1st XV Match Report - Saturday 15th December
MATCH REPORT by BOB CHAMPION
There is much to be said about bogey teams and much has been said over the past three years about Ripon’s inability to beat Wetherby in any competition at adult level. There is also much to be said about the season of goodwill and kindness to all men and that the efforts of front of house and back office contributors need at this point to be mentioned as well. It goes without saying, that the playing strength of the club is what it is. Everyone has a back story and a life to lead away from the club and the club absolutely respects that. Perhaps we should all at this point pause and reflect on the input of the myriad volunteers who keep this club ticking over, week in week out and for those who are charged with organising and advising as well as supervising those volunteers, particularly with regard to coaching. Thank you to all of you, from Under 7 to adult coaches and supporters, the club cannot function without you. Thanks also to the army of non-playing supporters, the executive committee, club manager, volunteers, sponsors, Friday Gang and any others, too numerous to identify, but happy to be thought of here.
We are in a very different age from when the average adult male who had a remote interest in Rugby, ensured that he made himself available, played in whatever team selected and enjoyed whatever game he played in. This difference now reflects the other commitments of the club’s playing strength, particularly in relation to week on week availability to train, be selected, play and enjoy some after match socialisation. It is understandable that at this time of year, many minds will be focused on other things; but we should not forget, that Ripon RFC is a family orientated club, attracting members from all walks of society and our selection and playing policy is reflective of these values.
My goodness, what a horrible day the 15th December turned into. The storm clouds gathered, the temperature dropped and the wind picked up in a cruelly consistent way. Ripon travelled to Wetherby in a sort of bubble of confidence, possibly misguidedly, but based on last week’s game. Thanks at this point must go to the indomitable Ripon travelling supporters who endured the conditions to watch an historic performance from the Blues on this dank and dour day. The meagre “Stand” and shallow dugouts provided some head cover from the elements, but at least there were some places to separate the injured from the elements. On reflection, one would be hard pressed to consider any stadium in Northern Europe, let alone a Yorkshire Two club that could provide anything near a comfortable base from which to watch a game.
Ripon inevitably fielded a different squad from last week, with two notable inclusions. Harry Scurr, back from military duties and a shadow of his former self physically; added guile and a huge boot to the bench. New signing Ben Spratt a very recent acquisition added some considerable power to the pack and will be one to watch in future weeks. Squad stalwart Tom Newby completed the bench line-up to inject strength, pace and a certain “je ne sais quoi”, to wherever he was introduced to the game.
Other changes to the Ripon squad included three recalls to the starting line-up, from either bench positioning or previous week’s unavailability. Thus, Ben Buckley started at Full Back; Callum Findlay came back in after a brief injury rest and James Audsley Beck returned from the bench to the starting line-up. The only change in the pack was the recall to Hooker for Jordan Payne and Newcombe and Slator starting as Props.
The squad is definitely setting down now and changes, whether positional; starting or finishing; or new introductions, will more than likely be reduced to low single figures from now on.
Ripon entered the game with a calm attitude. Building from the previous week’s run out against Old Grovians, the Blues were keen to make a statement from the off, to show the hosts what they were capable of. Now it might seem churlish to suggest that a half time loss of 10 – 0 might have boded unwell for Ripon. It might also suggest that had Ripon fielded an effective scrum in the first half, things might have looked quite different, particularly the scoreboard. That therefore showed to be the key difference between the two teams.
Admittedly the wind and the freezing rain blew directly down the pitch, so each team had a chance to exploit it. Admittedly also, the hosts had the more powerful scrummage and they did their best to ruin Ripon’s attacking options, but failed to exploit their own power in launching attacks from the base.
Ripon, keenly aware of Wetherby’s defensive control, sought to play as tight a game as possible around the edges before releasing the backs. This worked well in that there were many sequences of play in which Ripon “hammered” into the opposition and made good yards. Cruelly, on two occasions, handling errors, including devastating interceptions, let the hosts into the game unnecessarily.
Bearing in mind that the air temperature was around zero degrees, the wind was blowing strongly towards the A1M and the dugouts offered little shelter from the elements, the account of the game is unfortunately somewhat succinct. This being on account of the correspondent being unable to write effectively with: horizontal rain and wind; a past its sell by date “freebie pen” from a dodgy supplier, wet and increasingly bedraggled paper and frostbitten hands. What follows is hopefully a factually accurate account of the game. Apologies for any omissions, or acts that suggest that this was anything other than a very memorable win for Ripon:
Wetherby kicked off into the stiff breeze and as is customary, a breakdown in communications, led to the hosts regaining possession within seconds. Unfortunately that privilege went away soon after a handling error, but was regained rapidly through Ripon being smashed off their first scrum put in. Despite Tom Graham’s best intentions to pick from the base, he was unable to make sufficient ground to get the Blues away After four minutes of play and Ripon’s efforts to play out of danger, another scrum put in came their way from a home offence and this time, the ball didn’t reach the Ripon front row, such was the vigour of the home push.
Despite their emerging set piece dominance, Wetherby were unable to convert pressure into points and it was then through the valiant efforts of Graham, both Findlay brothers and Butler, that the early gains were made. Ripon contested the breakdown well and from the line out set piece, many yards of driving play were forthcoming. During the first quarter, the host’s play seemed relatively formulaic. Win ball and try to crash through in the midfield. Whilst the home Centres offered some defensive challenges, they didn’t look like breaking through or scoring.
Thus after a first quarter of Ripon dominating loose play and the hosts dominating the scrum, it wasn’t until 23 minutes into the second quarter that the deadlock was broken. Wetherby pressed near to the line and were offered a penalty close in for a defensive infringement; the hosts went for the scrum. The pushover was inevitable and so with the conversion, the score went 7 – 0 in favour of Wetherby after 23 minutes.
Ripon fought back well in the second quarter and whilst effectively snuffing out some uninventive home attacks, put themselves in some really creative positions. Wetherby defended well, but not as well as in previous years and that was to tell in the second half. The closing score of the first half was a home penalty from some 40 metres, to see half time in with Ripon 10 – 0 down.
With the wind behind them and the rain increasing in intensity, this was the visitor’s opportunity to take control of the game and improve their chances of a decent result. The half time changes brought on Harry Scurr to bring his physicality, though somewhat reduced from recent active service, but with a clear ability to drop “bombs” all over the park; Tom Newby returned to 1st XV action on the Wing and new signing Ben Spratt added bulk and athleticism to the front row. Advantages of the rolling substitute system were soon short-lived, with James Audsley-Beck permanently removed with a foot injury and Scurr’s outing cruelly cut short by an ankle injury after only ten minutes.
It would be churlish to suggest that Wetherby didn’t come close to scoring in the second half, because they did. What however transpired, was Wetherby, through many positive attempts at play, camping for several minutes on the visitors’ goal line, but just simply being unable to score. It was not therefore a second half of Wetherby doing more of the same. It was a second half of Ripon doing what they do well and scoring points, plus – keeping the opposition out.
Hats must be doffed, raised and if necessary, thrown into the air for the efforts of the Ripon pack. To a man (Even this week’s sole U18 year old forward Eddleston), each stepped up, carried with conviction and purpose and simply smashed the opposition down when required. The half back pairing of Mainey (Also U18) and Pillar in their fifth consecutive week together, are bonding substantially and the hard core of the back division know where they are going and support each other with great purpose.
Not wishing to belittle the efforts of our players in atrocious conditions and without the hindsight of video (or decent cover) the account of the second and match winning half must be regrettably brief.
Using the wind to restart the game on Ripon’s terms, Scurr lofted a high ball that immediately put the defence under pressure, which resulted in an offence giving Ripon a penalty touch kick. The following line out, catch and drive saw Tom Graham bundling over to open the scoring for the Blues and Josh Seal added the conversion to reduce the deficit to 10 – 7.
With a further ten minutes played, Ripon were exploiting their forward dominance in loose play with multi-metre driving mauls. To be fair, Wetherby had sought to exploit the same advantage from their scrum power, but with the introduction of Spratt, that was eventually neutralised.
Given another penalty for a breakdown infringement by the hosts, Pillar kicked for touch and put the Blues in another strong attacking position. After another penalty touch kick, effectively executed line out, catch and drive, a quick release to the right saw Dom Butler enter play at a characteristically interesting angle and score Ripon’s second try. Josh Seal’s conversion nudged Ripon 10 – 14 ahead and all of a sudden, there was some confidence in the side.
The next fifteen minutes of play saw some gritty exchanges, and during a ten minute patch, the hosts battered Ripon’s line with successive penalties and five metre scrums and the “thin blue line” held firm throughout.
From the last of the hosts’ efforts to dominate the scrum on the visitor’s five metre line, the home Number 8 broke loose and was brought to earth with a bump by Ripon Skipper Barker. This set off a whole series of events that saw Ripon steadily advance up field and clear their lines with a superb kick from Sam Pillar after quick hands from Seal and Butler. With the ball bouncing in the open, Tom Newby casually collected and then out-sprinted three defenders to score Ripon’s final try. Seal again made no mistake of the conversion to take the score to 10 – 21.
The next few minutes saw Wetherby desperately trying to get back in the game. This was not however meant to be. At 74 minutes Ripon were offered a further penalty attempt and Seal slotted the kick over with ease to gain his first 100% kicking tally of the season.
Despite the terrible weather conditions and the hosts’ pressure in the scrums, this was a well-deserved and well fought for win for Ripon. We now go into a two week break in which players need to recover from wounds and work towards whatever is needed to restore the club’s playing strength and position in the league system.
This coming weekend Ripon’s 1st XV take a break from league action, but the 2nd XV Squad travel to Keighley for a pre-Christmas Cracker, to re-establish their credibility in the second tier competition on Saturday, kick off 2.15. Ripon will be back in Yorkshire Division Two action in three weeks’ time, when they entertain struggling Old Otliensians, for what may be a defining encounter for both sides. All support is very welcome for the 2.15pm kick off.
This has been an interesting season with many comings and goings on and off the pitch.