1st XV Match Report - Saturday 26th January
By Becky Naylor
MATCH REPORT by BOB CHAMPION
Many words were exchanged during the previous week’s training sessions, primarily about Ripon’s precarious position in Yorkshire Division Two and how the Club with its current squad can exit to a safe area. A summary of those words was exchanged in the dressing room this Saturday, to both drum home the perilous situation, as well as the fact that this remains an amateur game, which whilst fiercely competitive, can only be played with the good will and commitment of a squad that trains and plays together.
Key words that emerged this week were “Excitement”, “Patience” and “Courage”. There is no doubt that those simple nouns were converted into actions that didn’t disgrace the Ripon squad by any means, but just cruelly failed to deliver a much needed win or bonus point. There was excitement for many in their first competitive outing on the Artificial Grass Pitch, which didn’t seem to favour either side. Excitement too in the boldness of a couple of selection decisions, clearly designed to reward effort where it was appropriate, as well as to spark some competition for places in the squad.
Patience was certainly a virtue to begin with, but as Ripon went through a couple of lean periods, frustrations showed through and with a penalty count of 15 penalties against and one yellow card, the Blues really need to look at their discipline around the tackle area. Both in attack and defence, patience is certainly something to build on. Developing play through phases with confidence and control, gains points and wins games.
Courage was certainly not lacking, apart from when anyone was faced with the host’s hard running Inside Centre, who smashed and grabbed his way through every opportunity to carry. The rest of the game was pretty evenly matched, with the Ripon scrum holding up better than in many previous weeks and the line out dominating on both put ins. Given the overall performances of both teams; Yarnbury were unlucky not to get their fair share of their set piece through Ripon’s tenacity and Ripon were let down by lack of clinical finishing, particularly where ball retention in the contact area was concerned. Little details make for huge progress during games and attacks breaking down through ball spillages or unnecessary penalties due to lack of support, don’t help and need to be eliminated.
The squad as selected saw seven players in all, affected by change. The backs looked pretty stable with Buckley returning to push Callum Findlay onto the bench and through misfortune suffered by a sick Josh Seal; Tom Graham was rescued from the bench at the last minute to take the Inside Centre berth. Outside, Toms Newby and Leeming kept their places as did James Audsley-Beck. The half back pairing of Mainey and Pillar held good until just after half time when club stalwart and utility back Patrick Whitaker stepped up as last minute replacement for Seal and took over from the injured Pillar. Whitaker’s influence in the second half was inspirational and whilst he may have lacked patience in wanting to get into the fray, “Bob” Whitaker certainly excited the crowd and showed courage and conviction.
What played out, in front of a sizeable crowd, despite the exorbitant £4 entry fee, was a thriller that saw Ripon hanging by their fingernails above the drop zone. In an all too familiar scenario to previous seasons, Ripon have an awful lot to do as a squad and a club to attract, retain and consistently play, quality players of a calibre to perform to a higher standard than we are currently able. Credit where it’s due and no individual is not worth their place on the pitch, but cohesive training as a squad has always been a challenge and the need for a squad to train together to be successful goes without saying. We will however, continue with the current ambition to remain in Yorkshire Two and encourage the current squad members to seize the challenge to stay up.
In the pack, Adam Newcombe started at Hooker to put Jordan Payne onto the bench as a “finisher”. The rest of the line-up remained the same apart from the first start of the season from colonial cousin Nick Perez at Number 6. With “Clockwork Orange” Euan Findlay reverting to Number 8, the pack was set to try and hold their own in the scrums and do some damage through the salmon like abilities of Oliver, Eddleston and where needed; Findlay and Barker in the line out.
With an icy wind blowing end to end and floodlights on from 2.00pm, this was not going to be a cosy afternoon for anyone. The magnificent pitch looked huge and unsullied from perhaps a handful of games so far this season, but there was no hiding place from the bitter cold and that, despite the pitch conditions, was what influenced the continuity of handling for both sides. As noted previously, the number of penalties conceded at the breakdown, may have been as a result of the surface, or the weather. Either way, with missed kicks – two penalties for Ripon, such scoring chances can’t go unpunished and the side that took their scoring chances more effectively won.
Yarnbury kicked off into the wind and the ball naturally hung tantalisingly short of the requisite 10 metre line. Opting to play anyway, the hosts’ attempt to pick the bouncing ball failed and Ripon, gifted clean possession, set about a four minute series of attacks before losing the ball in the tackle. From their first scrum, the hosts set about attacking through phases until a try saving tackle by Alex Oliver produced turnover ball for Euan Findlay to counter from his own line. A deft pass saw Hamish Mainey clear to touch to relieve the pressure.
From the first of few line outs won by Yarnbury, they set up some good phases of ball retention, committing few players to the breakdown to keep options open. At 8 minutes and after nearly 10 phases, the hosts’ Inside Centre cut an acute line back through the Ripon defence before selflessly offloading to his outside number to open the scoring for Yarnbury with a converted try to take the lead at 7 – 0.
During the middle of the first half, it seemed as if the hosts were falling foul of the tackle area laws and great work on the ground by Ripon’s tackled players saw a succession of penalty chances on offer. At 13 minutes, a chance came within range of Sam Pillar and he calmly stroked the ball over to reduce the deficit to 7 – 3.
Not long after that, a further sequence of home offences saw Tom Leeming step up to attempt a 40 metre plus penalty goal, which just carried wide in the wind. Pillar at the 15 minute stage was by now starting to suffer with a leg injury, which marred his further kicking attempts, but didn’t impact on his accurate ball distribution.
At 23 minutes. The Blues looked to be gaining many advantages. In the set piece, Oliver and Eddleston were causing all sorts of bother in the line out and in the scrums; the redesigned front row was holding its own and providing Findlay with a stable launchpad for his inspiring and ground covering attacking runs. Unfortunately, retention and continuity were a challenge and with a penalty for holding on, the hosts were given a further crack at the whip. From the penalty touch kick, the home line out worked to produce quick ball which saw a chip over the defence. An indiscretion by Ripon attempting to slow down the chase resulted in a penalty advantage, which Yarnbury exploited further through their Number 10 chipping again and closing in to touch down for their second try. The easy conversion from in front of the posts was simple enough to take the score to 14 – 3.
From the restart and at the start of the second quarter, Ripon pressured the defence into knocking on and were given a scrum put in on the 20 minute mark. Holding firm, Findlay broke open and fed wide to the right. Graham took on the two opposition Centres before perfectly floating a pass to Tom Newby to sprint in the final 40 metres for Ripon’s first and only try. Tom Leeming added the conversion to reduce the deficit to 14 – 10.
Despite a strong finish in which Ripon battered the host’s goal line, the score remained the same at half time and thoughts of a decent result for the Blues looked realistic.
The second half started with a shock from the hosts after Ripon successfully fielded the kick and were awarded a penalty for the hosts being off side. The touch kick allowed for a line out which saw a malfunction and gave Ripon a scrum put in. From Mainey’s box kick, Audsley-Beck chased, but lost the tussle for possession. Again the elusive home Number 12 cropped up and danced through four attempted tackles to score their third try, which went unconverted.
The rest of the second half developed into a dour affair of close order challenges and uneventful open play. In all Ripon conceded 11 penalties in the half, mostly around the tackle area and the hosts just three, The yellow card awarded to Perez for not rolling away, was harsh, but an indication of the referee’s frustration with both sides reluctance to release either the ball or the tackled player. Maybe it is right to blame the pitch, which allows players to move more quickly and perhaps outrun their support. Maybe it was just a bad day for discipline?
Ripon looked to close the game well and with the introduction of fresh legs in Payne for Newcombe at Hooker and Wiley Whitaker for Pillar, some lively attacking phases followed. Whitaker in particular, showed poise and balance, as well as sheer grit in the tackle and responsibility for carrying when all else failed. Good to have him back in the squad.
Further attacks in the dying moment failed to achieve completion and a penalty goal attempt from Leeming at 43 minutes of the second half passed cruelly close. So after a nail biting finish in which Ripon did everything but score, they again ran out in second place. Many good points to build on again and many needless errors to eradicate as well.
As the Six Nations Championship swings into centre stage, Ripon have no league action next weekend, so if the 2nd XV play, there will be plenty of opportunities and players to cheer them on. Plus a veritable feast of televised Rugby will be available in the clubhouse, fuelled no doubt by a selection of Mike’s tasty comestibles?
After that however, the mouth-watering prospect of two consecutive home games versus Wheatley Hills and North Ribblesdale respectively, must give the Blues some hope of salvaging pride and league position. All support is very welcome for these massive games, both with remaining with the 2.15pm kick off.