In balmy weather conditions, more attuned to Cricket than Rugby and in front of a decent crowd swelled by well-wishing sponsors and guests, Ripon’s first home game of the season went well for the most part and delivered an encouraging result. Reeling from last week’s shock defeat, the focus of the Blues’ training plans was to beef up the set piece and sharpen up the defensive play. Both were evident this week with some sweeping changes to the line-up that made a significant difference.
What also made a big difference, was the return of “wrecking ball” Euan Findlay to the Back Row, sporting for a while his new but short-lived “Biggles” look and the inaugural game for new military signing Koroiyadi, all the way from Fiji. Findlay proved a tower of strength as usual and was in no way hampered by blurred vision, if not a little foggy at times. Koroiyadi, or “Mack” as he shall be known, proved an effective scrummager and once into his stride, a solid carrier and defender. Key to this game’s success was the set piece and that was delivered, not perfectly, but definitely a major improvement.
The rest of the forward line up looked quite different, with just Slator remaining in the front row, Mack slotting in seamlessly at Tight Head and Craig Wolloms gracing the squad at Hooker in what is fast approaching his fourth decade in the 1st XV squad. Barker and Oliver locked the scrum well and added an extra dimension to the line out and carrying, with Oliver excelling again with his tackle count and yards gained.
The new look back row, whilst low in stature, was high in aspirations, with Findlay at Number 8 and Rob Nicholson and Tom Graham at Flanker and definitely a trio of strong attacking potential.
Outside, the half back pairing of Mainey and Pillar grew in their understanding of each other and such was the quality of Ripon’s breakdown management, Mainey had a small number of opportunities to carry attacks forward, rather than just distributing the ball. Further out, Tom Newby and Ben Taylor took the Centres again and Rick Castle-Ward re-joined the squad to replace Graham on the Wing. Williams again started at Full Back and again added another dimension to the game with his kicking from hand and a further 10 points from place kicks. The bench saw Baldwin and Leeming again chosen as finishers and Perez giving way to Findlay in the starting line-up.
The game started with the visitors hoisting a high ball backed by the sun and a gentle breeze, which whilst causing a moment of confusion in the Ripon defence, resulted in a Hills’ knock on, The Blues then countered through Buckley, who was bundled into touch. The first line out of the game went against throw as Findlay stole the ball and bounced his way out of the crowd into open space. The tackle at 3 minutes resulted in a penalty for the visitors not rolling away and gave Williams the chance to put the hosts up field with his penalty kick.
From the line out the ball spun right, with Williams eventually being forced into touch. The next few exchanges saw both sides attempting to run the ball. The visitors through their big carrying forwards and Ripon, by going wide. Early set piece exchanges looked good for Ripon, with some decent control and a launchpad for Findlay to do some damage and the line out providing good quick ball as well.
After 9 minutes a Ripon line out misjudgement resulted in an overthrow, which Hills latched on to. From a break by their Number 10, a quick feed to their burly Lock, saw him trundle through some six tackle attempts before offloading to his second row partner and open the scoring under the posts for a converted try. 0 – 7.
Ripon responded positively from the restart and edged their way into the visitors’ territory. A probing kick into the Hills’ 22 was sent back into the Ripon half and at 15 minutes in, Williams recovered the ball to launch a scintillating counter attack. Linking in with Findlay then Nicholson, play progressed at pace into the opposition half. Mack carried for a few yards before offloading to Buckley to streak down the wing and cross the line. William’s levelled the score with his conversion 7 – 7.
The next few minutes saw much enterprising play from Ripon, ever keen to keep the ball alive, whist the visitors seemed content with the “route one” game plan. Ripon’s indiscipline at the breakdown was a hindrance during this phase and the opportunities of the visitors to gain ground though penalties were plenty. The final moments of the half saw Hills in good attacking form and the home defence largely keeping them out. The last movement of the session saw the visitors pressing trough several phases to almost score. Finally a moment of defensive indecision and an unlucky bounce let them in for a converted try to take the lead at 7 – 12 on the stroke of half time.
Ripon kicked off the second half and immediately put Hills under pressure and continued to keep them on the back foot. This attack lasted for five minutes until Williams narrowed the gap with a 30 metre penalty goal to take the score to 10 – 12.
Open play during the second half saw the speedier Ripon back row exerting more influence at the breakdowns and exploiting more attacking chances than in the first half. The set piece strengthened and despite the loss of Mack and the realigned front row of Slator, Perez and Nicholson, the scrum held well and the line out continued to yield good results. In the backs, Williams looked to counter when appropriate, but also put in some immense touch kicks to maintain positional advantage.
In the whole of the second half, Hills entered the home 22 metre area perhaps twice and only on one occasion did they look really threatening. Their downfall was their indiscipline and during the second half, Ripon thrived on visitors’ errors and indiscretions, as well as home-made creativity.
After 10 minutes Williams put Ripon into the lead for the first time with a penalty goal at 13 – 12 and then from the restart, pressed hard to gain the ascendancy. After a botched kick off reception, Ripon gained a scrum put in and with increasing stability in this area Mainey was able to spin a quick ball out to the left. Getting close to the line, the Ripon forwards piled on to protect the next phase, which went wide left. Buckley made some good yards and then off-loaded to Tom Graham in support, to score Ripon’s second try in the “clubhouse corner”. Unfortunately the range and angle was just beyond Williams, so the scored settled at 18 - 12
Moving into the final quarter of the game, the visitors persisted in their battering ram approach and offered little out wide. They did however, offer stiff resistance at the scrum and breakdown, though perhaps didn’t learn as well from Ripon’s example, that this was an area of particular interest to the referee and infringements would be penalised. To Ripon’s credit, no penalties at all were conceded in the second half.
Ripon stepped their play up a gear and looked to be gaining sufficient quality first phase and breakdown ball to play more liberally around the park. As the visitors visibly tired, Ripon were able to mount more cohesive attacks. One of which saw an audacious attempt at a drop goal by Nicholson at 30 minutes. No need thereafter for such speculative efforts as the Blues sought to turn the screw.
At 32 minutes a penalty goal attempt by Williams hit the woodwork and despite a defender’s best efforts to gather the bouncing ball, knocked on. The Ripon scrum held firm and with a quick ball spun out right to Leeming, a try seemed inevitable. Hastily scrambled defence however, saw a quick recycling back to the left and a link up with Slator, ambling back from the last scrum, saw him seize the opportunity to plunge over for Ripon’s third try. Williams converted from some 45 metres to take the score to 25 – 12.
The dying moments of the game saw spirited attempts from Hills to get back in, but fitness told in the end and Ripon were all over every breakdown. At 39 minutes of play, Ripon were gifted a penalty touch kick. The line out was won by Oliver and a mini drive followed. The breakaway by Mainey fed Pillar, who made some yards before releasing Leeming who rounded up the scoring with Ripon’s fourth and bonus point winning try. Williams narrowly missed the conversion attempt, but with a score line of 30 – 12 and seconds to go, a victory was a formality.
The restart was quickly followed by a further visitors’ penalty offence and Ripon chose to end the game there. A worthy win over sturdy opposition and one to take heart from as far as squad strength in depth is concerned. Still some questions to be answered as far as first up tackling is concerned and strength in depth, but there were sterling performances again from Oliver, keeping his tackle count in double figures, Mainey in his timing and distribution and Findlay for just being himself.
Next week’s Yorkshire Division Two action sees an interesting twist in that Saturday’s planned away fixture with Yarnbury, will now be played on Friday 20th September, under lights at Yarnbury, kick off at 7.30pm. All travelling support will be most welcome and we hope that the change of date will not inconvenience the Ripon faithful.
The Ripon 2nd XV home fixture versus Yarnbury 2nd XV, will still be played at home on Saturday, kick off 3.00pm. The Blues will continue their intensive training this week to build on last week’s performances. We continue to offer encouragement to travelling and home support from our 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.