1st XV Match Report - Saturday 30th March
By Becky Naylor
MATCH REPORT by BOB CHAMPION
When Ripon have previously prepared meticulously for a win, that outcome has generally been achieved. The trouble with Ripon’s season to date is that all of the factors that contribute to preparing meticulously have often not so far lined up. Like Ducks lining up in a row, or Geese showing extraordinary levels of teamwork to travel massive distances around the globe, the Blues have dabbled with the psychology of effective teamwork, have demonstrated some “close but no cigar” moments and of course, crashed and burned unceremoniously in recent games. Player availability, whether through injury, work or study commitments, continues to be a serious challenge for selectors. Thus at this point in the season, with schoolwork probably being the biggest influence on commitment to training for many younger players; releases from championship academy, county and national honours offered some interesting options for the squad. Plus of course, the Geese are on the move.
This Saturday, the Ducks were firmly aligned, the Geese were also very much on song; all of the runes fell in the right order; and any Ley Lines remotely near Mallorie Park, converged to provide one of, if not the greatest sporting spectacles witnessed at the ground in recent years. Ripon players old and new (many now having worn the colours of both clubs) thronged the touchlines and made for a vibrant atmosphere for a game that Ripon had to win and Northallerton would have liked to.
Fielding a squad containing no less than five ex-Ripon players, the visitors came with the expectation that they would dispose of the hosts on the way to furthering their national cup aspirations, as well as their outside chances of promotion to the dizzy heights of Yorkshire Division One. It was even ironic that Northallerton’s independent TV station wasn’t able to post a particularly attractive summary of the match, seeming to focus on Ripon’s misgivings rather than Northallerton’s lack of ability to win the game?
Unfortunately, Ripon had other plans and following two intense training sessions and some very difficult selection decisions, the Blues fielded an appropriate squad to take on the challenge of high flying opposition and win the day.
The performance on the day from both teams was memorable for a number of reasons. Northallerton kicked off with the wind and slope and despite failing to assert any authority over any components of the game; the half time core of a converted try and three penalties to nil, was more testament to having a decent goal kicker in the squad than through actual efforts on the pitch. Apart from the early converted try to the visitors, their other points came from three successful first half penalty goals from Visitor’s Number 10, from around the 45 metre mark. With discipline clearly a key issue for Ripon, the opportunities for further kicks were swiftly eliminated.
Thus it was a game of definitely two halves in which Northallerton did their best and Ripon showed their true colours to run out worthy winners.
Selection to the Ripon squad was made very difficult with the number of players becoming available from the successful Academy system and the club’s desire to secure a safe place in the current division. From last week’s back line the introduction of Ewan May was a timely recognition of his explosive power and defensive ability as a straight swap for the unavailable Buckley.
The recent half back pairing was broken up to test Ollie Williams at Number 10, with stalwart Whitaker invited to add his significant experience and presence to the Hornblowers’ squad. Tom Newby was promoted from the bench to start at 13 and Mark Spilman added value to the finishing line up.
In the pack, confidence was shown in the front row of Slator, Newcombe and Sadler, with “Pup” Nicholson adding his experience to the bench. The second row saw Oliver paired with Colt Will Pritchard, due to Skipper Barker’s continued indisposition. The back row was adjusted slightly with Wainwright stepping back to the bench to accommodate Will Smith at Number 8, Taylor and Findlay starting as usual.
Thus, as the season went into its third from last game, with Ripon perhaps more to play for than the visitors, in front of a decent sized crowd from the City and County Town, battle commenced.
The visitors kicked off with the modest breeze and slope and as is traditional, the reception was knocked on. Not wishing to pick on individuals so early on in the summary of the game, it might be an area of concern that the Blues consistently don’t seem able to catch the ball reliably at such a critical point of the game. Whether it is a period restart, or one after a score, the same rules and skills apply. Basically, if the receipt of a gift from the opposition (the kick off) can’t be taken advantage of, then there will be less forthcoming. That said, given the opportunity in the first half to restart the game four times, Ripon absolutely smashed the receivers and sent the visitors into all sorts of disarray; albeit in the first half, but with increasing effect in the second half with aggressive restart returns.
From the initial kick off indiscretion, Northallerton were awarded the first scrum of the day, which the Ripon pack held firm. Successive visitors’ attacks were smashed back unceremoniously by many Ripon players, but hats off had to go to last week’s man of the match Alex Oliver (for the same reason) for three critical tackles within three minutes. The work-rate of this year’s signing is phenomenal and he is definitely one to keep.
The opening exchanges then saw some over-eagerness and holding on in the tackles as both teams looked to probe further into enemy territory and outstrip their support. After some early penalties for such offences, neither side was in a position to secure territorial advantage unto the seventh minute. From a visitor’s scrum, the ball was shifted left and with carefully co-ordinated handling, their Right Wing slotted into a midfield line at pace, before releasing his Inside Centre to open the scoring with a converted try to take the score to 0 – 7 after seven minutes played.
The remainder of the first half was inconsequential as far as play was concerned. Ripon held a good set piece and attacked well from both scrum and line out. Northallerton did the same pretty much, but managed to exploit their opportunities to score points more than the hosts. Thus, three penalty goal attempts successfully converted, each from forty plus metres against one missed attempt from Ripon, underpinned a first half that hadn’t given the hosts any glory.
During the first forty minutes, the likes of Graham and Leeming battered away at the opposition and the home back row forwards continued to defend and attack aggressively to keep the Blues in the game.
When the final whistle of the first half signalled 0 – 16, the clear message from the Ripon players was “So what?” And so the second half of the game very much went into the annals of history, based on the “Is that the best you can do” questioning, both of selves and opposition. What followed was very much an indication of what the Ripon players are capable of and a situation where the visitors had not quite come up against such passion and determination to win from opponents.
Whilst not entirely a one way street, the second half saw Ripon score 25 points unopposed, including three tries, two of which were converted and two penalty goals by Ollie Williams to secure the win. With an increasingly stronger set piece, Ripon set about implementing a number of attacking options, which seemed to become more easy to execute as the game went on. Whilst the visitors’ tackling was largely up to scratch, the sustained attacks from teenagers, Smith, Wainwright and Pritchard, made significant inroads on their defence. In the backs, Mainey started to snipe and kick effectively, Williams peppered the field with bombs and Graham, Newby and Leeming just smashed into the heart of the defence.
Starting the second half with a vengeance, the combo of Findlay and Wainwright offered the hosts a scrum within seconds of the restart by converging perfectly on the kick off receiver. Wainwright picked from the base of the stable scrum to feed Mainey and gave him plenty of room to work with. Williams carried on the handling move to the right and with a miss move, fed Tom Graham to power his way over to open the scoring for Ripon. Ollie Williams added the conversion to reduce the deficit to 7 – 16.
After the restart, Ripon pieced together some tidy phases of possession to take the phases into double figures. Again after a powerful scrum break by Wainwright, “Young Ted” smashed his way up field and then linked with Smith to release Taylor for a typically Mercurial run. An indiscretion at the breakdown gave Williams an opportunity to reduce the difference further with a penalty goal, to take the score to 10 – 16 with 56 minutes played.
After less than ten minutes, Ripon exploded into action again and exploited confusion and lack of cohesion in the visitors’ ranks. From a penalty touch kick, Oliver won the obligatory line out catch and semi-drive. The set piece saw the ball drift quickly left field before being momentarily halted. Ex-Winger Sadler appeared unexpectedly to carry on the attack for a further 10 metres, before passing the baton (and ball) safely back to the likes of Smith, before feeding Williams. Ollie Williams then drifted the dreamiest of kicks over to the right wing, for Tom Leeming to run on to and score Ripon’s second try. Williams knocked over the conversion to take the score to a tantalising 15 – 16.
The final quarter saw mixed levels of contributions from the competitors and probably the clearest indicator of the season so far, in that the side that most wanted to win; did so.
Ripon’s set piece continued to hold firm, the senior players lasted the pace, the youth players injected skill and enthusiasm and the visitors just started to look quite ordinary. Admittedly the home crowd may have out-shouted the visitors, but the passion shown in the final few minutes, must surely go into the annals of the club’s history as worthy of note.
At 66 minutes after a sustained period of Ripon pressure, Ripon finally took the lead with a penalty goal from Ollie Williams; 18 – 16.
The final ten minutes saw Ripon launch attack after attack to no significant response. Continually instrumental were the likes of Wainwright and Smith who made the hard yards and Mainey and Williams, with their increasingly more accurate kicking games.
The final nail in Northallerton’s coffin came at the 71 minute mark. From a scrum break Wainwright fed Smith, who charged on a while. From the tackle, Williams carried on the running attack and fed Leeming to progress. Exploiting the overlap, Leeming fed Tom Newby to score Ripon’s third try. Williams’ conversion took the score to 25 -16 and offered the visitors a huge ask.
The final few minutes of the game petered out with Ripon looking to increase their lead and Northallerton looking to limit damage. And so, Ripon recorded their ninth win of the season, with 48 league points. Strong testament to the integrity and commitment of the coaching team and the commitment of the squad players, who have no misgivings as to what they are playing for.
A win is a win and the club must take heart from the fact that last Saturday, some 60 or so, men women and young people, took to the field at home and away and delivered a substantial “Blue Rinse”. The women’s game increases in prominence in the club and the perpetual feed of age grade players fills the ranks of the senior teams albeit momentarily. A good opportunity to end the season on a high note, with as many players as can, supporting each team’s remaining games, in a “One Club” style?
This coming weekend Ripon 1st XV travel away to mid-table Old Grovians, who have seen a recent resurgence in form since their inability to field a full team in the home leg back in early December last year. Ripon need to pull out all stops as far as squad player availability and travelling support, venue details are available on the club website, Facebook page and Twitter account. As much support as possible from the Ripon faithful will be appreciated in this last but one of two final “must win” matches. Kick off 3.00pm.