Rhinos travelled over to Castle Donington 2nds for this friendly with their best squad numbers of the season so far and with the guesting Dave Eley, Alex Carbines-Evans and Will Cotton, they had a full XV ready to face the usual Castle Donington 2nd experience team that also had a youthful streak running through it.
The conditions weren't brilliant with steady rain falling throughout the game and a wind blowing across the pitch but both teams put that to one side and got on with a competitive game, played in good spirit.
After the recent heavy defeats, Ripley were surprised and not quite prepared for being evenly matched against their opponents. Early attacking chances went begging despite some powerful running from debutant inside centre Adam Stevenson; Ripley weren't getting their go-forward game into gear. Defensively, they were working hard, with the back row of Carbines-Evans, Ben Heanue and Simon Midgley pushing Donington attacks back, and winger Dan Bexyer, looking svelte after his recent fitness regime, was aggressive in every piece of action he undertook.
The first time they got into the Donington half, Ripley scored. The home side infringed and fly half Dave Trubee slotted the penalty from 30 metres. Donington then continued to play the game in the Ripley half. Three things saved Ripley from conceding under this pressure; more hard-working defence, an excellent set-piece and the home side finding ways to spurn chances when they came. The scrummage excelled with props Andy Upton and skipper Craig Culshaw support Eley in their powerful drives to take the ball against the head, aided by the power of Mike Symons and Luke Heanue in the second row. The lineout also functioned expertly, with Carbines-Evans a constant threat to the home side winning their own throw.
Just when it looked like Ripley would keep their lead until half-time, Donington finally used their hands successfully to create an overlap to score in the corner, and a touchline conversion gave them the lead. There was time left in the half for a Stevenson charge to be stopped illegally and Trubee's straightforward penalty saw the visitors go into half-time only a point behind at 7-6.
The emphasis for the second half was to keep working in defence but try to push Castle Donington back. The game plan worked for the first ten minutes but then the home side turned over a Rhino attack and quickly broke upfield to score. The maroons kept trying to press forward but they began to tire and again Donington turned over the ball to break away and score.
With Upton rallying his pack and continuing the fight upfront, there was still hope for the maroons but their tired legs started to betray them. The home side were buoyed by their tries and scored a good fourth to effectively finish off any change of a maroon revival. A final try for Donington put a lopsided slant on the scoreline in what was a tight game, with Ripley losing 33-6.
Donington's fitter and younger legs outlasted Ripley and deserved the win. The maroons can take heart from such an improvement in performance and can work on their attacking during the week ahead of Saturday's trip to Anstey 1sts. Tight-head prop Andy Upton won the BAB Plumbing & Heating man of the match award on an afternoon where he and his team mates played so much better.