In deference to the 400th anniversary of the origination of works of the Bard there may be the odd reference to those works, but hope the report is “As you like it”. To a backdrop of a sizeable crowd, swelled by sponsors and local well-wishers, Ripon narrowly avoided a tragedy and whilst not exactly competing with guests Huddersfield Laund Hill “measure for measure”, did enough to keep in the game for 70 minutes and clung onto their tenuous lead by the skin of their teeth. Not quite a “winter’s tale”, but with the morning sunshine giving way to the autumnal gloom, the ground, whilst heavy; held up nicely and the overall weather conditions supported an open and free flowing game of Rugby.
Whilst not a “comedy of errors”, this was certainly a game of Ying and Yang for The Blues, with relative successes followed by less-than-optimal outcomes and had it not been for the key influence of Mikey Bray recording a total of 15 points against his former club from four Penalty Goals and one Conversion, unable to turn pressure into points on so many other occasions, the result could have been very different. With Bray’s personal league points tally hitting 104 in this match, it drove home the importance of taking scoring chances when offered. Tommy Graham’s 71st minute Try and his sixth of the season so far, also reinforced the need to capitalise from pressure when applied and showed on this occasion, that all of Ripon’s 19 points came directly from Penalties conceded by the opposition.
Notable for The Blues was their discipline this week, which saw Penalties remaining in single figures, conceding only three in the first half and four in the second. Huddersfield on the contrary, transgressed on some 17 occasions and suffered a second half Yellow Card for repeated scrum offences. They did however, like Ripon; score 13 of their 18 points from Penalties. Again, a clear indictment to play within the laws and reduce the scores.
Changes to the line up this week were again in single figures at only 6, allowing for some consistency and continuity and the only difference from selection to starting was the late withdrawal of George Evans to be replaced by Keith Anderson at Loose Head.
Bringing up the rear and starting for the first time in his preferred position was Harvey Hooley, bringing confidence and stability under the high ball and blistering pace and agility to the counter attack. The Wings saw Tom Graham occupying his favoured, most damage-causing berth for the fourth successive week and the recalled Lucien Wray to add some quick feet on the other side. Liam Wood started at Open Side in the Centres to provide some bulk and Archie Thompson at Inside for his aggressive and direct approach.
At half back, Mikey Bray and Max Marston started together for the 4th successive match and showed that developing understanding to keep the ball alive and the team in motion.
The pack saw just two changes from last week, with the remnants of the previous game’s front row, James Pearce at Hooker and Dom Dalby at Tight Head, keen to welcome Anderson back. Skipper Iain Barker was rejoined by Tom Roebuck to add pace to the second row and the previous week’s back row survived intact to create havoc again. Harry Veitch again played Blind Side at a standard of pace and aggression way beyond his years and rightly earned the player of the day recognition again. Freddy Wharton commanded the Open Side well, dominated the line out and dropped neatly into the Centres later on as a replacement. Nick Perez fixed himself solidly at Number 8 and as well as rampaging like a prairie Bison, put in a solid defensive performance on the pitch and in the bar afterwards.
This week’s finishers comprised the inexorable presence that is Adam Newcombe to play wherever he chose, a recall for feisty back rower Tom Austin and a second week keeping the bench warm for Tom Hesmondhalgh. With four Toms in the side, there was great potential for confusion, but fortunately the play never became so frenetic as to hear multiple iterations of the same name at the same time.
Pre-match, the message was simple – react positively from last week’s shock defeat, execute plays with accuracy and ensure everyone knows what their role should be. The players were encouraged to have fun and thankfully the weather conditions made it a dry and mud free occasion. The pre-kick off respect for Remembrance Day was a fitting nod to the City’s military history and saw all four home teams take to the pitch for a minute’s silence.
Kicking off, Huddersfield took advantage of the infamous Mallorie Park slope and from indecision as to who was receiving the catch, Anderson recovered to avoid chaos. The ball was shipped right to get the best exit angle and Roebuck was too slow in relaying the ball from his tackle, so the visitors were offered a Penalty in from of the posts with 45 seconds played. 0 – 3 with less than a minute played was not in Ripon’s game plan and so the next restart was attacked in earnest. Pressing the guests into their own 22, their backs were caught off side and Bray opened the scoring for Ripon with a Penalty Goal for 3 – 3.
From the restart, Huddersfield kicked long to the open arms of Anderson. The ball was safely shipped infield for the clearance, but Bray’s kick was charged down. The visitors retained possession through six phases before spinning the ball wide right and gifting their Wing an easy touch down in the corner. The conversion attempt missed, to take the score to 3 – 8.
The next few minutes saw Huddersfield turn on the pace and through two Penalty kicks to touch, gained good ground and back into the Ripon half. From a Penalty for Pearce holding on in the tackle, the guests kicked for touch and won their line out. Repeated thrusts in midfield made gradual advances before the home gaps started to open and again Huddersfield spun the ball wide to the right Wing and enhanced the score with a further Converted Try for 3 – 15.
After the next restart and pressure on the catcher from Wood, Ripon started to build their way slowly back into the game. Using a solid scrum and effective line out, the ball kept coming and Veitch and Wharton did their best to ruin breakdown possession for the opposition. At 18 minutes after a tackle offence, Bray reduced the deficit to 6 – 15 with a well-taken Penalty Goal. After this play, Ripon enjoyed good favour from the Referee as the visitors committed a number of offences, but The Blues just couldn’t quite convert them into scoring chances, though Bray was close with a Penalty Goal attempt on 23 minutes. On the half hour, Ripon’s fortunes changed with Bray finding his momentum again to take the score to 9 – 15.
That’s where the scoreline stayed until half time. Notable for Ripon were Hooley and Graham for their tireless efforts in counter attacking and Veitch who bossed the breakdown area admirably.
With the slope in their favour, Ripon set out to improve their lot in the second half and take the initiative. That didn’t quite go to plan when after only one minute in, Veitch was penalised for holding on. Exchanges after that settled down somewhat, with Huddersfield threatening the Ripon line more than otherwise. Stout defence by the likes of Dalby and Barker, prevented the “Blue Wall” from being breached again.
A lucky break of sorts came for Ripon towards the end of the third quarter when a guest forward was yellow carded for repeated scrum collapses. The home dominance of the set piece started to show and more options came from the base of the scrum with Perez leading by example and the rest of the back row following. During the power play period, a breakdown indiscretion gave Bray his fourth Penalty Goal opportunity and with it, his clocking up the coveted century of league points at 103, to narrow the deficit to 12 – 15.
Nails were being bitten all round as The Blues battled their way back into the game. All the Ripon finishers were on the field by now and all making a serious impact. Newcombe with his carrying power, Hesmondhalgh with his speed to the breakdown and Austin for his experience in game control. A flurry of Huddersfield offences gifted Ripon good field positions and attacking options. Chasing the win, no kickable Penalties were available, so Ripon plodded on and pounded the opposition but left a few holes in defence. One such opportunity was exploited by the visitors and after Hesmondhalgh was deemed off side from a knock on, Huddersfield were glad of the let off with their Penalty Goal for 12 – 18.
More Penalties went Ripon’s way and gradually through their forward dominance, The Blues started to exert all sorts of pressures on the opposition. At 70 minutes, from a Penalty for another scrum offence, Ripon opted to scrum again. The pack went forward and Veitch picked to go for the line. The defence sucked him in mercilessly, but the tough youth maintained his momentum sufficiently for the troops to rally and drive him forward again. As the driving maul reached the Huddersfield line the unmistakable bulk of Tom Graham joined the fray from his Wing and smashed a dozen or so players out of the way to scoop Ripon’s only Try of the game. Bray nudged the Conversion over neatly to take the lead for the first time at 19 – 18 a poignant number if there ever was one, on Armistice Day.
Stunned into action again, Huddersfield threw the kitchen sink into the last few minutes, but The Blues held firm. Even a 34th minute Penalty for a tackle offence resulted in a missed goal attempt from the visitors. The final five minutes saw more nails bitten, hands over eyes and all sorts of avoidance as Ripon toughed out the closing phases. Many would say the result was never in doubt. Other would say a lucky escape, so when the final whistle blew after Thompson’s touch kick bang on 80 minutes, everyone heaved a sigh of relief.
A win is a win and to change places with the opposition in league status is quite gratifying, so Ripon are now back in the top half at 6th. However, there are still areas of the Ripon game to tighten up and bring consistency to their play. Simple errors need to be eliminated, good discipline built on and more precision brought to finishing strikes close to the opposition’s line. A sustainable strength in ball winning and challenge at the set piece, will bring positive outcomes for The Blues’ speedy and skilful backs. It all needs to come together at the same time.
Next week Ripon 1st XV travel to South Yorkshire to take on Dinnington, another recently relegated and struggling club from Yorkshire Division One. “But shall I live in hope” of a more emphatic win? Kick off will be 2.15pm and all travelling supporters are welcome.