1st XV Match Report - Saturday 19th January
By Becky Naylor
MATCH REPORT by BOB CHAMPION
There come times when it is difficult to set the scene and build up anticipation before a game and this week was no exception. Ripon prior to this weekend languished just out of the drop zone, but with much enthusiasm to build on recent strong performances and progress further up the league rankings. Despite last week’s close defeat, there has definitely been an energy in the squad and a hunger to put relegation beyond consideration. What played out on the pitch didn’t display hunger or energy unfortunately and resulted in a six try to two defeat when such a different performance was expected.
In this context, the much vaunted replay of September’s 43 -17 drubbing at Goole was acted out at a “Dreich” Mallorie Park on Saturday. The weather was indeed dull and depressing and those old enough to remember will have spared a thought for the dearly departed ex-player Gavin Makewell, tragically and prematurely taken from us last week. The club’s sincere condolences and best wishes go out to Gavin’s family and friends outside of the Rugby community.
Maybe it was the weather, maybe it was the minute’s silence pre-match offered as a tribute to Gavin, or maybe it was just the fact that a largely unchanged Ripon squad was playing the current league leaders and capitulated before the kick off? What followed, was a very less than optimal Ripon performance, the result of which is to plunge the Club very much back into the heart of the relegation battle.
An unfair suggestion appreciated, but apart from two try scoring opportunities that were executed perfectly, Ripon didn’t look like creating any more; gave away possession at times when it wasn’t needed and to be honest, were on the wrong side of a large number of 50:50 situations, where luck favoured the visitors. There is always the adage that the harder one practices, the “luckier one gets”. In Ripon’s case, there is so much commitment to training and practicing that surely some luck must come this way soon? Not on this occasion however.
The selected squad was familiar to many in that changes these days are very minimal and based purely on availability and injury status. Thus the back line saw Tom Newby slotting in for the injured Dom Butler at 13 and Callum Findlay stepping back in to replace the unavailable Buckley. With the half back pairing of Mainey and Pillar entering its eighth week, some stability was developing in the side. The recall of the legendary Jason Bell as back replacement went a long way to instilling confidence in maturity and experience and he did well to affirm that.
In the pack, the unavailability of Newcombe welcomed the re-introduction of Prop Mark Greenwood, fresh from ventures far afield. Despite the front row changes of recent weeks, the back five of the scrum remained unchanged and so added some considerable stability to the scrums, which help Ripon to a significant degree during what transpired to be a harder than expected game up front. Bolstering the bench was the evergreen front row replacement Craig Wolloms. Former Club Captain and stalwart; wherever played “Wolly” would add significant efforts to the game ahead.
In front of a crowd pushing 100, Ripon kicked off unspectacularly and immediately lost the advantage by not making the obligatory 10 metres. Gifted with the first scrum of the game, Goole attacked from the base and made progress into the Blues’ half through four phases. At the next move, Ripon’s Slator smash tackled the opposition and the ensuing breakdown yielded a penalty to Ripon for a visitor being off side. Seal nudged the ball into touch and from the line out Oliver delivered quick ball to unleash six phases of Ripon possession. In the handling moves, Tom Graham was involved twice, before cropping up in the end to open the score on the fourth minute. Josh Seal added the conversion to take the early lead to 7 – 0.
The next fifteen minutes saw Ripon exploit scrum stability for the first time in weeks, with Graham making good ground. There were also plenty of opportunities based on the hosts’ dominance of the early line outs and perhaps the visitors shaking off the journey? During this period however, Ripon pressed attack after attack, with Leeming countering from deep and Audsley-Beck pitching up in support all over the place.
In the pack, there were myriad opportunities to carry and add weight to attacks. Payne and Slator were in the mix with big hits and carries and Barker and Oliver rampaged across the Ripon “Veldt”. Acclaim can’t be sealed without mentioning the tireless efforts of Euan Findlay as usual and the emerging star of the Ripon back row, schoolboy Connor Eddleston; who just made such a nuisance of himself to the opposition. One to definitely help to fail A Levels and keep locally (Joke). We sincerely wish him well in his academic career.
In the backs, Mainey stood out as plucky, confident and energetic. Faced with possession from all angles as well as a number of turnovers, young “Mish”, battled hard, delivered well and showed composure in increasingly difficult conditions. Sam Pillar stepped up a gear, fixed the opposition perfectly for some well-executed set pieces and defended mercilessly close in. Outside, Seal and Newby created openings according to plan, but just didn’t manage to finish moves due to exceptionally quick defence. Further out, Audsley-Beck and Callum Findlay had probably more work to do in defence than attack, but executed well and took chances where they could. Leeming at Full Back, played a superb counter-attacking game from deep, but as was the same with other attempts, either lack of support, or negative refereeing decisions, halted progress.
The second quarter of the first half saw Goole get a grip of themselves and the game. Two converted tries, one unconverted and a drop goal saw out the scoring for the first half and gave Goole an interesting, but not unassailable lead of 7 – 22 at half time.
The half time team talk for Ripon reinforced the values of the squad and the opportunities that set piece equilibrium could bring and assurance that continued efforts would lead to more scores.
Unfortunately, the Goole half time team talk must have had more traction in that the team came out of the blocks, keen to win the sprint, as well as playing out the second half as winners.
From the restart, Goole pressed and all manner of indecisions led to a penalty at two minutes for a Ripon off side. The touch kick led to a succession of driving picks by the visitors until they eventually crossed the line for an unconverted try to take the score to 7 – 27.
Recovering from the restart, Ripon gradually built up some attacking phases and after being awarded a penalty in the 11th minute, exploited the line out quick ball. The passage of play resulted in a visitors’ knock on and from the home scrum, Euan Findlay catapulted himself at the opposition. After the breakdown, three successive hammer drives saw Euan complete what he started, with Ripon’s second try. Josh Seal added the conversion to take the score to a more creditable 14 – 27.
The final quarter saw a resurgence in Goole’s energy and commitment and no disrespect to the Blues’ squad, they just couldn’t live with the pace and intensity of the last fifteen minutes.
Two further tries, one converted made the final score 14 – 41 and with two tries to six, Ripon must look hard at their defensive plans for the rest of the season.
As an overall team performance, this must rank as one of the lowest. However, there remain many outstanding individuals and collaborative team players, who will be critical to the Club’s performance for the rest of the season. The club and the squad must take forward the positivity of young players coming through, the reliability and availability of established squad players and of course the commitment to training and playing together.
This coming weekend Ripon’s 1st XV travel with much excitement to Yarnbury, to fulfil their first league outing on an “Artificial Grass Pitch”. Hoping everyone turns up with the appropriate footwear, this will be an interesting test of Ripon’s strength of character and desire to get out of the relegation zone. The touchline spectator areas will be suitably clean and dry, so no excuses for the travelling support. Yarnbury also traditionally put on a selection of tasty pre-match snacks for visiting supporters, so be there to cheer on the Blues. All support is very welcome for the 2.15pm kick off.