1st XV Match Report - Saturday 1st December
MATCH REPORT by BOB CHAMPION
Undeterred by the unannounced road closures and the inventive diversions actioned by this week’s squad and spectators, Ripon arrived at Brompton Lodge on time and unfazed. Perhaps more confusing than the access to the ground; so tantalisingly close to those who could see the goal posts; was the number of ex-Ripon players, both involved and not involved in the day’s events evident at Northallerton.
The purist might ask – if only they had stayed (At Ripon?) But then the antagonist might have argued otherwise. Ripon accepts that membership is a medium through which players come and go; long may that be so. Interest and involvement in club and community, as well as commitment to play, are all critical to ensuring the sustainability of Ripon RUFC in the light of all sorts of current distractions. The existing membership is therefore cherished, valued and hopefully loyal? Notwithstanding Christmas shopping duties, it was good to see two sides take the field on Saturday and whilst the scores went against Ripon as far as results go, the winner was Rugby and essentially, Ripon RUFC in providing good sport for 36 or more players, as well as the innumerable volunteers and employees that continue to make the Club such a welcoming and good place to be.
In the developing gloom, the size of some of the home forwards might have sowed seeds of doubt in the minds of the Blues’ pack as to the type of game they might play; but then apart from a couple of “chunky chaps”, the hosts didn’t look like they had much else to offer by way of a nearly top of the table team. Apart therefore, from a few gigantic specimens of sporting manhood, who did last the pace of the game throughout, to the hosts’ credit, their only players of note were their Scrum half, Outside Centre and Left Wing. All three did their utmost to light up the home attack, but unfortunately their efforts were reduced to exciting openings and sad endings.
Despite the host’s five league point victory and no hint of sour grapes here; if Ripon hadn’t gifted three tries through unforced handling errors, then the score might have been very different. Ripon did however; concede three and probably many more unforced handling errors to the hosts. Calamitous for Ripon as they aspire continually to improve on performance and credit to the hosts for converting errors into point scoring advantages though, so in these games, the team has to play what’s in front of them.
Breaking the mould for the first time in many weeks, the Blues managed to restrict this week’s selection decisions to just eight changes from last week; again forced by injuries or unavailability. The back line remained the same apart from Spilman slotting in for the unavailable Seal at Inside Centre. In the pack, Newcombe stepped forward to Hooker, Euan Findlay returned from his sick bed into the back row and Tom Graham accommodated an offer he couldn’t refuse at Number 8. Completing the pack was the addition of Skipper Iain Barker, back from wedding, honeymoon and unfortunately acquired training injury. Adding some energy to the bench were Archie Hassall, Ben Buckley and adding sage wisdom and sustainability; Craig Wolloms as the ubiquitous front row replacement.
There was a breeze and there was a slope, both heading towards the clubhouse, which hosted a particularly inviting Christmas party, seemingly accessible for anyone passing by. In increasingly dull conditions and opting for the supposed advantage of both wind and slope, Ripon started the game in earnest by kicking off. As is seemingly more customary than not, the Blues messed up their primary source of possession, by being penalised for a man in front of the kicker. From the ensuing scrum, Ripon started to feel what the hosts were capable of up front. Whilst this wasn’t a degrading experience, it did ask some questions as to how well the Blues’ scrum would hold in attack?
With the initial encounter overcome without dissatisfaction either way. Both sides engaged in some close and expansive efforts to test each other. Ripon seemed to be getting the better of play in the first few minutes and when after repulsing two home attacks, they pressed up-field.
Nearing the end of the first quarter, Ripon sought to break the stalemate. From a penalty touch kick, Ripon launched a wide attack to the right. Spilman took out his customary two defenders before releasing Butler to carry on at pace. Sam Pillar appeared on the loop outside Butler to carry on and then chip for James Audsley-Beck to chase and touch down for the opening score. Leeming was just wide with his conversion attempt to leave the score at 0 – 5.
For the remainder of the first half, the visitors went through a period of sheer bad luck. Mostly unfortunate bounces of the ball, as well as unfortunate breakdowns in communications, which gave the hosts three easy scoring opportunities and they took. Credit to Northallerton, they are in the League position that they are today, for working on their set piece, taking calculated risks and exploiting weaknesses that they see. So the hosts bounced back from 0 – 5 down to 17 – 5 at half time, through three tries, one of which was converted.
The second half was a dull affair for all concerned. The weather closed in, with drizzle and limited light, plus an ill wind that blew Ripon no good at all. The heavier conditions favoured the home forwards more than the visitors, but apart from a decent scrum and well executed driving maul, the home forwards looked to lack in dynamism in open play. Looking to create mauls in midfield, purely because the biggest man on the pitch has the ball, is a narrow minded and probably short lived way of progressing in the league system.
Ripon however looked to challenge ball carrying superiority throughout the game, by attempting to keep play fluid as much as possible. The yards gained by Plant, Slator and Newcombe in the short order work were immeasurable. Also, standing out from the base of the set piece and in opportunistic circumstances, Euan Findlay battered his way around the pitch at will and Tom Graham, happily accommodating the Number 8 berth, did considerable damage on the hoof. Colt Connor Eddleston also grafted finely in both attack and defence to rack up some big hits and strong carries.
In a game where team unity was critical, this was a great opportunity to evidence the impact of the Half Back partnership of Mainey and Pillar. Both developed a solid understanding and between them, created ever more expansive openings for the midfield to exploit. Defensively both put in a solid shift and the diminutive Mainey showed great courage and strength in standing up to massive opposition on many occasions.
The second half was somewhat subsumed by the early opportunity taken by the hosts to score their fourth and bonus point winning try after only four minutes. The event followed a kick off fumble (which they are quite good at) by Ripon and then a penalty. The hosts opted for the scrum (which they were quite good at) and from the Number 8 pick and go, successively recycled the ball to score under the posts for a converted try to take the score to 24 – 5.
Ripon weathered the storm for a few more minutes and then gradually gathered composure at both the scrum and the line out. Apart from a few dancing attempts to break out by the home Centres and Wings, no further inroads were made against the visitors. Building momentum into the final quarter, Ripon pieced together a number of classy attacks. Unfortunately however, even with the despatch of the home captain for foul play for tem minutes, no energy was put into the power play situation to reduce the deficit.
With two minutes to go, from a line out Pillar passed through the Centres to loop around and take the ball on towards the wing. Neatly stepping inside, Pillar slotted a teasing kick through the defence for James Audsley-Beck to follow up and touch town for his second try of the game. Leeming missed the second conversion to leave the score at 24 - 10.
No disgrace by any means and an example of how ordinary the “high flying” teams can be and a testament to Ripon’s strength in depth for squad players to keep showing flexibility and adaptability. A message to Ripon does however relate to clinically finishing scoring chances, converting goal kicks into points and competing for 80 minutes.
The club continues to invest in the success of the age grade system and celebrates the recent selection to the Yorkshire U18 Squad for Will Smith, Ben Taylor and Ollie Williams and the massive contribution that they made to the comprehensive defeat of Durham last weekend. Whoever gets selected for this week’s Ripon adult squads, they and 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 to mid-table Old Grovians. All support is very welcome for the 2.15pm kick off.