NLD Pennant League, Group 5
Derby 4th XV 29pts
Ripley Rhinos 1st XV 12pts
Rhinos welcomed the new year by returning to playing action for the first time since the middle of November with a trip to Haslams.
Skipper Sam Musgrove asked his Ripley team to attack and enjoy being back on the pitch, although it was clear that such a long lay-off would take some time to work out of the system. Sadly for the Rhinos it was their hosts who found their feet quickest and began to string together several phases of play.
The maroons found it hard to compete at the breakdown and were forced back over their own 22-metre line. The visitors put in some stout defence but not in time to prevent Derby crossing the line under the posts to take an early 7-0 lead.
Although this briefly sparked the Rhinos, problems at the breakdown continued, with Derby turning possession over and launching counter-attacks on the Rhinos and the hosts extended their lead with their big prop forward crashing over.
Things got worse for Rhinos before they were able to improve as the persistent problems with retaining possession continued.
Having seen the ball presented to them during a Rhinos attack, Derby kicked long and chased well to put the pressure on the scrambling Ripley defence. With onrushing Derby attackers, Ripley were unable to secure the possession and Derby pounced on the loose ball to score in the corner. A well-struck conversion extended their lead to 19-0.
Finally Rhinos began to hit the breakdown hard with flanker Simon Midgely and prop Andy Upton leading the way. The newly-discovered counter-rucking produced a rare turnover for Ripley from which they flooded the blind-side.
Fly-half Will Evans found space and carried the ball into the Derby 22. With both defenders and the line approaching, Evans off-loaded to Zeique Robinson who was unable to gather with the line beckoning.
Rhinos were able to force a penalty from the resulting scrum. Scrum-half Matt Upton tapped the penalty to go over under the posts. Evans added the conversion to reduce the deficit to 19-7 at the break.
Rhinos felt they had turned a corner by half time and approached the second half with greater optimism.
The opening exchanges of the half certainly provide to be far more balanced than much of the first half.
With a steadier stream of possession Rhinos were able to put greater pressure on their hosts. Although they occasionally lacked the necessary composure when attacking, the manner in which Ripley were now playing was far more encouraging.
With a strengthened line-up Derby managed to extend their lead by crossing the line to secure the bonus point but with the conversion missed Rhinos felt they were still in the game if they could score next. They achieved that when a sustained period of pressure saw Evans collect a loose ball and cross in the corner from short range.
Although Rhinos attacked with vigour and sustained pressure forced one pass too many, allowing the Derby winger to intercept and run away to touch down in the corner despite the valiant efforts of the Rhino cover defence.
Rhinos will be happy to have got some time on the field and will feel they can look forward to improved performances in coming weeks but will need to improve their composure in contact situations. Prop Dave Arrowsmith took the Abex Window Cleaning Contractors man of the match award from his team mates.