1st XV Match Report - Saturday 12th January
MATCH REPORT by BOB CHAMPION
There aren’t many teams that travel to the Dearne Valley cricket square without some trepidation based on the intimacy of the ground, the enthusiasm of the local populace in support of their team and the physicality of whatever side Wath happen to have available on the day. Encouragingly for the hosts, they also laid on a home game for their 3rd XV, no mean feat for any club in Yorkshire Division Two and in particular at this time of the season. Maybe some lessons in player retention to be learnt there? Maybe a deal with a local pie manufacturer?
There aren’t many teams that travel to the Dearne Valley cricket square that feature an unchanged pack for the third game in succession. As well as an overall squad that featured only two changes: “One to watch” Ben Spratt, bringing some youthful exuberance as front row replacement; Ben Buckley starting on the Wing for Callum Findlay keeping the bench warm and with Tom Newby starting the second week in succession on the bench, a more settled squad couldn’t have been imagined.
There aren’t many teams that travel to etc etc, and score four tries, dominate many phases of play and lose by one point. The score-line of 25 – 24, three home tries to four visitors’ played down Ripon’s dogged determination to work for what looked at half time to be another 100 plus minute game, but gave the hosts their home win and worthy place in the top four of the league. Ripon will take solace from the two league points – one for a score difference of less than 7 and one for the four tries.
Without wishing to play down the significance of the game, this was a massive result for Ripon and whilst not going home with the win, showed the hosts what they were capable of, but also proved to themselves what belief and teamwork can achieve. This second half of the season promises much. Despite administrative changes in the background, the playing strength is committing more to training and two teams were successfully fielded at the weekend. With yet more senior players to return from injury and other commitments and the transfer window still open until the end of February, who knows what the squad will look like for the next four months. To their credit, nobody in the current squad doesn’t deserve their place in the team. Continuing to perform strongly on the pitch and in the training arena will just add to the club’s strength and perhaps give the selectors more headaches?
Much has been said about the Dearne Valley cricket square and rightly so. Not quite as enclosed as the Old Crossleyans’ “stadium” the Wath ground does have an intimacy and somewhat more intimidatory feel about it. Perhaps it’s the fencing and roping off of the playing area, but what shines through more than anything, is the sense of community that the club cherishes. The Rugby, Cricket, Children’s Nursery, Bowling Club – they all bring interest to the club and whatever game is being hosted. There aren’t many clubhouses, which after match are as full of local people interested in the club and the game just played. Such hospitality pre and post-match is to be lauded and where possible replicated. It is after all, the social aspect of this game that makes it so great.
Ah yes, there was a game and one which Ripon approached with no trepidation and a quiet calm that the team would just go out and have some fun. Leadership in all areas was evident and apart from a purple patch in the second half in which Skipper Barker was ordered off the field for ten minutes, all components of the squad interacted with each other supportively. There remains a question over whether goal kicking for penalty points should be rated more highly over taking scrums or touch kicks, but that is best left to the coaching team to smooth out with the players.
With the same pack for the third week, one would expect the set piece to be settled and productive. On the contrary however, the first half line out looked to be spiralling out of control and the scrum, acknowledged to be an area for development, started relatively well, but also deteriorated as the game progressed,. Mercifully the line out slipped into a positive overdrive and through Oliver, Eddleston and Findlay, not much got past Ripon in the second half. The scrum however struggled again and Ripon will be looking to beef this area up before too long.
The weather conditions were deceptively horrible in that it wasn’t until one got into the middle of the playing area that the cold, wind and blinding descending sun would have such an impact on the game. The wind changed direction twice during the match and whilst the rain had the decency to hold off until after the final whistle, it was another cold one.
The sophistication of the kick off these days, should give the kicking side a fair chance of recovering the ball, if chased appropriately and Ripon have been working on putting decent “Harriers” under the high ball. On the initial kick off however, Seal’s perfectly lofted ball lingered just too long in the stratospheric turbulence and ended up in touch. Immediately at a disadvantage from a home scrum put in, the Blues steadied themselves for the inevitable onslaught.
And so, for the next ten minutes, Wath smashed and battered as best they could into a brick wall Ripon defence. Massive hits went in up front from Payne, Oliver and Slator and out wide, Butler and Seal held their own in midfield, but it was Tom Leeming who fielded some massive positional kicks from the hosts, returned them with interest and set them back on the starting line.
Ripon continually attempted to turnover possession and in this respect, Euan, Eddleston and Graham were instrumental in pressuring the breakdown. At ten minutes, excellent work from Euan and Graham saw a penalty opportunity to take the Blues into the home half and alleviate the pressure. Unfortunately the ensuing line out didn’t work and Wath launched an attack up the touchline. Despite the close in efforts of Payne to halt the flow and then Audsley-Beck as the last ditch defence, the hosts’ Left Wing ran in the first of their three tries, which with the conversion took them into the lead at 7 – 0 after ten minutes.
The next ten minutes saw more of the same from Wath in that they tried to huff and puff and blow Ripon’s house down, but the thin blue line largely stood up to the pounding. Breakouts occurred periodically for Ripon with Butler scything into the line prior to his incapacitating knee injury. Up front, Slator and Payne made some solid yards in attack and Barker and Oliver carried on effectively. Euan Findlay played his usual “Pinball Wizard” game, bouncing off all comers and making some solid ground in attack. Pick of the pack however, has to go to 17 year old Connor Eddleston for his gritty tackling and mercurial presence at so many breakdowns to recycle, or carry on to keep Ripon in the game.
Mainey put in a dogged performance at scrum half, but through unfortunate poor positioning of players at the breakdown, had to dig for the ball all too often and was frequently denied options to carry on attacks. Pillar distributed well and carried when needed. A kicking dimension might have helped, but as an aficionado of the “ball in the hand is worth two in the bush” philosophy, he gets my vote.
Outside, Seal and Butler sought to exploit many defensive chinks, but unfortunately, support players were occasionally lacking to take things on. Buckley and Audsley-Beck again used their blistering pace to outstrip the initial defenders with ball in hand, but it was only Buckley who managed to get on the score sheet with his try in the closing minutes of the game.
Back to the action and nearing the end of the first quarter, frustrations set into the home side and the first of their three yellow cards was awarded for their Number 8 not releasing the tackled player. The advantage of the extra man was short lived however, in that Dom Butler left the field with a nasty knee injury and in the aftermath of reorganising the back line, Wath further enhanced their lead with a penalty goal to take the score to 10 – 0 after 31 minutes.
Tom Newby ably slotted into the Outside Centre berth and did everything expected of the position and his substitution for Butler. The closing ten minutes of the half saw a step change in Ripon’s attacking prowess and even in defence, managed to knock the opposition back a full fifteen metres after their repeated attempts to bludgeon their way forward.
Going way past normal time and seemingly getting more frustrated at not progressing further, the hosts went into meltdown and through ill-discipline, lost a further two players with yellow cards. The Blues this time reaped the benefit of the extra players and from a line out on the 48th minute, Payne joined the driving maul after his perfect throw to Oliver and touched down for his third try in two games. Seal uncharacteristically missed the conversion attempt, but left Ripon in serious contention at half time with a score of 10 – 5.
At the break, the key topic of conversation was about discipline, doing the right things and playing to strengths. Thus the second half started off with a bang with Slator’s kick off reception. Dancing through the first two tackles, the “twinkle-toed” Prop set up the perfect recycling option for quick ball to be shipped out to Newby. After a good 20 metres, Newby offloaded to Leeming, who carried aggressively before slipping a close pass to Euan Findlay. The end result of that move was Euan moving up-field 50 metres to score a try within fifty seconds of the kick off reception. It’s not however the result that sticks in the memory, it’s the way it was executed. Some might liken being tackled in a Rugby game as hitting a brick wall and that’s fair enough. In Euan’s case, it is the brick wall that carries the ball and seeks to run into anyone brave enough to stand in his way. Diminutive as he is, as well as being modest and self-effacing to a fault; Euan is quite a force to be reckoned with and fully deserved his place on the score sheet to increase Ripon’s contribution to the game and level the score. Josh Seal found his composure and calmly added the conversion to put Ripon in the lead at 10 – 12.
From the next restart, Wath applied their characteristic gentle pressure by playing ball between the largest person available in the team to batter into the defence, followed by the scrum half passing to the next largest person available and so on. Thus over the next few minutes, the hosts managed to steadily progress up-field until a speculative kick ahead caused some embarrassing confusion in the Ripon backs. The assumed defensive touch-down was not indecisive and Wath pounced on the opportunity to ground the ball for another converted try to take the score to 17 – 12.
Undeterred, the Blues attacked the next restart and held the hosts in their own 22 for a couple of minutes. From a defensive touch kick, Ripon’s line out win from Oliver saw a quick ball to the right. Payne, Barker and Oliver stepped into the short order play before the move broke down. Wath, being nervous as to the referee’s interpretation of their contribution to the breakdown, stood off the ruck, which allowed teenager Connor Eddleston to snap up the loose ball and carry on the attack for some 20 metres. Faced with a two on one situation, Eddleston made the right decision and in text book fashion, drew the opposition Full Back before slipping a pass to the omnipresent, if not omnipotent Euan to touch down for his second try of the day. Seal added the necessary conversion to nudge Ripon into the lead again to 17 – 19.
Success was short-lived however and towards the end of the third quarter, the hosts were looking like they had a point to prove. The intensity of the scrum started to unsettle Ripon and forced Graham into some hasty, but well executed exits. The line out held well, but the Wath forwards just set about a relentless barrage of short order driving play. Whilst unattractive to many, it has a place in most games at times, but to use the ploy as the mainstream match plan, just shows a lack of inventiveness, creativity and flagrant disregard for the feelings of the backs (Who resorted to engaging in conversations with the spectators to avert boredom).
The relative merits of putting a defence under pressure in this way were then however, duly rewarded by the opportunity for the hosts to increase their lead to 20 – 19 with a 15th minute penalty goal.
The final quarter saw an unexpected and unsavoury period for Ripon, with the successive penalties of yellow cards for Euan Findlay and skipper Iain Barker for alleged repeat offences at the breakdown. Whilst not as bad as Wath’s three first half yellow cards, it does show how vulnerable players can be to referees’ interpretations of play around the tackle area.
In a similar vein to Ripon’s first half “power play”, Wath were keen to exploit the two man advantage over the visitors and at 24 minutes into the half, scored their third try, which fortunately went unconverted, to take the score to 25 – 19.
Ripon immediately responded with a decisively attacking attitude and looked to stifle any options from the hosts and similarly, the hosts stepped up their defensive game. What looked like a war of attrition was broken by a rare venture from Wath to spin the ball wide. At the 38th minute however, Tom Newby leapt to intercept a med-centre pass, to sprint up-field some 30 metres. Sensing Buckley on hand, Newby delivered the slickest of switch passes to allow Ben Buckley to change direction, carry the ball on and score Ripon’s fourth and bonus point winning try. Sadly this last attempt at goal was just beyond Seal, but left the score at a creditable, but tantalising 25 – 24.
With something like five minutes left on the stopwatch, Wath had no intention of doing anything other than pass the ball from hand to hand. Boring, frustrating, but effective. Thus when the last play was called, the customary kick to touch sealed the victory for Wath and the two bonus point defeat for Ripon. This was a game in which everyone stood up to be counted. League points are just that and any point is a good point. As said at the beginning, not many teams go to Wath and score more tries than the hosts and still lose. Great credit to the resilience of the squad and the determination of the coaching team to maximise its potential.
This coming weekend Ripon’s 1st XV host league promotion hopefuls Goole. Noting Goole’s last game resulting in a home defeat, it shows that any side can be vulnerable. Here’s hoping that Ripon can find the weak spot and turn in a suitably robust performance to gain a win. The club could really do with more local supporters filling the touchlines and cheering the side on, so all support is very welcome for the 2.15pm kick off.