Long Eatons 2nds 29
Ripley Rhinos 2nds 8
Tired bodies and Easter weekend commitments saw Rhinos’ 2nd string low on numbers but high on spirit for the short journey to Long Eaton 2nds in a friendly fixture where they were reintroduced to a number of old friends in the opposition line-up.
Rhinos’ skipper Will Evans reminded his men throughout of the need to enjoy what remains of the rugby season and they duly approached the majority of the match in that manner.
With smiles on their faces, the maroons started the game strongest, putting pressure on their hosts with organised and committed defence being led by flanker Sam Smith and winger Steve Lowe.
When the opportunity to run with the ball presented itself centres Ben Smith and Danny Rymell were only too happy.
The strong start bore fruit as the referee awarded Rhinos a kickable penalty for a technical infringement at the line-out. Evans put the kick between the posts to give Ripley a deserved 3-0 lead.
Having taken the lead, it was important Ripley maintained concentration of the basics, notably tackling low and early. For the most part, they did but with Long Eaton making early changes former Rhino Anton Brown ran through the middle of the Ripley defence, where would-be tacklers were approaching far too high on their powerful former teammate, from 40 metres out to touch down.
With the conversion missed, Ripley remained in the game and could have retaken the lead through another penalty, which Evans was unable to convert in spite of being given two attempts by the generous referee.
Long Eaton sensed a chance to hit back and caught Ripley sleeping with a quickly tapped penalty, taken by another former Rhino, Kim Burden. As Ripley chased back, their defence was pulled out of shape, allowing Long Eaton to send the ball the other way to score in the corner.
Undeterred Ripley carried the ball at their opponents, with the front row of Dave Arrowsmith, Andy Upton and Carl Whitley, making a welcome return, carrying hard and effectively at the home defence.
As the half was drawing to a close, a strong incursion into the Long Eaton half produced quick ball from which to attack. With the defence disorganised, Rhinos looked likely to score until Evans threw the ball marginally forward towards winger Adam Chawner. The whistle brought the half to a close with Ripley 10-3 down.
The ebb and flow of the first half continued after the break with both sides looking strong when in possession but with some vulnerability when defending.
The Rhino setpiece was working superbly with scrum and line-out comfortably on top. However, they were struggling to produce consistent quick ball from which to really challenge Long Eaton. This lack of precision at the breakdown was causing problems as produced slow for Ripley at best and turn-over ball for Long Eaton at worst.
With that possession, Long Eaton were first to score in the second half with the third former Ripley player in Long Eaton’s ranks, Ben Smith, dotting down.
The missed conversion meant Ripley were still in the hunt and they quickly looked to hit back. From more quality line-out possession, the ball was moved through the backline, Liam Porter drew the defence to put Rymell through a gap. His fast feet and step took him under the posts to bring Ripley to 15-8 down and back in striking distance.
Sadly, that was the last scoring chance the Rhinos created as their relative lack of fitness began to tell, particularly as the more numerate Long Eaton continued to ring the changes as the half went on.
Two more Long Eaton tries followed as the Rhinos defence tired. With both converted the game entered the final 15 minutes with Long Eaton leading 29-8 and looking like they could run away from Ripley.
Once more Rhinos’ senior players focused on the need for simple and well-executed basics for the remainder of the game. It was a call that the team heeded, finishing the stronger of the sides, just as they had started the game.
The final whistle blew with Long Eaton taking the match 29-8. Ripley can take many positives from the way that they played, but ultimately know that they could and should have been able to put themselves into a position to win the match. Too many missed tackles and a lack of precision at the break-down ultimately brought about Ripley’s downfall in an otherwise tight encounter.
Inside-centre Danny Rymell took the BAB Plumbing and Heating Man of the Match award for his willingness to run hard and fast at the opposition.
He was closely followed by his centre colleague Ben Smith in the voting.
Rhinos are on tour in Brighton next weekend, with a match against Hove 3rds the rugby highlight of the weekend.