perez onto the pitch was front five hopeful Will Champion after a gap of a couple of years, who carried as well as requested, did the tight work as planned and blockaded in defence as expected.
At the turn of the final quarter and after a scrambled restart from the previous penalty, some quick handling after a turnover released Perez for a scintillating 40 metre dash up-field, making many would-be tacklers rue their choice. From the eventual breakdown and through releasing the ball rapidly to the Wing, Leeming evaded several tackles before chipping past the Full Back. The ball bounced perfectly for Tom Leeming to touch down to take the score to 18 – 10. Leeming unfortunately left his kicking boots at home to leave the try unconverted.
Within a few moments of the restart, the hosts pushed the defence into giving away another soft penalty, allowing Leos to extend their lead to 18 – 10. As the game neared its ending, the hosts stepped up their efforts, but it was also clear that Ripon were not prepared to sit back and suffer another defeat.
In the final moments of the final quarter, Ripen found themselves knocking on the home side’s door though a series of penalties and close in scrum opportunities. After two successive five metre scrums, the Blues spun the ball quickly wide to the right and debutante Evan Rees made no mistake of finishing to take the score to 18 – 15. Seal stepped up to take the conversion, but he was just as unsuccessful as his predecessors.
Despite some hard and fast Rugby played by both sides, the score remained a saddening 18 – 15, which puts Ripon firmly in the relegation zone. Positives to take from the game include the strength in depth that the club has, to continue to replace injured or unavailable players, as well as the determination to play the game, whatever the circumstances.
New or existing squad members should take heart from the commitment that the club is making towards player development. Long may Ripon RUFC benefit from local input to its playing strength.
Next Saturday Ripon are at home mid-table Barnsley. All support is very welcome for the 2.15pm kick off.