First games are always a bit of an unknown quantity, especially when playing at a new ground against newly promoted opposition. The pre-match celebrations which culminated on the official opening of Wensleydale RFC’s newly refurbished club house were graced by the Dale’s and Ripon’s finest and the perfect showcase for the opening match of the season. The splendid facility now offers the hosts marvellous opportunities for entertaining Rugby teams and many other social events and long may the premises serve the club well.
An interesting tactic by the home side was to switch the pitch to the one furthest away from the club house. Perhaps to test out Ripon’s fitness before the game, though overall, fitness was not the key determinant of the outcome of this day.
Following a summer of very intensive pre-season training, Ripon were keen to field a side that reflected the blending of youth and experience, as well as mobility and attacking options. Starting up front, a new look trio of Slator, Rob Nicholson and Spratt, offered strength and agility, as well as strong carrying potential. The massive second row pairing of skipper Barker and Oliver, must be amongst the tallest in the division if not Yorkshire and another new look back row, saw Perez and Connor at Flanker and the recall of club stalwart Adam Scott-Paul at Number 8.
The back line had a familiar ring to it and the half back pairing of Mainey and Pillar was an obvious first choice. The Centre pairing of Newby and Ben Taylor, showed pace, determination and bravado, while the back three comprised speed merchant Buckley and bulldozer Graham on the wings and the Mercurial Ollie Williams at Full Back.
On the bench as finishers were debutantes Keith Anderson, continuing the family tradition as a third generation 1st teamer, Jack Baldwin and the experience of Tom Leeming as utility back replacement.
After a not very good start for either team, the initiative definitely went Ripon’s way for the first quarter. But after that, apart from occasional flashes of brilliance and the metronomic goal kicking of Williams, the game went pretty much with the home side.
In fine conditions and with a gentle breeze across field, there was no distinct territorial advantage to either side at any point and whilst the side to side slope was an inconvenience, again it didn’t significantly influence the game. What did influence the game was indiscipline from both sides. With both teams conceding penalties at or around the double figure mark; mostly around the tackle area, which disrupted play significantly. The fact that the home goal kicker had a bad day and only managed one conversion out of seven attempts and no penalties out of a few, was a let off for the Blues. Ironically though, whilst many penalties on each side were given for repeat offences, Ripon only suffered the indignity of being awarded yellow cards. Slator in the second half for a scrummage offence and Barker later on, for a breakdown offence. Cruellest of all, was the summary dismissal of Anderson, red carded for retaliation after only ten minutes of game time, having come on to replace the injured Scott-Paul.
It might be easy to criticise Ripon for not doing as well at scrummaging, but with two forwards yellow carded for 10 minutes each, one incapacitated after 25 minutes and one removed from play from 35 minutes, the picture becomes more clear. Whilst Perez showed remarkable resilience at standing in as Prop, the lack of cohesiveness showed for a while and the home scrum just went from strength to strength. Thus Ripon’s key source of ball dried up and despite a well-functioning line out, there simply wasn’t enough quality possession coming Ripon’s way to open up scoring chances.
Ripon’s finest moments were in the middle of the first quarter. After a mixed start of penalty exchanges, at around the 10 minute mark, Ripon started to look lively on the ball. From a line out catch and mini-drive, the ball was spun left for Taylor to break the defence. The selfless offload to Graham gave the burly Wing the chance to smash his way through two tackle attempts to open the scoring for the visitors. Williams narrowly missed the conversion, so the score remained at 0 – 5.
From the restart, Ripon again spun the ball left and this time the ball changed hands perhaps four or five times between forwards and backs, before Graham cropped up again to claim his brace. Williams was on top of the kick to take the score to 0 – 12 and Ripon were feeling quite good.
Not long after the next restart, the visitors fell foul of the home scrum supremacy, by not only being shunted backwards, but also the launch of a scything attack by their Number 8, who made 30 metres unopposed before offloading to a supporting wing to score their first try. The failed conversion left the score at 5 – 12.
After the loss of Scott-Paul, the Ripon scrum looked decidedly more under threat and at the 30 minute mark, again a home Number 8 break resulted in their second try. The successful conversion drew the scores at 12 – 12. Five minutes later, in a carbon copy move, the seemingly unstoppable Number 8 broke from another scrum and Dale scored their third try in less than 20 minutes. With another missed conversion, the score remained at 17 – 12 at half time.
Ripon started the second half well and secured a further penalty from Williams within two minutes to nudge the score back to 17 – 15 and the Blues felt like they were in with a chance. This was soon countered however from the restart and Dale pressed home for their fourth and bonus point winning try, with only five minutes of the half played, to take the score to 22 – 15. Williams continued to add credibility to Ripon with a further penalty at the end of the third quarter and at 22 – 18 the Blues could be forgiven for thinking that they were still hanging in there.
With Slator sent to the bin for a scrum offence and then Anderson despatched permanently, Ripon experienced a torrid final quarter, pretty much devoid of possession apart from line outs. The hosts scored three more unconverted tries, two from back row moves and one from an audaciously taken tap penalty in their own 22 metre area, for their Full Back to run through five tackles to reach the Ripon 22 and finally get hauled down by Ben Buckley. The ensuing breakdown saw a further offence which led to Barker’s sin binning and the last scrum was a formality for the hosts to complete their seven try rout.
The final minutes of the game saw Ripon scrabbling for any decent possession and the hosts playing with pace and confidence.
Many obvious lessons on the list to learn – discipline, set piece performance and sharper defence. The squad know what is expected and will continue to work for each other in the hope of returning to winning ways. It’s a long season and many results can go either way. Ripon will continue with the current preparations and training and aim for more cohesive performances in future games.
This opener to Ripon 1st XV’s season will be happily forgotten and learned from. Next Saturday sees Ripon’s first home league game of the season against Doncaster outfit Wheatley Hills. The Blues will be at full tilt in training this week to put in a creditable and entertaining performance, for what promises to be a sizeable home crowd. A warm welcome back to Mallorie Park will be offered to club members, officials, patrons, sponsors, opposition players and officials 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.