1st XV Match Report - Saturday 24th November
MATCH REPORT by BOB CHAMPION
Not upstaged and not undermined by England’s success over Australia, Ripon put in a seriously workman-like performance against mid-table visitors Barnsley, ran out happy winners on the day and notched up their third league win of the season. Despite the dank, autumnal conditions, a sizeable crowd of interested parties remained at pitch-side for the duration of this game; forgoing the allure of a warm inviting clubhouse showing international Rugby and the tempting display of 17 Gins on sale at the bar.
The loyal supporters from both sides were entertained largely by, not a classic encounter by any means; but as honest a display of Rugby as both sides were capable. Barnsley’s mighty pack bossed the scrums, but didn’t make much impact on a well-functioning home line out. The breakdown was pretty much honours even, but Ripon’s back play was far more incisive and creative than the visitor’s. At the expense of another “If only”; if only Ripon had maintained last week’s scrummage stability, the provision of good quality first phase possession could have made the difference between a four and five point victory on this day. The scrum was therefore Ripon’s weakest link and the cynical despatch of influential Prop Jamie Slator in a second half off the ball incident only compounded the Blues’ woes further.
Ringing yet more changes from last week, Ripon might have been accused of using a Tombola wheel for selection. In the immortal words of Martin Johnson however; “It is what it is” and the club can only select those who make themselves available.
The starting line-up, whilst looking vaguely familiar, held a further ten changes from last week’s selection. Prompted again by injuries, unavailability and returns, the following changes were made: Recalled after injuries were James Audsley-Beck and Callum Findlay to the Wings; Alex Oliver returned to Lock after a week off, as did Will Smith and Charlie Britton returned to the fray on the bench. Positionally, Leeming dropped to Full Back and enjoyed perhaps his most influential game in months; Seal returned to Inside Centre; Payne started at Hooker; Newcombe started at Lock and Euan Findlay looked to finish the game by launching himself from the bench at the opportune moment.
Rekindling the successful partnership at half back were Hamish Mainey and Sam Pillar for their third outing together and at last a chance to develop a strong bond and confidence in each other’s decision making. It was through this understanding perhaps, that Ripon remained organised and effective in attack and composed in defence. The experience of Seal in the midfield helped immeasurably in both attack and defence and Tom Leeming was an absolute revelation in his defence and counter attacking. Such precision in fielding high balls and converting catches into yards gained has been a rarity recently. Leeming earning his man of the match title truly deservedly and hope springs eternal that he will continue in such form.
Elsewhere in the backs, Callum Findlay dazzled with his amazing footwork to score the opening try and Seal and Audsley-Beck made serious inroads against the opposition to score a try apiece. Pick of the pack was Will Smith, who turned in a confident and competent performance way beyond his 17 years and is definitely one to watch out for on a higher stage in the future. Elsewhere, Plant and Newcombe took the battle to the opposition in both attack and defence, with crunching tackles and steady yards made. Nicholson and Eddleston competed well at the breakdown, with the former scurrying at pace at every opportunity to make ground. The line out worked better this week for the recall of Alex Oliver, who also put in an athletic performance around the tackle area. Credit and sympathy must also go to Slator, who manned up in difficult circumstances at the scrum, did his job well carrying and took an almighty punch in an unsavoury off the ball incident, which undoubtedly would have in other circumstances seen the perpetrator shown a red card. On this occasion however and inexplicably, the arbiter of fact on the field saw fit to present a yellow card. Thus in accordance with head wound regulations, though no concussion was suffered, Ripon lost a player permanently and Barnsley were temporarily inconvenienced.
Overall, Ripon held their composure and eventually their discipline and despite conceding more penalties for breakdown infringements, ran out worthy winners in a tighter than was first thought competition and gained some valuable league points.
Barnsley kicked off and Smith made no mistake with his call, catch and carry, to take the Blues steaming into the visitors’ half. Three successive phases saw Seal and Butler seeking to make inroads before a handling error forced a turnover to Barnsley. Their attack subsequently broke down through Butler and Leeming kicked to clear from defence.
The Barnsley line out worked well enough to release quick ball infield. Seal and Nicholson closed in on the proposed attack and dispossessed the visitor’s Centre. Nicholson took on the counter before slipping the ball to Seal to head towards the corner. Noting Callum backing up and with the potential to switch the direction of attack, Seal offered a back hand pass to Callum Findlay, which completely wrong footed the defence to let him in for Ripon’s opening try with less than two minutes played. Seal, clearly disadvantaged by the temporary loss of his kicking tee, narrowly missed the conversion attempt to leave the score at 5 – 0.
Barnsley attacked strongly from the restart and hassled Ripon into a hastily organised defence. Successive penalties for holding on and then a high tackle saw the visitors’ progress to within kicking range. The second penalty attempt on goal was successful and at seven minutes played, the score was reduced to 5 – 3.
Reversing the fortunes of the previous restart, Ripon pressed strongly through Smith and Eddleston to force a handling error that Nicholson pounced on. Nicholson with his characteristic low, fast paced running style, beat the initial opposition to put Josh Seal into space to run in Ripon’s second try within ten minutes. Seal, reunited with his tee, slotted over the conversion to take the score to 12 – 3.
The middle of the first half saw many probes by the Blues and an increasing confidence from Barnsley at the set piece. Ripon felt in no danger from the visitors’ back line, but with an increasing number of closely targeted attacks, by their chunky forwards, it looked like an unwelcome battle up front was emerging.
Some respite was offered to Ripon at the start of the second quarter, when from a line out, Nicholson broke and put Newcombe away for a stirring 30 metre dash. Payne was on hand to carry on the attack before offloading for James Audsley-Beck to add his pace to score Ripon’s third try of the game. Seal unfortunately missed the conversion attempt to leave the score at a creditable 17 – 3.
During the final quarter, Barnsley worked their scrum well and played the short order attacking game efficiently and so were able to effectively use possession to gain territory incrementally. Using the high kicks out of defence was stifled by Leeming’s expert counter-attacking, so the grunt and grind of the visitors’ pick and go seemed their only way of gaining ground.
From such efforts, Ripon conceded a penalty for not rolling away. The kick to touch saw a line out success for the visitors and through quickly switching play one way, then the other, Barnsley ran in at 30 minutes for their first try, which went unconverted, but took the score to 17 – 8. That’s the way the score stayed for the remainder of a keenly contested half.
The second half started ignominiously and degenerated into a war of attrition. With Slator despatched after 3 minutes played, despite Newcombe stepping back into the front row, the Ripon scrum continued to suffer under the visitors’ pressure. In defence, Ripon read the visitors’ “route one” tactics well and largely defended with vigour. The visitors did however start to attempt a more expansive style of playing time, but this was no real stretch for the hosts.
Ripon were able to enhance their lead after 10 minutes with a penalty goal from Seal to take the score to 20 – 8 and perhaps that’s where the Blues thought the game might have been home and dry? Undeterred and showing great resilience, Barnsley stuck at their game plan and sought to close play down to the heavy mob and see where it took them. During this time Seal narrowly missed another penalty goal attempt and this perhaps gave the visitors more spirit as they stepped up a gear going into the final quarter.
Apart from the odd break out by Ripon, Barnsley slowly sought to get a strangle hold on the game. During the final few minutes, the pressure from the visitors was relentless, but Ripon held firm. At 40 minutes and after two successive penalty scrums within striking range, Barnsley finally crossed the home line for a converted try to take the score to 20 – 15.
With the game carrying on for an unprecedented further 10 minutes, Barnsley continued to press for the win, but after 50 minutes, the referee finally blew for time and left Ripon with sighs of relief all round for the win. Barnsley may feel cheated with the single losing bonus point, but if they had used their scrum dominance to better effect in the first half and played more cohesively in their back division, the score could have been very different.
A good home win and many positives for Ripon to take away. Great attacking flair and pace was evident from the half back pairing of Mainey and Pillar and the midfield caused all manner of problems for the visitors’ defence. Ripon seem blessed with almost infinitely permutable combinations of back three players and so attacking Rugby must continue to be a focus. Defensively, Ripon were organised, communicated well and were ever seeking the turnover. Some more discipline would help to reduce the penalty count though. Finally, consistency at the set piece would be good and consistency in player availability would be even better.
Next Saturday Ripon travel to high flying neighbours Northallerton in the first senior engagement in many years. Northallerton will clearly be looking to build on their impressive nine wins out of eleven outings and Ripon keen to develop some consistently positive results from increasingly positive form. All travelling support is very welcome for the 2.15pm kick off.