There’s nothing more depressing than a cold, drizzly and breezy Saturday afternoon up on Baildon Moor. Not even the prospects of an enthusiastically supported local commitment to the traditional celebration of Bonfire Night, could lift the mood seemingly, of a Ripon squad resigned over the course of the game, to simply doing enough to get by. The half time lead for The Blues, by one unconverted Try to nil, squeaked into the dying seconds of the period, was gripped tenaciously to the bitter end of the game; but in a cruel twist of fate, the hosts snatched it back to take the lead and then win the match in the last play of the second half. Not easy conditions to play in admittedly, but with the hosts enduring the same misery of the greasy ball and the smell of greasy sausages and bacon wafting across the pitch, the hardship was as bad for all parties. Not sure which was worse, the cold, damp air, or the smell of cooking for the later bonfire party? Either way, the “barbecue fayre” even though pre-cooked, would have been more than palatable than the cold comfort that Ripon suffered in losing the game and the opportunity to enhance a well-deserved lead and improve their mid-table league standing.
Fate being what it is, The Blues depressingly had to settle for second place in this overall un-sparkling encounter and a consolation prize of a solitary losing bonus point, to take them back into the bottom half of the league table in seventh place. Noting also, the Ripon propensity to attract the dissatisfaction of Referees, the target of reducing the Penalty count to single figures, again fell by the wayside and with a count of 14 offences penalised in total, The Blues showed no improvement on the previous week’s discipline and were lucky to retain 15 players on the pitch for the duration. Fortunately on this occasion the opposition weren’t much better in this respect and conceding a total of 16 Penalties, outdid Ripon in this department and suffered the indignity of a Yellow Card in the second half, which cruelly for Ripon, made no difference to Baildon’s game plan whatsoever. With neither prime place kicker being on form, the score board didn’t see much action from all the Penalty activity and with a total of five kicks at goal between the two teams missed from Penalties and two conversions missed, the scoreline could have taken on a very different look.
Overall, this was a fairly evenly matched contest, which saw two strong defensive performances, which effectively snuffed out attacking options. Baildon to be fair, looked the more nimble in attack and sought to be more creative when faced with the “Blue Wall”. Ripon on the contrary, looked predictable and pedestrian at times in attack and whilst maintaining commitment to their structure, failed to develop options to test the opposition more constructively. To be frank, the hosts looked to have at least half a yard more pace all round and with a smaller, more agile pack, whilst suffering in the set piece, eventually came into the fore at the breakdown later on.
Selection this week showed some confidence in the previous league outing’s squad and would have seen only six changes, but for a last-minute withdrawal. A total of seven changes, saw four positional re-shuffles and three recalls, to a squad that showed promise for forward dominance and exciting back play. Neither units ignited fully and whist there were numerous commendable individual performances, overall, the Ripon firework display didn’t meet expectations and fizzled out like a damp squib.
In the pack the tried and tested Sarsens of George Evans and Dom Dalby were reunited in the front row, to provide an armchair ride at scrum time for their “Lintel” James Pearce at Hooker. The boiler house of the second row, was stoked by Skipper Iain Barker, ably assisted by the indefatigable Adam Newcombe, looking to notch up a start in every forward position by the end of the season. The back row saw Freddy Wharton keep the Open Side jersey and another Man of the Match performance from Nick Perez, with Harry Veitch gracing the Blind Side and looking less a callow youth and more a seasoned campaigner each week.
The back line up saw less disruption, with Max Marston and Mikey Bray teaming up at half backs for the third consecutive week. The Wings saw the previous outing’s pairing of Steve Youngson, “shouldering” the burden of outside play and Tom “I’ll pop up anywhere to score another Try” Graham, who did just that and bagged Ripon’s only score into the bargain. The Centres saw a recall from holiday of Archie Thompson at Inside and Liam Wood dropping to Outside; both of whom were solid in defence but were just denied the space to penetrate in attack. Bringing up the rear at Full Back was Morgan Clark, who managed some 30 minutes before withdrawing injured and exiting with the helping hand of the local Physio.
From the kick off, neither side looked in control and Penalties were awarded against both within the first minute of play. That’s pretty much how the half played out, with much play oriented around the midfield area and rare intrusions into respective danger zones. By the end of the first quarter, both teams had missed Penalty Goal opportunities and it wasn’t until nearly the end of the second quarter that Ripon were again in a scoring position. Unfortunately, Bray missed his second attempt at goal, but The Blues remained in contention at that point.
A further Penalty in injury time for a high tackle, saw Bray kick to touch and from the following line out, a tough arm wrestle developed as Ripon pressed for the line from five metres out. Seeing the action slowing down and, on his Wing, Tom Graham added his considerable bulk to the driving maul to crash over and put Ripon in front with 43 minutes played. Bray was unlucky with the Conversion attempt and the half closed with Ripon leading 0 – 5.
The second half was pretty much more of the same, with both sides exchanging blows through close and wide exchanges. A glimmer of hope came to the hosts with a Penalty Goal at the end of the third quarter and two further attempts went begging in the next quarter to reduce the deficit to 3 - 5. On Ripon’s part, route one wasn’t working and so eventually, the likes of Hooley and Youngson looked to probe around the edges, but with no success other than ground gained. The Blues didn’t really look like getting close to scoring in the second half and so looked to defend with purpose and kick out of danger, perhaps ill-advisedly, as the inevitable counter attack followed.
As the clock ticked away, it was looking like Ripon would pull this out of the bag and whilst they didn’t create any further match winning options, defensively they looked resolute. The cruellest blow was then dealt at four minutes into injury time and this time it was Ripon who conceded the Penalty for the breakdown offence. Out of kicking range, the hosts opted for the touch kick to the Ripon 22. The line out went Baildon’s way unchallenged and as if in a training drill, the ball was shifted quickly to their left and all it took was one missed tackle and the home Winger sprinted around the outside to touch down for Baildon’s first Try. The Conversion at this point was superfluous, but as if to hammer the last coffin nail home, the kick went over and the final whistle blew to confirm Baildon’s 10 – 5 victory.
Some firm words in the full-time huddle spoke of options, creativity and commitment. Nothing that can’t be addressed in the training paddock and with the season less than half way through, plenty of opportunity to harness the talent and enthusiasm of this squad to get back to winning ways.
Next week Ripon 1st XV entertain recently relegated Huddersfield Laund Hill, formerly known as YMCA, for a double header with both clubs’ first and second teams at playing at Mallorie Park. Kick off will be 2.15pm and all supporters are welcome.