Welcome to the season opener for the latest incarnation of the Yarnbury Under 15 team.
The opening game was predicted to be a nervy encounter for the bum fluffed teenagers and the resulting game accurately lived up to its billing.
If last season's games in both friendlies and the Yorkshire Cup were anything to go by the boys needed to put in a shift and the spectators were due a nip 'n tuck type of game.
Ripon started strongly with a turnover from the resulting ruck after the kick-off and diligently advanced deep into Yarnbury territory with quick balls from the rucks and fast hands out to their dangerous three-quarters. Yarnbury, clearly on the back foot, struggled to drift wide and Ripon went over within two and half minutes of the kick-off.
A quick huddle under the sticks whilst Ripon failed to convert identified the issues and, buoyed from some positive encouragement, chased after the re-start and forced an immediate turnover. The Yarnbury boys capitalised on the territorial advantage with some excellent forward play to continually get over the gain line and pressed for an immediate response. Ripon valiantly defended but it was only a question of how long the score was going to take such was the ferocity of the Yarnbury pack.
Step up Seth Thompson, second row , picking and driving from the back of the ruck with a perfect low body position, driving through the defensive line leading with the shoulder, protecting the ball, white line fever writ large on his face grounding the ball on the floor, one -handed with the confident smile of a job well done. Pity it was Ripon's 5-metre line. Specsavers beckoned for the crest-fallen young man (joke re-produced with the kind permission of his Mum, Petra). A few minutes later Yarnbury worked a turnover and prop Jude Baldwin emulated Seth, but 5 metres further on, and dived into the in-goal area with a thud to level the score.
Yarnbury were then in the ascendancy for the majority of the first half and managed to score again through the other second row, Max Fletcher, taking a couple of Ripon defenders with him over the line after some hard graft from the Yarnbury pack. The pack, for all 60-minutes were a close-knit team and worked hard for each other, excellent support play and communication from all of them.
Ripon were not done yet and regained the advantage following sustained pressure in the last third of the half. They scored two tries to end the half 5 points to the good. At the time Ripon weren't to know that they had reached their points tally for the day and you wouldn't have believed that if it were suggested at the time. A very strong team from 1 to 15 and were causing Yarnbury a lot of problems throughout the game. Similarly Yarnbury gave as good as they got and the game was finely balanced. The first half was literally end-to-end. Both teams were glad of the half-time whistle.
Second half was contested in pretty much the same style for the whole 30 minutes, end-to-end, large amounts of drama and controversy. Two yellow cards within 5-minutes of each other, one for each side. Both cards for the same offence of killing the ruck. Taken at face value you would be forgiven for saying both cards were harsh. However, the referee had justifiably issued a number of warnings to both sides previously and was left with little choice, and fair play to him for being consistent.
Seven minutes into the second half saw the Yarnbury forwards within 5 metres of the Ripon line. Following about four, or five phases (can't quite remember) of well disciplined picking and driving, Spencer Beanland (hooker/tight head prop) crashed through and over the line to level the scores once again. Charley Popely landed the conversion to ease Yarnbury into a 2-point lead.
The remainder of the half was as tight a game as you can imagine with both teams gaining and losing territory in equal measure. The final points of the day were scored by Yarnbury by the mercurial outside centre Ned McCormack from one of his customary mazey forays in search of the try line. Ripon kept their heads and played with renewed vigour and challenged remorselessly for their own score to get something from the game. To be honest, they deserved as much and a draw would've been a very fair result.
Ripon's hospitality was warm and welcoming as always (the sausage sandwiches are an absolute delight). The weather and conditions were as near perfect as was possible.
The referee had a great game and handled the players very well despite some challenging moments, as you would expect from such an exciting, close-fought game. Both teams were up for it that's for sure.
No-one had a bad game at all in every position. The forwards worked their socks off with Jack Gallagher just pipping his forwards team mates to the man of the match award. The backs asked questions of Ripon time and time again. Perhaps if one constructive criticism could be levied at the backs it would be this; they need to be less static and take the ball at pace. Other than that it was a fine team performance and we coaches were rightly proud of them. Parents were on good form too.
The bar has been set very high for the rest of the season...