NLD Pennant League
Newark 4th XV 15pts
Ripley Rhinos 1st XV 17pts
RIPLEY travelled over to Newark with a bare bones squad.
They were delighted to welcome back skipper Will Evans, flanker Zeique Robinson on his return to first XV rugby after a broken leg and a rare appearance from fly half Matt Upton.
The hosts had turned Ripley over fairly easily at Mill Hill earlier in the season and nothing in Ripley’s recent results suggested a rare Pennant league win would be on the cards.
The maroons had the advantage of the wind in the first half but Newark had a sizeable bench and vociferous support.
The ground itself was rock hard and didn’t do the knees of either team a favour after the recent dry spell.
Second team captain Craig Culshaw continued in his role as hooker but with Andy Upton and Dave Arrowsmith propping either side of him they were a formidable force at every scrum, with solidity powering into them from behind through lock forward Justin Neville and Adrian Weir.
Matt Upton looked to spread the ball wide early on and found some space with winger Matt Whysall making 20 and 30 yard breaks through good handling down the backline.
Newark forced full back Dave Trubee into carrying the ball over his own line after a break but solid defence from the team, with No. 8 Sam Musgrove excelling, kept them at bay and forced a turn over to clear the danger.
Rhinos opened the scoring from a scrum 40 metres out near the right touchline when winger Ant Hardwick picked a perfect running line to burst past the initial defence, shrug off would-be tacklers and power into the corner.
Crucially skipper Evans slotted the conversion, the only one either side managed on a gusty day for place kickers.
The home side were stung and forced their way down into the Ripley 22 for a period of concerted pressure. The maroons lost prop Andy Upton to the sin bin but again defended well and eventually forced Newark to concede a penalty and cleared the ball away. As often happens, a momentary lapse in concentration then occurred and a missed lineout saw Newark spread the ball wide well and score in the corner to reduce the deficit to 7-5 which is what it stayed until half time.
The visitors were playing decent rugby and importantly, with a smile on their faces, and Evans just reiterated the need to keep playing the rugby they were good at in the second half.
Fly-half Matt Upton reined in the expansive game with the Newark backline up and looking for the wide passes and instead concentrated more on running himself and using inside centre Danny Rymell to punch the ball up and beyond the defensive line.
The second Ripley try came when Matt Upton spotted space on the blindside and attacked it and the ball found its way to Hardwick and he again put the pedal to the floor and raced away to score out wide.
Newark again struck back and some powerfully carries brought them into the Ripley 22 - Rhinos then didn’t take a man around the legs and he was allowed to break through and score a try that obviously delighted him. Again the kick was missed leaving the scores at 12-10 to the visitors.
The game went on with both teams having possession and looking for a third score and Ripley found it with fifteen minutes left as they drove deep into the Newark 22 and with Hardwick sniffing the opportunity for his hat trick but being held short, scrum half Mitch Wilmott picked up and powered over to score.
Ripley then looked to play out the game in the Newark half and were doing OK at this - a break from Matt Upton took them into the 22 and Evans tried the snap drop goal that just fell short - the home side counter-attacked off it and ran through broken defence and way to score try from long-range.
A conversion would have tied the scores but it was pushed right of the posts and Rhinos held onto the lead with Evans gleefully kicking the ball off the park to single the end of the game.
This was a decent match, well refereed in the end despite about 40 people sharing their unwanted views with whistle blower as the game wore on, and Ripley deserved a win for good rugby played with a smile on the face.
The finishing power of winger Ant Hardwick made the big difference and he won the Abex Window Cleaning Contractors Man of the Match Award.
Rhinos seconds are the only team in action on Easter Saturday as they travel to West Park to take on Long Eaton 2nds in a friendly kicking off at 3pm.