1st XV Match Report - Saturday 9th March
By Becky Naylor
MATCH REPORT by BOB CHAMPION
On another of those “Mad March Days” weather-wise and with numerous distractions, including International Rugby on TV in the warmth of the clubhouse and a concurrent Second XV game, what played out on the pitch was observed by many of the faithful that makes Ripon such a strong community spirited club. Possibly with equal numbers watching both games on adjacent pitches, plus a few “swing voters”, the weekend’s playing entertainment attracted as good as, if not more than any other Saturday this season. Many thanks go to those that braved the elements to watch grass roots Rugby on the pitches.
The point of that, is that we welcomed also the “Guard of Honour” opportunity taken up by this season’s Under 7 Squad and the associated well-wishers, to show that Ripon remains firmly ensconced in the principles of Community Rugby; which include developing one’s own talent and making the training and playing experience as good as possible, so as to retain the talent that we have nurtured. Hopefully the Under 7 Squad and their supporters relished the experience of the walk on and photo session, sufficiently to come back next year and the next…
Looking at the 1st XV Squad that gained a resounding victory away at Roundhegians the previous week, it was going to be so difficult to select a squad that would do something similar to second placed Leodiensians. With returnees from injury and unavailability, this week’s selection ask was squarely about fielding the most in-form squad that could be capable of getting a win against high flying opposition.
The back line saw a significant shake up in the recall of a Centre pairing of youth and experience, with Spilman and Newby taking the jerseys. No need to debate which was which and Ben Buckley returned to the squad on the Wing to replace unavailable Ollie Williams. The fourth Half Back pairing of Whitaker and Mainey, whilst both diminutive, showed that size doesn’t matter in many respects. With Mainey looking to snipe, chip, pass or run, he showed maturity beyond his years and ability to match at 9. Patrick “Bob” Whitaker, just did what he does best at 10. Strong in the tackle, dumping opponents of all shapes and sizes unceremoniously on the ground; accurate in his passing, but perhaps less effective in the kicking game, which in the weather conditions, was a challenge.
The forwards saw some changes with former Skipper Newcombe recalled from the bench to start at Loose Head and mobile front row partner Jamie Slator returning from a week off at Tight Head. The second row saw the injured Alex Oliver replaced by Colt Will Pritchard and the back row remained the same as selected last week.
The replacements bench was ably occupied by Sadler, Greenwood and Callum Findlay. Nobody likes to be on the bench and nobody likes to be replaced during a game. This is however, how we play the game and as long as the squad of eighteen selected players get appropriate pitch time, all should be happy in the contribution that they make.
There was a game – it was cold, cloudy with expectations of blinding sunshine at some point; a strong end-to-end wind and a quite wet pitch. With Ripon’s selections determined and the opposition being who they were, this was always going to be a battle of wills and who wanted to win more. What followed after the first kick off actually, was a matter of whichever team could keep their cool, take scoring opportunities as they arose and keep their discipline, might win. What was proved at restarts, was that despite less than optimal kicks from Ripon, the opposition showed a slight chink in their armour to deal with unexpected errors.
Discipline was poor on both sides. Initially with Ripon going down with over twice as many penalties conceded as the opposition, yet emerging from the first half in the lead. Leos, did the same in the second half and whilst Ripon’s response to the low number of visitor’s indiscretions led to a two penalty goal advantage; Leos punished the Blues emphatically with a four try to nil, bonus point winning performance, three of the tries being converted.
From Ripon’s perspective, the set piece generally worked well, though the scrum, struggled somewhat in the first half. The line out produced quality ball from Taylor, Smith and Pritchard and many positive attacking moves were initiated by Spilman and Newby and carried on by Graham and Leeming. Leos had obviously done their homework on Leeming’s counter attacking ability and rarely presented him with an opportunity to show his pace and strength.
The first half of the game involved a lot of posturing, enticement at some points, but sheer bludgeoning at other times. The half time score of 6 – 3 through two Whitaker penalty goals to one, said it all about the intensity of the game.
The second half is one that will be best pushed into the annals of history. Ripon never honestly looked like scoring a try throughout the whole game, less so in the second half. Leos however, pressed, punished and just simply imposed themselves on the game that made it very difficult for Ripon to respond.
Turning around at 6 – 3, Ripon thought they were in with a chance. However, despite a well-functioning scrum and line out, as well as big breaks by the likes of Graham and a shocking penalty account against the visitors; it seemed like every home transgression was punished with a try. And so it followed that Leos won the second half 0 – 26 with four tries and three conversions, to no reply.
Leos were no extraordinary team by any means – many of the players were well known over many seasons. On this occasion, the opposition just had what it took to gain a creditable bonus point win, away from home and have posed the Blues some serious questions about what will it take for Ripon to remain in Yorkshire Division Two and how much are the players committed to securing that.
This coming weekend Ripon 1st XV takes another break to regroup and find their best form. The next league action for the Blues will be the away trip to Barnsley on 23rd March. With the opposition sitting one point behind and currently in the relegation zone, this will undoubtedly be a massive game for both teams and sporting spectacle or not; this will be a coach trip to remember, so all travelling support will be very welcome. For those not on the bus, be at Shaw Lane for the 3.00pm kick off.