1st XV Match Report - Saturday 13th April
By Becky Naylor
MATCH REPORT by BOB CHAMPION
The last three weeks have shown a few things to be true, in that: you can never trust the spring weather to be consistently temperate (The wearing of shorts on the touchline was a bad idea for many); you can actually have too many quality players to choose from (An entirely different position from the start of the season); you can never underestimate the passion of any side and the power it gives them, when their backs are against the wall. The final truth is that Ripon RUFC players, haven’t recently been used to the massive touchline support that they have received in these past three survival-critical games and absolutely lived up to expectations. Nor has the entire squad ever been in such a relegation-avoidance tussle and turned in three absolutely gold plated performances to secure the Club in Yorkshire Division Two for next season. Nor have we had such difficult decisions to make in selecting the right squad players to represent the club at this critical point of the season.
Once again, it boiled down to a subtle blend of youth and experience, with six Under 18s in the squad, manning up as ever and showing both their own calibre and resilience as sportsmen, as well as the confidence and competence that they show as a result of their nurturing in the Ripon Academy system. Whilst they are the future of the club, we are all aware that many will go away to develop academically or professionally and may never wear the Blue hoops again. We thank those that will move on and wish them well. We embrace those that will stay and will nurture them and we will do our best to hang on to the more mature players, who have many seasons left in them.
We have previously mentioned the meticulous preparations, the commitment of the coaching team to maintain intensity and interest, as well as the contribution of the many young players, struggling to accommodate exam revision, training and maybe even social lives. Pertinent at this point perhaps, should be a massive thank you to everyone who has supported a 1st XV squad player in whatever capacity. Family, friends, colleagues and Ripon RUFC officials have all added to the sense of one club and everyone’s efforts towards that have been much appreciated.
The conditions for the day looked to be changeable, with an unpredictable wind and temperatures below seasonal average. Balanced by a massive crowd by any recent season’s standards, this looked like a scene set for a truly memorable finale to the season. Whilst there were many nail-biting moments, during which: the lead changed hands three times, Ripon missed a sin-binned player to the punishment of a converted Try; the opposition, when in possession, maintained continuity and fluency, but failed to gain any overall advantage; but - the Blues maintained their composure throughout, to win. A third win on the trot and by a bonus point margin to boot, put Ripon neatly out of the relegation zone at 11th out of 14 teams. Much to build on as ever and with ongoing changes in personnel, on and off the pitch; that challenge remains for the club to keep providing as much Rugby as possible for as many people as possible and still remain competitive in the RFU Divisional structure.
This Saturday saw a number of positional changes and a re-shuffling of the deck to replace Graham and Spilman out injured and Smith to rest before his international duties. In came Buckley to add pace to the back three, Barker returning from a brief rest and May to drop into his favourite berth at Full Back. The bench ably accommodated Sadler and Pritchard as forward replacements and Leeming to deliver damage wherever he appeared.
The initial kick off from Williams on behalf of Ripon was text book by modern standards. Hanging in the air for over three seconds, the ball descended perfectly for Euan Findlay to catch on the burst. Unfortunately, butter-fingers were unhelpful and the advantage was lost. Playing knock on advantage, the Referee allowed West Park Leeds to attempt a break out, but despite some early ball retention skill, they couldn’t get away. Recalling the teams to scrummage for the Ripon knock on, the visitors cleared the set piece well, but some indecision at half back saw Euan turnover possession to feed Ted Wainwright, who in turn fed Tom Newby. The attack saw a classic two on one and Newby made no mistake in perfectly timing his pass to Ben Taylor to sprint in some 40 metres to open the scoring for Ripon, with just short of three minutes on the clock. Ollie Williams was just out of range with the conversion attempt, but an early lead at that point in the game was a massive boost to the Blues to establish the score at 5 – 0 within three minutes.
In a game in which neither side flourished either way at the restart, the hosts seemed to get the better bounce of the ball in the early stages in open play. From the restart, after a visitor’s mistake, Ripon took advantage of their thirst to move quickly from the set piece. From a backpedalling scrum, Ted Wainwright broke blind and released Hamish Mainey for a 40 metre sprint, only to be hauled down short of the line. Despite Newcombe’s support, along with a number of other flying forwards, the visitors killed the ball and opened the way for Williams to add to the Ripon score with a penalty goal to take it to 8 – 0 at five minutes played. The uninitiated in this division may have taken the score-line for granted and assumed an easy win on the cards. Not so Ripon and acknowledging the vulnerability in the scrum, brought on Mark “Brimham Rocks” Sadler at Tight Head to steady things down and that he did.
It will be pertinent at this point to note that the pre-match team talk focus was on exploiting technical ability, being brave and using freedom wisely, based on sound decision making. Apart from a flurry of penalties in the middle of the first half, one of which led to a Yellow Card for Nicholson, Ripon generally held good to that mission and whilst the opposition strung together plentiful and ground-gaining phases, they never quite managed to turn pressure into points.
Towards the end of the first quarter, Ripon seemed to be working well, with the set piece gifting useable ball and the loose yielding numerous turnovers, what could possibly go wrong? A visitor’s indiscretion at 19 minutes saw Williams slot another penalty goal to take the score to 11 – 0.
From the restart, the visitors set forth to establish some controlled phases of play. Numerous phases were built up and despite a home turnover by Nicholson, play was reinstated to the visitors and they managed to break the deadlock and score a converted try at 23 minutes to take the score to 11 – 7.
The second quarter saw a succession of cohesive attacks from the visitors and with Ripon missing Nicholson for his Yellow card offence, the unity of the Ripon pack was under scrutiny. The Blues however made the visitors work hard for possession at all stages of the game, but were dealt the crushing blow of a further converted try by West Park Leeds at the half hour mark. At this point Ripon dug deep and despite a man down, caused the visitors significant pressure at the scrum and line out, through Sadler, Oliver and Taylor respectively. Thus despite a flurry of visitors’ activity in the closing stages of the first half, Ripon fought for every 50:50 ball and in securing a penalty from a turnover on the last play, went into the break somewhat relieved, but determined to improve on the 11 – 14 score line.
As has been the case in many previous games, the second half is the one that matters and as in many previous games, this was where the Blues’ squad members stood up to be counted and delivered a league place saving performance. Buoyed on by the massive crowd and the encouragement of the coaching team, Ripon were poised to spring out of the starting blocks into a game-changing position.
The visitors restarted the game with just as impressive a kick as could have been offered by Ollie Williams, let down only on the inability of anyone to chase and secure the ball. Ripon cleared the muddled reception and from the following line out the visitors looked to spin the ball wide. Reading the long pass perfectly, Matty Taylor swooped to intercept and ran unopposed the full 50 metres to score between the posts. Seemingly not entirely recovered from his recent shoulder dislocation, Matty popped the joint again on grounding the ball and after a stoppage of several minutes, left the field for further hospital treatment. Williams converted the try to take the score to 18 – 14; Taylor underwent successfully corrective treatment in hospital and we welcome his speedy recovery and return to playing as soon as he can.
Gradually getting back into their rhythm, the hosts looked to launch attacks from the solid scrum platform. Perhaps Wainwright could have done more in open play with back row move opportunities? Perhaps not, but his time would come later. Towards the end of the third quarter, Ripon’s increasing set piece dominance was starting to tell and the game was peppered with attacking brilliance as the Ripon midfield looked to release the likes of Buckley and May to sprint the hard yards.
At the turn of the fourth quarter a five metre scrum to the hosts saw Wainwright pick and release several other players in the move, before Euan Findlay scampered over to take the score with Williams’ conversion to 25 – 14. Edging nicely towards the try bonus point win, so desperately needed, the hosts were in a very positive frame of mind.
The final quarter saw many structured attacks from both sides and occasional errors punished with territorial gains and losses. What appeared to be the closing few moments saw a significant ascendancy in the Ripon pack performance and from a scrum taken some 15 metres out, the hosts bullied and bashed their way forward to unleash Wainwright to claim the bonus point try and with Williams just missing the conversion attempt, take the score to a seemingly unassailable 30 – 14.
Despite all of the good faith in accurate time keeping, the game seemed to carry on for an eternity. At just short of 50 minutes into the second half, the visitors squeaked out of what looked to be a match closing position and broke out to score a final unconverted try to take the score to 30 – 19. A bonus point win again and one in which league status was secured for Ripon. However, a reminder again to Ripon, that a game lasts for 80 plus minutes and playing to win for the duration and clinically executing domination are the best ways to avoid such last minute clashes.
That concludes Ripon 1st XV’s season. The 2nd XV have two more games and the ladies may also have more to play for, so please keep an eye on club posts to see what is going on. A massive thank you to the club volunteers, employees, members, officials, patrons, sponsors and anyone else with a vested interest. The teams on the pitches can’t do it without your help and support, so please continue to do so and make Ripon a great place to play Rugby.