Mercifully, the sun burst through the clouds in Settle and this weekend’s game was played in glorious sunshine, well befitting the surrounding scenery and Ripon’s eventually resounding victory in a place notoriously difficult to get a win. The treacherous journey up to Ribblesdale did however encounter some very damp places, some of which were decidedly precarious to negotiate. Fair play to everyone for making it to the game on time and even more fair play to the Ripon travelling faithful, who whilst not as vociferous as the locals, urged The Blues on to a splendid winning performance.
On a day when passions were running high following England’s solid gold performance against New Zealand in the morning and in Head Coach Ian Hassall’s words: “Who could fail to be inspired to take to the pitch and want to play Rugby after that?”, Ripon turned in a solid performance which moved their league placing up a notch. Unfortunately the adverse weather caused three other league games to be postponed, so with other teams having games in hand now, Ripon should not get complacent about the mid-table status and focus on winning more games and gaining a positive points difference.
Again, there were changes to the line-up, some eight in all, the majority of which were positional and again with a reliance on the calibre of the current youths in the squad, to provide ingenuity, pace and flair. This was truly a balance of youth and experience, with a focus on a strong ball winning set piece and plenty of excitement potential from the back division. In the forwards, the front five selected themselves after the previous week’s solid display and the back row saw Jack Baldwin move up from the bench to the starting line-up. The backs apart from the faces, looked positionally unrecognisable from last week, with Mainey returning to Scrum Half and Morgan Clark starting in his natural Colt position at 10. Ben Taylor moved out to 13, Buckley came up to 14 and Tombling was selected to oversee matters from Full Back.
On the bench were Perez and Pillar, who were joined possibly “for one night only”, by the legendary Dave “Robbo” Robinson, aiming to bring his wealth of experience to proceedings at some point. That he did as a momentary replacement during the second half before leaving the field with blurred vision. The kindly among us might attribute that to a poke in the eye or a bump on the head. The more cynical however, might blame the speed with which Ripon’s kids were whizzing around!
The hosts kicked off into the sun and the ball was cleanly received by Payne and eventually cleared by Morgan. The home line out put in was not straight and therefore gifted a scrum to the visitors. Rock solid, the scrum delivered quick ball to the left, which broke down in the Centres, offering the hosts a scrum put in. Ripon defended with purpose and turned over possession to counter into the hosts’ half. A home infringement at 7 minutes gave Morgan Clark a shot at goal and the first of his 13 points on the day.
Recovering the restart well, Ripon built their attacks slowly and maturely. The early stages saw all of The Blues’ “heavy hitters” taking the ball on to good effect and with slick recycling, started to develop phases well. At just over 12 minutes, a well fielded kick was countered by Tombling, who linked in with Leeming and others to progress forwards. Several players were involved in the movement that saw the ball kept alive enough to give Tom Graham a mere two tackles to break through and score Ripon’s opening try. Clark’s conversion took the score to 0 – 10, with just 13 minutes played.
It would be appropriate to credit North Ribblesdale for their input to the game, which was very focused on direct running, particularly through their two sizeable Centres and the destructive power of their very fast back row. Whilst penalties for infringements at the breakdown hindered both sides, discipline in general was good and both sides kept the penalty count to a reasonable 10 each.
Play continued back and forth, with no side gaining any particular advantage for a while until at 25 minutes, Perez replaced Payne through injury. The attrition continued for a further five minutes, with both sides winning their own set piece and breakdowns being recycled favourably. At 32 minutes however, the power of the home Centres showed through and coupled with some ineffective tackle attempts, the hosts broke through to score a converted try to take the score to 7 – 10.
Ripon stepped up a gear in the closing minutes of the first half, with concerted efforts to batter the hosts into submission. The defence held out well into injury time until Ripon were offered a penalty, which went to the touch kick and line out. The catch by Fletcher Jnr was text book and the drive snaked its way towards the home line. Having warned the hosts about repeated infringements at previous mauls, when this one went down, the Referee had no hesitation in awarding the penalty try to The Blues. With the conversion automatically added, this gave Ripon a healthy half time lead of 7 – 17.
Clark restarted the game after half time with a monster kick that must have hung in the air for a full four seconds. Perez was quickly up to harass the catcher and regather the ball. An unfortunate knock on in the counter, eliminated Ripon’s gain and the hosts sought to counter from the scrum. As it happened, a Ripon transgression gave the hosts further advantage and saw them set about a counter attack. The long kick downfield, chased by a home hoard, was coolly collected by Tombling and fired back up-field.
Pressure released, the hosts looked to step up their efforts, one step of which took Findlay out for a while with a badly “studded” shin. The evergreen Robbo then took to the field for some 12 minutes and played like the “grim reaper”, slashing to the ground anyone who came near. Fearing for his place in the squad, Findlay quickly dispensed with the ice pack and re-joined the game. We hope Robbo’s vision returns to normal soon.
Further replacements during that period saw a switch for Taylor to replace Mainey and Pillar to step into the 13 slot. At the end of the third quarter, the hosts set about their finest part of the game and pinned Ripon down for long periods on their line. Stoic defence and great organisation kept the enemy at bay for several minutes. Penalties were awarded to the hosts and they tried scrums as well as line outs, but still the thin blue line held firm. Massive in the tackle count were Slator and Perez, but during this phase, everyone stood out, stepped up and made their hits. The pressure did however show and through the double act of the home side’s chunky Centres again, they crashed through to score an unconverted try at 66 minutes to move the score to 12 - 17.
Ripon then took the reins for much of the final quarter, with a strengthening set piece and some dynamic play through the entire team. At 40 minutes, Clark pushed Ripon further ahead with a penalty goal to take the score to 12 – 20.
As the end of the game moved into injury time, Ripon just seemed to click into overdrive. A scrum just on halfway, saw the ball spun quickly to Ben Buckley, who looked to have the gas to take his man on the outside. Deciding that discretion was the better part of valour, Buckley stepped back in towards support and took the ensuing tackle. The rapid recycling saw the ball spun quickly left and Clark dummied out, stepped slightly back to the right and then crossed the line for his second 1st XV try in three games. Clark narrowly missed the conversion, but this score was testament to his skills and confidence to be playing at this level at his age. The final whistle blew to stop the game at 12 – 25, with much for Ripon celebrate and build on.
Next week’s Yorkshire Division Two action takes a break and with The Blues’ home Yorkshire Silver Vase game versus Stocksbridge being called off for a home walk over, Ripon’s senior squad will take a well-earned rest. The next 1st XV fixture will therefore be the home game against local rivals Northallerton on Saturday 9th November, with kick offs reverting to the winter time of 2.15pm. All support will be most welcome to help Ripon continue their winning ways.