NLD Pennant League
Ripley Rhinos 1st XV 17pts
Derby 4th XV 33pts
RIPLEY faced a strong Derby 4th XV at Mill Hill, looking to get their first Pennant League victory of the system.
With unseasonably warm weather a hard afternoon’s work was promised.
Having started matches slowly in recent weeks, they knew they would need to hit the ground running this week to avoid giving their visitors a head start.
With those thoughts fresh in their minds they began to set up camp in the opposition half from the kick off and started to pressurise the Derby defence.
Although the maroons were not creating chances to score they looked bright and the more likely side to break the deadlock, until they turned the ball over in contact.
The turnover presented the ball to the Derby full back who beat the first-up tackle and set off towards the Rhinos line, eventually dotting down under the posts after covering 60 metres without a hand being landed on him.
The conversion put Derby 7 points ahead, against the run of play.
Those points appeared to give the visitors a fillip and they increased the pressure on the Rhinos in the tight exchanges before allowing their backline space to run at the home side.
Ripley stood firm to the challenge and defended stoutly, keeping the attacks at bay. Gradually, they ground their way up-field and set up a position for fly-half Will Evans to post three points from a penalty.
Tight, simple rugby was keeping Rhinos in the game and they stuck to their game plan, in the face of strong work from their opponents.
Powerful tackling from flanker Liam Murcott and outside-centre Anton Brown were making Derby work hard for possession and territory. They were also forcing the visitors to concede penalties around the contact area.
From one of these penalties Evans missed his touch, presenting the ball to Derby’s talented full back, who ran the ball back with interest, before feeding colleagues who continued the move to score until Ripley’s posts. The conversion pushed Ripley 14-3 behind.
Undeterred the Rhinos drove upfield and once more set up camp in the opposition half. Strong recycling from forwards and backs alike kept the ball alive and when a charged down drop-goal attempt from Evans presented Ripley with broken field, Brown seized the ball and the initiative to score Rhinos first try under the posts.
Evans added the extras to bring Ripley within four points at 14-10.
Half-time arrived with the score unchanged and Ripley keen to get back to business and continue the way they had finished the first half.
From the kick off they continued their earnest efforts and hard driving at the opposition. The Rhinos line-out was functioning extremely well, providing a steady stream of ball to run hard at the Derby defence, the scrummage was also beginning to pressurise some their opponents at regular intervals.
The difference between the two sides remained the Derby full back, playing at a level significantly lower than he has previously enjoyed, who was a threat to Ripley’s defence all afternoon.
When given space to run, he was able to add points himself or feed others to add to the tally. Ripley’s defence was working hard, but crucial missed tackles started to cost them ground on Derby.
Three opposition tries in the middle 20 minutes of the second half eventually put the game beyond the maroons.
Despite the unassailable points difference and the scorching temperatures, the Rhinos gathered themselves one final time with ten minutes to play.
Returning to the simple, disciplined rugby that had served them well earlier in the encounter Rhinos worked their way into the Derby half, recycling the ball and ensuring they had continued possession to use.
Camping on the Derby five-metre line Rhinos looked to have blown several overlaps before replacement Keith Buzzard crashed through would-be tacklers to touchdown.
Evans added a further two points to make the final score 33-17 to Derby.
Ripley will be disappointed to have lost a game in which they competed well and provided opportunities to score, but they can take much credit and many positives from the encounter.
Concentration on the basic skills of ball retention and strong defensive disciplined, which Rhinos demonstrated at times, will serve them well throughout the season.
Flanker Liam Murcott took the Abex Window Cleaners man of the match award for his strong demonstration of abrasive defensive work throughout the game.
Rhinos’ first team host Ashfield seconds in the Pennant league action this Saturday in a 3pm kick off.