Rugby Union friendly
1st XV 29pts
Ripley Rhinos 1st XV 28pts
SECRECY was the name of the game as the two teams that Ripley’s Ben Heanue has played for in the last ten years met to give him a surprise celebration for his 60th birthday.
The wily No.8 was certainly not let down as the clubs put on an exciting match ultimately decided by one point.
Rhinos pulled together another makeshift side under the captaincy of Heanue. The front row of Dave Cleland, Keegan Pelser and Richard Cleaver put in a strong shift in the set-piece with Cleaver in particular excelling in the loose and always making himself available as an attacking option.
Donington had decent scrummage and the advantage in the lineout. They also had a youthful back line but their attacking intent wasn’t matched by their ability to time their runs onto the ball.
Donington had the upper hand in the early stages and put the pressure on the Ripley line - the maroons held out for as long as possible with great tackling coming in from full back Adam Parr and scrum half Mitch Wilmott but they managed to break through and score.
The visitors struck back when coach Carl Whitley’s masterstroke of putting his experience out on the wings paid off for the first time; both Adam Langley and Paul Buzzard had already stepped in to halt Donington using the overlaps their pace created but this time Langley read the pass from the opposite fly half, picked it off and had the pace to go all the way. Fly half Dave Trubee slotted the conversion and Ripley were 7-5 ahead.
Heanue was everywhere in attack and defence for his side and leading by example with every step he took. The centre pairing of Anton Brown and Martin Seccombe looked potent with the ball and full of defence when pressed.
The game see-sawed between the sides, entertaining the crowd and Donington retook the lead from a short range effort and followed it up with another to move 19-7 in the lead.
Hard Rhino attacking gave them time in the Castle Donington 22 and second row Rich Keeling put a collective dose of white line fever to bed with a driving score from short range. Trubee’s conversion was the last kick of the half.
Second half started like the first with the home side having possession and territory. Ripley’s defending was strong but they were under the cosh until Buzzard copied what his winging partner did in the first half and picked off a pass from Donington to power away and score under the distant posts. Trubee had another easy kick and the maroons were ahead by two points at 22-20.
The hosts were rattled and took advantage of a Ripley infringement to kick a penalty and retake the lead.
Ripley had shuffled a little by now with Chrisy Urwin and Mike Hicks both coming off the bench for their first games for the club. The pulsating nature of the game continued when Wilmott, Langley and Brown created an opportunity that ultimately saw Langley and Brown not realise it was each other they were racing to the hacked on ball over the home side try line and spurn the chance with a knock on.
Brown soon made amends though with a typically powerful run from 40 metres, breaking three tackles, with Trubee converting to see Rhinos ahead 28-22 with ten minutes to go.
Try as they could, Ripley couldn’t hold out and Donington’s pack set up a position where they could spin off a maul and go in under the posts. The conversion gave them the lead and with little time left, finally the match, 29-28.
This was a great game, very well refereed and full of players giving their all with quality shown in amongst the sweat and toil - fitting as a celebration of a great rugby man reaching a milestone and both sides cheered Ben Heanue from the pitch.
Ripley’s star man was inside-centre Anton Brown and he took the Abex Window Cleaning Contractors Man of the Match award from his team mates.
Rhinos 2nds are in action this Saturday with a Pennant League trip to Mellish 3rds.