1st XV Match Report - Saturday 16th February
By Becky Naylor
MATCH REPORT by BOB CHAMPION
On a weekend that saw many bizarre and unexpected score lines, the results of the Yorkshire Division Two action amongst other clubs did nothing to improve Ripon’s situation, but spoke volumes of the tenacity of the players and coaching team to claw their way out of the relegation zone. A number of results went way against the pundits’ predictions; even beyond the wildest of imaginations, but what was evident from Ripon’s as well as a number of other clubs’ displays, was that nobody is going down without a fight. In this period of uncertainty over future divisional configurations, Ripon and anyone else towards the bottom half of the division have set their sights on avoiding the drop. This will make for some very interesting encounters over the remaining weeks of the season.
On another bright, yet less breezy weekend, Ripon fielded a side that saw a contribution to giving positional, unit and team performances that would deliver a win and gain precious league points. Respect is due to the coaching and selection team, who had some very difficult decisions to make and to the players who didn’t make the cut for their understanding and contributions to date. Such is the strength in depth around the adult squad and the ability to call on Academy players, that this week saw the opportunity to test some changes.
The changes were not as sweeping as first thought, but saw an interesting development in the back line. Leeming and Callum Findlay retained their places at Full Back and Wing respectively; however the introduction of Mark Spilman at 12 and Tom Newby at 13 offered some huge attacking and defensive options. Completing the line-up was the experimental selection of powerhouse Tom Graham on the other Wing and the retention of Patrick “Bob” Whitaker at 10 and Hamish Mainey, in his 11th successive selection at Scrum Half.
In the pack, Slator reverted to Tight Head Prop to accommodate the return of Mark Greenwood on the other side of the scrum. Skipper Iain Barker and Alex Oliver added considerable bulk and stability to the scrum in their 9th pairing at Lock and the back row saw the starting berth of 6 given to Rob Nicholson, alongside regulars Eddleston and Euan Findlay. Securing the bench were Mark Sadler, recently returned from injury Matty Taylor and Yorkshire U18 firebrand Will Pritchard.
On a bright and breezy afternoon, Ripon elected to start the game in the same manner as the previous week; into the wind, uphill and with the sun in their eyes. Given the outcome of last week’s kick off decision, this must have been some wishful thinking, but whatever the motivation, the initial kick reception was completely hashed by the visitors, allowing Euan Findlay to pounce on the loose ball.
The attack from Ripon was incisive and saw good handling all round. Gaining ground towards the visitors’ line, Newcombe got cruelly isolated for holding on in the tackle and the ensuing penalty offered some relief. The attempted touch kick failed and was collected by man of the match Tom Leeming to release Euan Findlay again for another of his characteristic powerful runs. The movement unfortunately broke down tantalisingly close to the visitors’ line with a forced knock on in the tackle on Newby.
After some interesting exchanges, Ripon gave away a further penalty, this time for Mainey holding on in the tackle. A message to the Blues to make sure that individuals kept in touch with their support. From the touch kick, Ripon turned over the line out ball and pushed up-field through Barker and Greenwood, with Slator carrying on dramatically after some very slick handling. Progressing into the visitors’ half, Tom Graham received the ball on the wing and demolished his opposite number to run in unopposed to open the scoring at 5 – 0 to Ripon on eight minutes. Bob Whitaker narrowly missed the conversion attempt into the wind.
From the restart, North Ribblesdale sought to retain possession more effectively and despite not exerting any domination in the scrums, did however manage to disrupt the usually well-oiled machine, that is the Ripon line out. At 12 minutes into the half an unforced error in attack let North Ribb in for a pretty soft try after about four open phases. The missed conversion attempt kept the score at 5 – 5.
After a further ten minutes of play in which both sides snuffed out any attacks, Ripon seized the initiative after a sloppy attempt to kick out from defence. Graham fielded the kick to feed Leeming, who smashed his way up field before passing on to Whitaker to offload to Callum Findlay to run in for Ripon’s second try. A very close miss by Whitaker left the score at 10 – 5.
Whilst going nowhere towards the near meltdown of previous weeks, Ripon succumbed to some serious pressure from the visitors and started to give away needless penalties. Thus the second quarter of the game was somewhat skewed by two penalty goals to the visitors, leaving the half time score at an annoying 10 – 11.
With the wind, sun and slope and a commitment not to fall into last week’s trap, Ripon pulled out all stops in the second half.
The timely introduction of Pritchard and Taylor from the bench to the back row saw fresh legs and attitudes brought into attacking and defensive play. Much of the play that followed was creative and enterprising from the hosts and sheer dogged determination from the visitors. The second half didn’t see North Ribblesdale look like scoring and so the cheeky drop goal and penalty by Whitaker, not only put Ripon in front, but added to the visitors’ desperation.
The icing on the cake came after several patient phases for the Blues. A close encounter at eight minutes into the half saw Ripon close to scoring, but again an isolated attacker gave away a needless penalty. Undeterred, Ripon continued to use the conditions well and with Whitaker probing behind the defence, opened up many attacking options.
At 12 minutes into the half, the Ripon forwards created sufficient space for Whitaker to speculate with a successful drop goal attempt to restore the lead to 13 – 11. Within four minutes and now into his kicking groove, Whitaker added a further penalty goal to increase the lead to 16 – 11.
With much pride to play for, North Ribblesdale really turned in a solid few minutes, to no impact on the score board. Ripon however, continued to challenge at every phase and with the late introduction of Sadler to the scrum, had an imposing platform from which to close the game down.
Just after the opening of the final quarter, Ripon’s scrum provided the launchpad for a spectacular break from Euan Findlay to feed Mainey and set up Whitaker for the territorial kick. With the wind, the ball carried further than expected and it fell to Callum Findlay to finish what his brother started in a literal “fastest finger first” chase to touch the ball down over the line. Callum made it by a fingernail and with Whitaker’s conversion being on point, pushed the lead to 23 – 11.
For the final quarter, the Blues held on ruggedly in defence and produced some attractive attacking play. The opposition however, despite milking some Ripon line out malfunctions to the full, never managed to capitalise on any home mistakes. And so, the final few minutes played out with many efforts on both sides, but no further additions to the score.
A very welcome win for Ripon and well-earned league points.
This coming weekend Ripon 1st XV take time out to rest and lick their wounds and then prepare for what will be the “must win” encounter of the season on 2nd March away at fellow relegation fighters Roundhegians. All travelling support will be very welcome for this massive game, which kicks off at the new time of 3.00pm.