Rolls-Royce 1st XV 13pts
Ripley Rhinos 1st XV 7pts
Ripley trekked over to a sodden Moor Lane to take on Rolls-Royce in their first pre-season friendly. Rhinos again impressed with numbers by putting together a squad of 31 players and supplying the referee after the arranged one didn’t arrive. Royce’s had a similarly large squad and both teams were able to ring the changes throughout the game to ensure all had a positive run out.
Rhinos began strongly and pegged the home side back. The pack weren’t quite following the game plan but were still causing enough trouble to ensure possession and give skipper Will Evans at fly half the base to spread the ball wide when he could. No. 8 Ben Smith was his usual dominant self and outside Ant Hardwick a hard running ball carrier.
Rolls-Royce defended well though and it took the concession of a penalty on their 22 for scrum half Matt Upton to take a quick tap and pass it out wide to Evans and Hardwick and they released winger Ryan Morris into space - his fast feet showed why he’s played National League rugby as he beat the defence to score. Evans slotted a good conversion and Ripley were 7-0 ahead.
Royce’s had a strong pack and a willing, if basic, backline to throw at Rhinos and they worked hard for their ball and attacking yards. Both teams looked rusty, as befits a first game in four months, and there were too many errors leading to scrums.
Ripley should have made more of their first half dominance of territory but didn’t. The home side had a period of pressure after the sky blues failed to clear up a speculative punt ahead but solid defending from the likes of Matt and propping brother Andy Upton, full back Colin Marklew and prop Dave Kemp kept them out.
Royce’s were never spectacular but kept working their straightforward attacking game well and defended and breaks from Ripley, mostly instigated by Matt Upton working people into gaps, well and highlighted Rhinos not getting enough support to the ball carrier quickly enough. In fact Royce’s could have opened their account on the stroke of half time but pulled their penalty attempt wide to leave Evans’ men 7-0 to the good.
Both sides rang the changes at the break, with Rhinos getting the impressive Stephen Hill out onto the park for the first time and brought the power of Luke Heanue and Paul Walker into the pack.
The home side continued their standard of play and to be honest, Ripley began to tail off as the game wore on, looking tireder and tetchier as legs and lungs began to buckle under the effort. Royce’s enjoyed more possession and made several breaks but lacked the killer punch to turn those into points. Rhinos did manage to send replacement centre Anton Brown clear but he was held up over the line just before the hour mark in what turned out to be a crucial piece of home team defence.
The final quarter saw Royce’s winning more penalties and driving Ripley back. They managed a first try after some zigzag defence for the visitors gave them the gap to go through and reduce the Rhino lead to 7-5. A second try followed when a couple of quick rucks saw Ripley over-commit and Royce spread it wide to score an unconverted try in the corner.
The quality of the play took a battering as 30 players tired and Royce’s extended their lead to 13-7 when their skipper slotted a penalty with seven minutes to go. Ripley tried to find another score to turn the deficit around but they couldn’t breach the Royce’s defence enough and the home side hung on to claim the narrow win.
Whilst neither side would claim this to be a classic, both will be happy to have got their season underway. Rhinos looked good in patches and at the set-piece but they are a lot of areas the coaching staff still need to work on with the squad. Scrum half Matt Upton stood head and shoulders above the rest of the players in what he did and deservedly took the Abex Window Cleaning Contractors Man of the Match award from his team mates.
Rhino training continues on Thursday evenings in August; all welcome & more details available by ringing 07816 779018.
The next game sees Rhinos making the short trip to Police HQ to place Derbyshire Constabulary next Tuesday evening.