In the struggle for their first win in Yorkshire 2, the home side found it hard going initially against a Ripon side who benefitted from a cold wind at their backs in the first half. After some disjointed play when the visitors applied pressure to take the lead after five minutes, the hosts gradually settled down and ended up well on top in the second period, finishing with a comfortable and welcome victory.
Using the wind, Ripon immediately pressured the home side from the whistle and then spent the first five minutes pounding the home line. Eventually a gap appeared and the visitors took advantage with a try half way out after 5 minutes, the conversion giving them a 7 – 0. With their forwards linking up well with their backs, the visitors again worked their way into the home 22 and the home side had to rely on stalwart defence to keep their line clear with prop Toby Keep, flanker Joe Armitage and No. 8 Sam Featherstone to the fore.
With Ripon doing well in the lineouts, possession for the hosts continued to be scarce, but at last they were able to move the ball wide when full back Connor Bateman joined in the line to take play into the Ripon 22. Good driving by the home forwards gave flanker Joe Armitage a chance to power over on 17 minutes. A good conversion by fly half Will Cooper levelled the score at 7 apiece.
The home pack came more into the game and lock Lee O’Donnell produced some powerful runs to gain territory and give the home backs opportunities, with lively scrum half Rob Lofthouse constantly sniping round the set pieces. Ripon were still very much in the game taking advantage of handling errors along with their superiority in the lineout as the half time whistle approached. On 34 minutes the visitors missed a penalty half way out. This allowed the home side to re-group and with good support play they set up a strong run from winger Luke Cowdell up the left flank, he shrugged off several would -be tacklers to run round and score a fine try between the posts. The conversion by Cooper increased the home side’s lead to 14 – 7 at the break.
With Josh Dyson coming on the front row and Lee O’Donnell taking over at No. 8, the home pack steadied to produce cleaner ball. With the wind in their favour, the home backs started making inroads into the visitors’ territory with centres Ollie Eaves and Josh Smith gaining good ground. Camped in the Ripon 22, the home backs moved the ball left and then right to allow a slick pass to send Cowdell over for his second try on 45 minutes. Cooper’s conversion extended the lead to 21 – 7.
With more possession from steady scrums and the improving lineout, the hosts were very much on top with lively displays by flanker Paddy Phipps and lock Dougie Elgar. From driving play in the visitors’ 22, scrum half Rob Lofthouse nipped through several defenders to burrow his way over wide out. Cooper’s conversion attempt hit the posts, stretching the lead to 26 – 7 on 54 minutes.
The hosts continued to dominate with both forwards and backs linking up well and Ripon, despite defending valiantly, were very much on the back foot. On 66 minutes scrums had to go uncontested as the visitors lost two front row players through injury and the quicker possession gave the hosts chances to get their speedy backs into action. A yellow card for the home side allowed Ripon to get more into the game, but they rarely ventured into the ‘Ensians’ half.
Ross Nichols came on at lock to provide extra impetus and the home pack put in some strong drives setting up Joe Armitage to force his way over on 74 minutes for his second. Four minutes later good offloading saw lock Ross Nichols on hand wide out and, as the visitors ran out of defenders, he galloped round under the posts for the final well-worked try. Cooper converted one try to take the final score to 38 – 7.
After a shaky start in what looked likely to be close encounter initially, ‘Ensians’ share of possession increased and, with improved decision-making, they were able to come away with a well-earned league victory.