1st XV Match Report - Saturday 9th February
By Becky Naylor
MATCH REPORT by BOB CHAMPION
It doesn’t seem so long ago since the “ill wind” analogy was used and probably just as valid. There can’t be many games in which the hosts opt to play up the slope and into a 40mph wind in the first half in the hope of reaping benefits and then bow out so ignominiously. It was indeed an ill wind that blew neither party to the conflict any good and tested both sides’ ability to play with the ball in hand.
Ironically, it was the visitors who played throughout the game as if they were experimenting with “soapy balls” and Ripon who strung together succession after succession of slick passing moves. Wheatley Hills seemed to not get the hang of the handling game for large periods and with Ripon’s new found scrummaging confidence, they should have been worried about being punished. However, the Blues failed to ignite the game with anything significant from the base of the scrum and made little use of their line out dominance. Also, given the visitor’s shocking indiscipline that led to a half time penalty count of 4 – 8, Ripon again failed to take advantage of the referee’s increasing frustration. Furthermore, Ripon themselves nearly went into melt down in the second half, which saw the home penalty count nudging on double figures.
In all, a game that was there for the taking for Ripon. Wheatley Hills had strength in many places, but it was their dogged determination to fight to the bitter end and use their bigger ball carriers to better effect. Ripon had similar strengths and dare one say, a little more finesse, but as it didn’t lead to anything more than a single losing bonus point result, the game put Ripon well and truly in the danger zone at 13th out of 14 in Yorkshire Division Two.
Ringing more changes than in recent weeks, Ripon made nine overall, six positional or recycling of squad and bench and then three re-introductions after absences. In the pack, Slator tried his hand at Loose Head Prop, Newcombe remained at Hooker and Mark Sadler brought some go forward to Tight Head. The Twin Towers of Barker and Oliver remained at first choice at Lock and the Back Row accommodated Nick Perez to facilitate the move of Tom Graham back to Outside Centre.
The half backs saw Mainey remain at the helm at Scrum Half and Bob Whitaker promoted from last week’s bench to start at 10. Elsewhere in the backs, Callum Findlay swapped his bench position with James Audsley-Beck and Seal returned from illness to start at 12.
Using the ill wind as well as the sun to their advantage, the visitors kicked off and managed to scramble possession from home uncertainty. A penalty from the attempted turnover saw a touch kick put the visitors into the home 22 metre area. Whilst the line out throw in was perversely past the target, the massive visitors’ Lock caught the over-throw and trundled through three tackles to open the scoring with a try on the second minute mark. The conversion attempt carried perfectly with the wind to notch up a 0 – 7 lead before three minutes were up. One could be drawn into complacency at that point to revisit the game back at Wheatley Hills when they scored from the kick off and Ripon proceeded to romp home to a comfortable win. Not on this occasion and Ripon’s next points were hard earned.
Both sides attempted to play and Ripon looked the most creative, with the visitors most accident prone. The difference was however, that much of Ripon’s effort was not rewarded with scoring opportunities and vain attempts to use a kicking strategy into the wind, just ended in simple turnovers.
Some opening flurries of play saw Euan Findlay and Tom Graham making good yards and most of the forwards getting involved in short and quite long carries. At 15 minutes, the Blues seemed to be gaining some territorial advantage and Bob Whitaker narrowly missed a Drop Goal attempt.
At 22 minutes, from a penalty touch kick, Ripon drove the line out catch to see Newcombe clearly ground the ball. Unfortunately the Referee was poorly positioned, so the try went unrecorded. Ripon continued to dominate the later first half exchanges, with repeated attacks on the visitor’s line. So at 35 minutes, from another successful penalty touch kick, Ripon drove the line out 10 metres before releasing to the right. The breakdown on the wing was hit dramatically by the Ripon loose forwards and Payne, just on for Perez, snatched up the loose ball to dive over for Ripon’s opening try. Into the wind, Seal had no chance of converting, but moving to 5 – 7 was a better indication of Ripon’s place in the game.
Nearing half time, a scything break out by Leeming saw a feed to speedster Buckley, before passing on to Seal. Just short of the line and carried away with exuberance, the final scoring pass was adjudged forward and this ended the first half.
The second half saw Ripon kick off with the wind, slope and sun, so what could possibly go wrong? First of all the wind dropped dramatically and the cloud cover came in rapidly. Any advantage remaining from the “alleged slope” disappeared as the visitors gradually started to put up more of a show.
In a half that saw fortunes swing both ways with equal measure as far as the score was concerned, it was the visitor’s resilience to take their scoring opportunities where they arose and to kick all of their conversions that won the game. With three tries apiece, a draw may well have been a just result, but Ripon felt that they could and should have done more.
So with the second half only just underway, Ripon forced an error but were unlucky to be denied a scrum put in. A good effort saw the visitor’s put in disrupted and hastily put the ball into touch. From the line out win, Whitaker chipped behind the defence for Tom Graham to burst through for Ripon’s second try. Seal was unlucky again with the conversion attempt to leave the score at 10 – 7.
At 15 minutes into the half, at a Ripon controlled breakdown, a penalty for the opposition was judged and the visitors moved the ball quickly though hands to take the lead with their second converted try 10 – 14.
Ripon then looked to be closing the game down again towards the final quarter and from a penalty line out, Whitaker chipped the defence again. This time Tom Graham had some defenders to deal with, but made his bulk and pace pay off to take Ripon back into the lead again with a further unconverted try 15 – 14.
The last few minutes saw concerted efforts from Wheatley Hills to batter their way back into the game. Poor discipline from Ripon led to multiple opportunities for the visitors to attack further and it was only their inability to retain possession that prevented a rout. A visitor’s penalty goal attempt on the 38th minute was narrowly missed, but the final nail in the coffin was the awarding of two successive penalties to the visitors that saw them rattle the hosts into conceding a third and match winning converted try. At 15 – 21, the score did flatter the visitors, who were very much one dimensional and not particularly skilful. What they did have was passion and determination to win and that is something that the Ripon squad need to learn pretty quickly.
Ripon have much to do to get out of the current difficulty. We have seen other clubs make dramatic recoveries at this point in the season. The coaches are doing their best to prepare meticulously for each game, let the players get behind them and make the club’s league status worth fighting for.
Final respect to Mike and Sally Allen for their sterling efforts to allow the dearly departed Gavin Makewell’s wake to pass with dignity, good company and good food. Thanks also to the smattering of Ripon RFC ex-players who attended the funeral ceremony at Holy Trinity Church on Monday and the club afterwards. An emotional, touching, but very uplifting send off for a larger than life character, who I had the privilege of playing with.
This weekend Ripon 1st XV host North Ribblesdale for the return leg of what promises to be a thrilling encounter with our Dales rivals. To add to the diversity of Ripon’s Community Rugby offer, Saturday also sees Ripon Bluebelles take on Harrogate Hens. Something for everyone, so all support is very welcome for these massive games, 1st XV kick off 2.15pm, and the women kick off at 2pm.