1st XV Match Report - Saturday 23rd March
By Becky Naylor
MATCH REPORT by BOB CHAMPION
In a “must win” encounter for both sides, there was undoubtedly the highest level of preparation to take to the field and do battle royal to avoid relegation. The thoroughness of Ripon’s training schedule during the preceding week was unquestionable, as was the quality of players from which to select a winning squad. One can’t speak for the opposition’s approach pre-match, but Ripon ran out confident, prepared and with the right personnel to make a difference all across the squad.
Despite a lively start and developing what looked like a healthy lead in the first half, Ripon eventually came second in a contest that looked to be won or lost at the breakdown. With a marginally larger selection of chunkier players than the Blues, Barnsley used their weight and physicality advantage to boss the contact area and eventually position themselves as winners. Despite scoring three tries apiece, Ripon were less successful with the boot and so what could have been a draw went begging for a missed conversion and penalty goal attempt.
Ringing yet more changes, decided by availability, Ripon realigned the back line to accommodate Josh Seal and Ollie Williams in the Centres, whilst retaining Buckley, Graham and Leeming from the previously selected squad. Mainey and Whitaker maintained the subtle blend of youth and experience at half back, with Tom Newby starting on the bench.
In the pack, the front row saw a reshuffle with Slator starting at Loose Head Prop and evergreen Sadler at Tight Head. Newcombe slipped into the Hooker’s slot and also took on the captaincy for the day in Barker’s absence. Man of the Match Oliver was joined by international protégé Will Smith at Lock and incumbents Findlay and Taylor were joined by Wainwright. The forward finishers on the bench were Pritchard and a welcome return to Jordan Payne.
The deceptively calm, clear and mild weather conditions before kick-off were perhaps an omen of what was left to come for the next hour or so. As the sun gradually waned and the chill wind increased, so did Ripon’s fortunes suffer and during a 90 minute slog in which having gained a first half lead, the second half of the game was spent frustratingly trying to catch up with a Barnsley side, who could seemingly not put a foot wrong. Also, and advisory note to those not actually on the field of play, that shorts are not a good idea in March!
At the set piece for most of the game, the Ripon scrum held well and even caused some problems, as did the line out. Unfortunately, the set piece seemed immaterial in a game which saw much open and expansive play, so the heavier home forwards didn't necessarily create an advantage there. Where they did excel however, was their strength in attack and close support and their ability to challenge effectively at the breakdown. Coupled with the hosts’ hefty replacements, including arguably the best Number 8 in the league, their ball carrying was dangerous and effective.
Ripon in turn, used their youth, fitness and strength to good effect and the scoring of tries from close and wide positions, showed the range of the side’s talent and attacking options.
Ripon kicked off with a mighty trade mark hoist from Williams and put the hosts into immediate disarray. Offered a penalty for the hosts crossing at two minutes, Ripon looked to press fast and loose. The advantage was lost however, with a penalty for holding on in the tackle. After some early challenges, both sides seemed willing to flex between close and wide support play and at the first scrum offered to Ripon, the Blues created havoc and unleashed Wainwright for the first of many of his smashing runs.
After some thrilling end to end stuff, Ripon looked to take some control around the ten minute mark and thrust into home territory. After a penalty for the hosts holding on in defence, Williams took the touch kick to launch the line out attack. Oliver cleanly caught to set up the driving maul, which ended with Matty Taylor touching down. Williams narrowly missed the conversion to leave the score 0 – 5.
The next twenty minutes saw a comprehensive range of attacking plays by Ripon, with little response from the hosts, apart from conceding a number of unnecessary penalties. These involved breaks by Buckley and Graham and some fine territorial kicks by Whitaker and Williams. On the half hour mark, Barnsley gained some uninterrupted possession and launched a counter attack. Perfectly reading the looping pass to his opposite number, Ollie Williams intercepted and sprinted the 40 metres unopposed and converting his own try, gave Ripon a creditable 0 – 12 lead.
The last few minutes of the half saw a Barnsley resurgence and led to a visitor’s 22 metre drop out. The hosts recovered the kick out and fed their Tight Head Prop captain, who bludgeoned and windmilled though the Ripon defence to crash over and open the scoring for the hosts. The conversion closed the gap to 7 – 12 and left Ripon feeling quite vulnerable. Despite that, the last couple of minutes of the half saw Ripon finish strongly to go into the break confident of a decent lead.
Barnsley restarted the second half and immediately put the visitors under pressure. With an increasingly dominant scrum and introduction of their outstanding Number 8, the hosts started to batter Ripon with increasing effect. After only 2 minutes into the half, the hosts finally destroyed the Ripon scrum to be awarded a penalty. After a quickly taken tap, the hosts shifted the ball quickly and score a converted try to take the lead at 14 – 12.
The rest of the second half was pretty much taken up with five to ten minute periods of dominance by each side, with the hosts gradually taking control. Again the breakdown was a critical area, where both teams conceded six or more penalties, but the hosts made theirs count. Ripon attempted to fight back well after the score, but despite repeated attempts by the likes of Findlay, Wainwright and Smith, significant ground couldn’t be gained. The next coffin nail came at 17 minutes into the second half after a Barnsley penalty touch kick. From the line out possession, the home Scrum Half chipped into midfield. One of the Barnsley Locks was first to the loose ball and what must rank as the most audacious and lucky handling move among the Barnsley players, gifted them their third try. It takes something for a 17 stones plus player to attempt to outstrip the defence, so on being caught what does he do? Throw the ball over his shoulder – to a Prop. What does a Prop do when caught by the defence? Throw it over his shoulder – and so it went on and the 60 metre move ended in a third converted try for the hosts to take the score to 21 – 12.
Ripon sought some respite within five minutes from camping in the host’s 22 metre area. A penalty option saw Williams’ touch kick lead to an effective line out catch and drive. Three phases were attempted before Jordan Payne, fresh from the bench, leapt over the line to reduce the deficit. Williams’ conversion took the score to a tantalising 21 – 19.
Just after the 30 minute mark, Ripon again found themselves in a comfortable position, with a penalty opportunity. Williams nailed it to regain the lead at 21 – 22. The success was however short-lived and bouncing back almost immediately, the hosts took a further penalty to nudge ahead again to 24 – 22.
Rallying again and with much pride at stake, Ripon again pressed, with the youth players doing their best to run creatively and the back row seeking to gain dominance at the breakdown. At last a chink in Barnsley’s armour appeared at 40 minutes after a succession of penalties for not rolling away. Williams stepped up hoping to retake the lead, but the long range penalty kick petered out just short.
Playing an inordinate amount of injury time, both sides were looking to be out on their feet with the hosts seemingly content with their lead and Ripon simply running out of ideas as to how to take the game. The final outcome was decided by the referee on 44 minutes, with a penalty against Ripon. The home kicker slotted the goal with ease to take the score to 27 – 22 on the final whistle. Ripon will be kicking themselves for not consolidating a good start into a win, but must be content with a losing solitary bonus point.
Fair play to the hosts for showing their desire to get out of the drop zone and fair play to Ripon for trying their best to achieve the same. With three more games to go and the spectre of league restructuring looming, anything could happen. What does however need to happen, is for Ripon to learn how to win again and consolidate their position in Yorkshire Division Two.
This coming weekend Ripon 1st XV host promotion and national shield chasing neighbours Northallerton, which promises a full house at Mallorie Park. Much needed support from the Ripon faithful will be appreciated in this first of three final “must win” matches. Kick off 3.00pm.