1st XV Match Report - Saturday 2nd March
By Becky Naylor
MATCH REPORT by BOB CHAMPION
Clearly benefitting from a week off to rest, recuperate and train hard, Ripon bounced back to winning ways to deliver an emphatic away win at Roundhegians Memorial Ground. With relegation staring the club in the face, the Blues took this game seriously and whilst the squad was disrupted to a degree by further changes, everyone stepped up on the day to put in a sterling performance that took the club up one place in the league rankings into 12th position.
The changes, of which there were ten in all; five positional from the last squad selected and a further five seeing four recalls to the squad and an exciting debut for yet another of this season’s successful Under 18 Academy system players – Ted Wainwright. No pressure at all on the youngsters, but with six of the squad selected still at age 18 or below, this side was testament to the quality of the youth players coming through Ripon’s age grade system. It is also in recognition of the coaching and mentoring that they receive as part of an integrated effort to provide Rugby for all and support aspiring players to do their best. A case in point with the timely selection of Will Smith starting at Number 8, who has just been selected for this season’s England Counties U18 Team. The Club and hopefully the whole of Ripon will wish Will all the very best for his forthcoming matches and integration into the professional and representative game.
In the backs, Evan Rees and Ollie Williams re-entered the squad to provide incision and pace and Josh Seal was recalled to provide maturity and leadership in the midfield. Leeming remained a rock solid choice at Full Back and Tom Graham was selected on merit to do serious damage on the Wing and that he did. The balance of youth and experience at half back was continued, with Mainey and Whitaker to pair up for the third time.
In the forwards, a reshuffled front row saw a subtle blend of maturity, pace, strength and facial-over-head hair, in Greenwood, Nicholson and Mark “Daddy Bear” Sadler. The second row saw the 10th pairing of Skipper Iain “Daddy Bear” Barker and aspiring “James Herriot” veterinary Alex Oliver. The back row saw a makeover in repositioning Euan Findlay at Blind Side and Matty Taylor at Open Side to allow for Will Smith to provide some go forward from the base of the scrum.
The bench was ably supplemented by ex-Skipper Adam Newcombe to contribute anywhere in the front row; squad faithful Connor Eddleston to contribute anywhere on the pitch (and that he did) and debutante: Yorkshire U18 and further honours hopeful, Ted Wainwright, again to play anywhere necessary. As it happened, both Wainwright and Eddleston put in classy performances on the Wing, before Eddleston replaced Graham and Wainwright stepped into the Number 8 berth to relieve Smith for a well-deserved rest in the second half.
Of course, in order to establish any decent play from the first phase possession, a team needs to show cohesion and purpose at every scrum, line out and restart reception. This was one of a handful of games in which the Ripon set piece looked to be effective from the word go. The scrums were solid as a rock, thanks to the efforts of the four available front row players on rotation. The line out wasn’t quite as effective as it could have been on either throw and the old adage of “size matters” was well and truly quashed, with misses and over-throws, making a mockery of Ripon’s substantial height advantage. A good smattering of possession however, kept the Blues in the game from this phase and no disgrace was suffered.
The restarts in a relatively high scoring game, also didn’t go along the intended path. Despite Ollie Williams’ massive potential as a kicker in all aspects of the game; into and with the wind, the Blues failed to capitalise on expected possession through ineffective chasing. Also, given the opportunities to launch attacks from receptions, too many were ineffectively gathered to make any real counter-attacking options viable. Big match nerves aside, a substantial team performance was agreed as necessary from the Ripon squad and that was what was delivered.
In quite dull conditions, with a wind blowing in a way that it would favour either team eventually, Ripon kicked off into the gentle breeze. Testament at this point must go, to the few in numbers, but very vocal travelling supporters, who were very helpful in spurring the Blues to success.
From the kick off, the hosts looked to probe deep and from the Ripon touch kick, Roundhegians sought to attack from their line out gain. A breakdown in the centre however, saw Seal recover the situation with a robust turnover in the tackle. Ripon then benefited from a decent string of plays from successful scrums to find themselves battling into the wind into the home half.
A let up appeared on 10 minutes when Ripon exploited a penalty touch kick. From the line out, possession was kept close to pressurise the defence through a well-executed catch and drive. At the right moment, after a number of probes by the likes of Findlay and others from the tight five; Bob Whitaker sought the chance to chip over the defence. In his second start of the season, youngster Evan Rees closed in for the kill and touched down to open the scoring for the visitors. Williams just missed the conversion to keep the scoreboard at 0 – 5.
The Blues harried from the restart and put all sorts of pressure on the hosts. Deep into home territory the visitors were gifted a penalty after a defensive error. Opting for the scrum and with 18 minutes gone, Will Smith broke to take the first contact and release Mainey. The diminutive, but gutsy and agile Hamish Mainey, stepped and jinked his way through three would be tacklers, to score Ripon’s second try. Williams stepped up and with the conversion within his range into the wind, added two points to the score to take the visitors into the lead at 0 – 12.
After a period of home pressure, the hosts positioned themselves to compensate for a Ripon transgression to get themselves on the scoreboard with a penalty goal to take the score to 3 – 12 at 21 minutes played.
From the restart, Ripon looked more lively and involved. Through pressure from Ripon’s back row, Hamish Mainey managed to chip the defence and set Rees off on another charge. Rees recovered the ball short of the line and with the support of Smith, enabled the offload to Tom Graham to crash over for Ripon’s third try. Again into the strong wind, Williams was unable to add the conversion, but left the score at a creditable 3 – 17.
The hosts pushed back well and despite pressurising the Blues’ line repeatedly, didn’t manage to penetrate. Nearing the end of the second quarter, after withstanding some intense home pressure, Ripon regained control. From a scrum, Smith charged on, to release Tom Leeming coming in close support. The attack eventually broke down due to resolute defence, but a deliberate knock on gave the visitors the advantage.
Opting for the scrum, the blues again dominated and saw Smith pick to feed Mainey. The spritely Scrum Half did what was necessary to pass to Whitaker and then with Josh Seal holding his line perfectly, allowed Tom Graham to crash though unannounced to score Ripon’s fourth and bonus point winning try. Williams made good with the conversion to take the score into the break at 3 – 24.
That concluded the first half for Ripon and left both sides wondering how to make improvements in their performance. Ripon had by far the most advantageous situation, with a rotation of Newcombe and Sadler in the front row, the forward battle would be alleviated; with the substitution of Eddleston for Graham on the Wing, bulk would be replaced with guile and pace. Plus, with Wainwright coming on for Smith at Number 8, after his brief encounter on the Wing; gave a whole new energy to the second half.
After turning around 3 - 24, Ripon restarted the game with a determination to progress the winning side of the scoreboard. The hosts however, had a different mind-set and exerted all sorts of pressure to break up Ripon’s play. The saving grace for Ripon was the introduction of Colt Connor Eddleston to play out of position on the Wing to replace the injured Tom Graham.
After 18 minutes of the second half, Ripon pounced on a penalty advantage, which saw Tom Leeming break away to feed Eddleston to score Ripon’s fifth and hopefully game winning try. With Williams missing the conversion attempt to leave the score at 2 – 29, Ripon looked home and dry.
Despite the Blues’ best efforts, it is fair to say that the two scoring opportunities came the way of the hosts in the second half, were appropriately rewarded. So followed two tries, one of which was converted, to take the score to 15 - 29
A solid performance in many ways for Ripon, but a number of questions too. Still much to play for – much pride in the club, league status and club infrastructure.
This coming weekend Ripon 1st XV face second placed Leodiensians, who have made a meteoric recovery from a very poor start to the season. Undoubtedly this will be a tough encounter, but confidence in the Ripon squad is running high and commitment to training to avoid relegation is immense. With the Ripon 2nd XV also hosting the same club, this could make for an interesting and exciting afternoon’s entertainment and hopefully a pleasant distraction from the internationals? All support will be very welcome for this massive 1st XV game, which kicks off at 3.00pm.