Grateful for a timely gap in the annoyingly frequent storm cycles, the weather held off sufficiently for this fixture to go ahead on a somewhat damp and chilly Mallorie Park. This week’s game saw a buoyant Ripon taking on struggling Leeds Corinthians, who were to be focused on gaining any points they could to avoid relegation. Ripon, on the back of an unfortunate loss the previous week, were set to lick their wounds, stick to their game plan and keep on playing quality Rugby at pace, to enhance their top half status. After a first half that failed to live up to expectations, with The Blues not quite getting into their stride and the visitors’ sportsmanship not delivering the desired provocative outcomes, the hosts went on to narrowly win the second half as well and rack up the important Try Bonus Point and a firm victory.
Not a classic by any means but a scrappy game in which neither team got into their stride, the main focus degenerated to attempting to minimise penalty offences and trying to build up some sort of head of steam. Neither side made particular inroads at the set-piece, which Ripon hoped would have been a more effective platform than turned out to be and their usual composure in building up phases, was stymied by enthusiastic defensive play by the visitors and close attention to detail by the match official.
What could have devolved into a slug-fest and whilst never destined to be a sporting spectacle, was eventually converted into a four Try, bonus point winning home victory for Ripon, that nudged them higher up the league rankings to fourth place. With seven league matches remaining and only 10 points between Ripon and the leaders, this is the club’s strongest position at this point in the season in many years and augurs well for a very happy ending to the season.
Fielding a competitive second team this week didn’t compromise the player availability, though a reshuffle to accommodate as many as possible was necessary, so yet again, more changes rearranged the Ripon squad, with two recalls in Woolfenden and Hooley and eight positional changes to accommodate other factors. Not a huge disruption and great to see such attacking pace and potential, but enough to impede flow and consistency.
Up front, George Evans headed up a new look front row combo at Loose Head, with Jordan Payne getting his first start of his renewed career at Hooker. The indomitable Dom Dalby finished the triumvirate off nicely at Tight Head and all three had a significant impact around the park whilst perhaps doing just enough in the set piece. The second row saw the now familiar pairing of Tom Roebuck and skipper Iain Barker providing the power and some uncompromising loose play. The back row again saw some familiar faces but reorganised from the last outing, with James Pearce at Blind Side and Freddy Wharton back in the fray at Open Side briefly, before being seconded out into the backs again to cover an early injury. Nick Perez completed the set with another fine display of hard carrying and harder tackling.
At half back, Max Marston and Archie Thompson paired up again for their fourth consecutive outing, with plenty of sniping breaks between them. In the Centres, power ball Will Barratt started strongly at Inside before succumbing to injury and Tom Senior made his first senior start at Outside after a fine shift from the bench the previous week. Tom Graham claimed his regular spot on the Wing and was joined by the mercurial presence of James Woolfenden, returning to the flock after some time out enjoying hedonistic pursuits. Harvey Hooley was recalled to his favoured position at Full Back and in Bray’s absence, took up place kicking duties and tried his best from the tee, as well as some creative attacking play and resolute defence. The bench was occupied by Tom Austin and Harry Veitch, rested from last week’s starting line up and evergreen Adam Newcombe looking to add his vast experience and effective carrying when the time was right.
Kicking uphill and into a stiffening cold breeze, Ripon allowed Corinthians to open play constructively and within moments were defending deep in home territory. A sound safety play by Tom Graham avoided an early embarrassment and The Blues set about developing their game. From an opposition clearance attempt, Woolfenden in a classic display of his pace and strength, countered some 60 metres, scattering would be tacklers in his wake, before an off side at the breakdown gave Ripon their first Penalty advantage. Opting for the scrum 10 metres out, the pack held firm, Max Marston fed Archie Thompson who floated a simple miss pass to Outside Centre Tom Senior, to run a simple line unopposed under the posts. Harvey Hooley picked up the kicking duties and made good his first attempt with the Conversion for 7 – 0 with seven minutes played.
The remainder of the first half played out disappointingly, with lots of whistle blowing, stunted attacks and unforced errors. Whilst Corinthians put some exciting and speedy runs together, they never looked like getting close enough to scoring and nor could Ripon break through the intense defence. The usual big carries by the likes of Evans and Dalby made ground up front and Barrett and Graham did the business out wide. Respite came for the hosts on the cusp of half time when burly Prop George Evans broke the line and fed Graham to bludgeon his way some 40 metres, leaving defenders all over the place. From the breakdown, Thompson weighted the cross kick perfectly for Hooley to run on to and score Ripon’s second Try. Hooley rounded the posts nicely to give himself his best shot, but slapped the Conversion attempt like a wet kipper and left the half time score at 12 – 0.
The second half opened with a bang and not quite in the way that Ripon expected. The long kick off whilst fumbled by the first receiver, was gladly picked up by the next Corinthians player, who danced his way through the dumbfounded Ripon masses, before turning on the after-burners and sprinting some 70 metres to score under the posts. The visitors’ kicker was unsuccessful in his Conversion attempt and the score settled at 12 – 5.
Within five minutes, Ripon got their act in order and through multiple phases took the ball back to Corinthians. Nearing the line, Thompson broke right across the posts and through great sleight of hand, fed James Pearce coming back on an angle to score under the posts. Hooley cleared this conversion for 19 – 5 on 44 minutes.
After a further, more constructive 20 minutes for Ripon, a clearance by Thompson saw Woolfenden chase and carry for some 30 metres. The tackle saw Senior in support, who picked and went left to feed the over-present Freddy Wharton to burst over for Ripon’s fourth and bonus-point winning Try. Hooley’s Conversion attempt just missed, leaving him with a 50% success rate from his first outing as goal kicker and the score at 24 – 5 on 62 minutes.
Corinthians forced their way back into the game in the final quarter and through favourable decisions by the referee, made great territorial and possessional inroads. Despite Ripon’s robustly organised defence, an opportunity from a last-minute Penalty line out, saw the guests sneak over for one more unconverted Try to leave the score at 24 – 10.
Overall, a middling performance from Ripon, who could have done better, but weathered the storm of the intense competition, got in front and held onto their lead. Enough said.
Next Saturday 27th January, Ripon 1st XV are back on home turf at Mallorie Park again, this time hosting Hemsworth. The kick off will be at 2.15, all supporters very welcome.