1st XV Match Report - Saturday 5th January
MATCH REPORT by BOB CHAMPION
In still and cool conditions and with a pitch in as good a condition as possible for the time of year, the scene was set for a potentially epic encounter. Ripon, on the back of their first league win over Wetherby back in December, were keen to retain as much consistency in the squad as possible and continue to move away from the relegation zone. Old Otliensians however, languishing in bottom place in the league, were travelling to Mallorie Park with only one aim in mind – to win. It was clear to all but the most casual observers, that for much of the game that followed, there were sustained passages of play that endorsed Old Otliensians’ promotion from Yorkshire Division Three, their right to perform on the hallowed ground of Twickenham, as well as their receipt of a national coaching award. There were also passages of play from both sides that showed sheer brilliance in pace, power and sleight of hand that would be worthy of display in much higher echelons of the game. What it boiled down to however, was which team was most resilient and that was thankfully Ripon.
We have waxed lyrical about the relative merit of a solid scrum over mobile forwards and this game was another example of a situation where Ripon performed less than optimally in the set piece, even to the extent of losing two balls against the head and being shunted off a third. Strength in the scrum remains a challenge for Ripon and with a plethora of forwards other than available and fit Props; this looks a difficult one to resolve. However, the club will persevere with the committed few and maximise the options that mobile front row forwards bring to the game.
Selection challenges seem to be settling down at the mid-point of the season, with much of the experimentation out of the way. From here on in, the squad will be much tighter knit, with many players a natural fit for their jersey and others acknowledging their need to step up and be counted.
This week’s squad selection was a seamless carry-over from the Wetherby game, with the only changes in the backs being Tom Leeming slotting in at Full Back. Tom Newby maintained his position as a finisher and the rest of the back line remained the same.
Up front, the pack remained largely the same apart from the reversion of Newcombe to Prop and the recall from the bench for Payne at Hooker.
The bench was shored up by Sadler as ubiquitous and timeless front row replacement, Tom Newby as utility back replacement and a welcome return from the “dark side of the Pennines” to utility forward student Will Connor. With team changes consistently reducing to low single figures, this sends out a clear message to the club and beyond, that places are worth fighting for. Those places in the squad are awarded to those who give the most in training and in-game performances.
The day was still and calm and very cold. Ripon kicked off the game through Pillar and Tom Leeming was up for the early challenge of the catcher and the next phases. Through sustained pressure, Ripon remained in the visitors’ half for the opening five minutes and it looked like they were going to seriously lose their composure, as Seal and Butler ran at will into the defence.
Pressing towards the visitor’s line, Ripon were awarded two successive penalty advantages for off side. The Referee, having blown the whistle at the third off side, stepped away as Euan Findlay sought to tap and go, to wrong foot the opposition. The play broke down inches from the visitors’ line and the Blues’ pack streamed in to make easy pickings of the short order work. It did however, take three well organised hammer moves to close down the final inches and allow Hooker Jordan Payne to open the scoring with Ripon’s first try. Josh Seal added the conversion from out wide to take Ripon into the lead 7 – 0 with 7 minutes played.
The uninitiated to the vagaries of Yorkshire Division Two Rugby, might at that point have written the opposition off. Not so under these circumstances and for the next 20 minutes, the visitors tried every trick in the book to reduce the deficit. Ripon dug deep in defence and no matter how hard they tried in attack, the opposition managed to disrupt affairs sufficiently to prevent further scores for some time. The scrum was the key area of contention and despite Ripon ringing the changes in the front row; they were hard pressed to use this as a successful launch pad. To his credit, Tom Graham at Number Eight, picked up bravely and effectively from the base and made good yards. If only he were operating from a stronger base, the difference could have been devastating.
Conversely, Old Otliensians failed to take advantage of their scrum dominance. In open play, their substantial Number Eight made little impact on the game. When gifted with numerous close order scrum options, the opposition looked very disorganised and again failed to press home any advantage.
At the half hour mark, Ripon broke the deadlock and started throwing the ball around. All of the back line were involved in attacking moves and played their part in keeping the ball alive. Play soon ended up close to the visitors line and another succession of hammer balls, saw Hooker Payne cross the line for the second time. Seal notched up his second conversion to take the score to 14 – 0.
The opposition fought back again from the restart and getting towards the final minutes of the first half they put themselves in a strong attacking position. Having been held up over the line, Otliensians were offered a 5 metre scrum, which ironically Ripon significantly disrupted. Graham broke from the base to offer Pillar an option to run or kick. Unfortunately, the pass went to ground and the opposition Wing snapped up the loose ball to score the visitor’s only try of the half, the conversion going slightly wide.
Playing on in a first half that seemed way to long, Ripon pressed from the restart to close in on the visitors’ 22 metre area. An attempt from successive forward drives was inconclusive, but given the option of a five metre scrum, the blues maintained sufficient stability for Graham to launch the attack. After the three successive hammers, the ball went quickly to the left and Dom Butler finished with precision to increase the home score. Seal added the conversion to take the score to 21 – 4 at half time.
After the break, Ripon rang the changes with the introduction of Will Connor in the back row and Tom Newby in the Centre. A rotation was arranged between Newcombe, Sadler and Slator at Prop and the dynamic of the game changed accordingly depending on who was on the pitch when. Each Prop brings a different dimension to the game, however getting the right balance to stabilise the scrum and offer go forward in the loose remains a challenge.
Overall, the team played with ambition, courage and belief. The line out worked well and man of the match Alex Oliver, ruled the roost in the line out, the close order tackling department and even made some Gazelle like charges with ball in hand. The way Ripon played for the second half, in the face of some spirited opposition, was testament to good training and commitment to being part of a team. The opposition went on to score a further unconverted try at the turn of the fourth quarter, but Seal’s penalty goal at the 50th minute of the second half secured the game for Ripon.
A tough game for the 100 minutes played overall and an indication that Old Otliensians won’t go down without a fight. It does bode well for Ripon however, as the squad gets to know each other better, better things will come from the games. Commitment to training and the availability of previously injured, or otherwise absent players, will continue to make training more competitive and selection more difficult.
This coming weekend Ripon’s 1st XV travel away to Wath Upon Dearne, hoping to redress the balance from September’s home 7 – 20 defeat. Acknowledging a tough ask up front, the Blues will be looking to dig deep in all areas to make this an exciting and competitive game all round. All support is very welcome for the 2.15pm kick off.