NLD Pennant League
1st XV 30pts
Ashbourne 3rd XV 21pts
Mill Hill was too muddy for the first XV to play Ashbourne thirds in the Pennant, but near neighbours Belper RFC stepped in with their second pitch available and the game was thankfully played there.
The seconds couldn’t raise enough for their game and Doncaster Ladies called off Sunday’s game leaving this match at Strutt’s Field as the only Rhino rugby of the weekend.
Once again the Ripley squad depth was stretched but none of those stepping up to skipper Sam Musgrove’s side let their team mates down.
Tight head Rich Cleaver was a welcome returnee and joined loose head Ben Smith and hooker Dave Kemp in a front row that made Ashbourne’s scrum very difficult all afternoon.
The hosts began brightly with fly half Matt Upton kicking well and also releasing his backs inventively.
They opened the lead when full back Dave Trubee kicked a penalty from just outside the 22.
Ashbourne had youth and eagerness on their side and they took advantage of a half-gap in the Ripley defence to go through and score an unconverted try.
Rhinos then gave away a penalty and Ashbourne’s new kicker coolly slotted it. Worse followed in a difficult quarter of an hour when a high ball wasn’t dealt with and Ashbourne went over to score. The conversion left them 15-3 ahead.
Rhinos could have buckled but Musgrove rallied his troops. Powerful runs from Ben Smith, second row Keith Buzzard and good lineout work from back row Zeique Robinson forced Ashbourne back and Rhinos weren’t to be halted from a five-metre scrum; Musgrove picked up and drive on, fed scrum half Mitch Wilmott and he pivoted to release Upton over the line to reduce the deficit.
Rhinos got back on level terms with the last play of the half when another kick turned the visitor defence and excellent chasing from outside centre Paul Buzzard and winger Roy Reeve forced a penalty in the Ashbourne 22.
Keith Buzzard took full toll with a quick tap penalty as he crashed over. Trubee’s conversion levelled it up 15-15 at the interval.
Musgrove reiterated the Rhino game plan at half time and the maroons knew that if they stuck to it then the possession the pack would give would see them home. Ashbourne began the second half the brighter and it took a real game changing try from Paul Buzzard - spying a gap outside his opposite number he ghosted away and threw back the years with a sprint to the far corner for a great individual score.
Rhinos then did their best to lose the game with another rocky 15 minutes.
Two Ashbourne penalties put them back in front at 21-20 and the hosts were looking for a moment of inspiration to break the Ashbourne solid defensive line.
They found it when Upton spied a small space up the blindside - his perfect chip bounced straight back into his arms and he drew the last defender before releasing Reeve on the long run to the line - the veteran winger showed the benefit of his sprint training as he raced away to score with Upton driving him over at the end and his side had a four-point lead with ten minutes to go.
Ripley could then sit back and play the percentages to wind down the clock though Ashbourne did have one final driving maul that they had to defend hard against.
The home side iced their cake when Ben Smith fielded an overthrown lineout ball and some good handling and running saw Wilmott in for the try at the final whistle that saw his team come out as 30-21 winners and take the bonus point as well.
Though there were sloppy patches the positive play thankfully outweighed these for Rhinos. The standout player on the pitch was Ripley fly half Matt Upton who took the Abex Window Cleaning Contractors man of the match award.
Rhinos have another busy weekend with the firsts travelling to East Leake seconds for a Pennant league match.
The seconds are in similar action at home to Long Eaton seconds Saturday at Mill Hill (pitch permitting) whilst the Ladies travel to Derby Vipers Ladies on Sunday for another league game. All matches kick off at 2.30pm.