WHITBY Rugby Club under 15s entertained Ripon at the Showfield last Sunday for their first game of the new year, following a long lay-off due to the bad weather.
However, a tough training regime from The Fitness Machine ensured they were physically well prepared for this encounter.
The Maroons kicked off and immediately, the visitors carried the ball into contact, winning the resultant ruck and grubber-kicking deep into Whitby’s half.
As the ball skidded awkwardly, winger John Jackson tidied up with a good clearance to touch.
As the first line-out of the game was from Ripon, they moved the ball swiftly to their outside centre, but a great tackle from tight-head prop Nathan Kaz ensured a turnover ball.
Now the hosts mounted their first counter-attack, but in slippery conditions, the ball was spilt and the visitors kicked deep into their opposition half to clear the danger.
The ball, however, ran dead resulting in a 22m drop-out.
From here, Ripon once again ran the ball back at Whitby, but a big tackle from Jackson stifled the threat.
From the scrum, captain James Astin popped a lovely inside ball to number eight Mitch Cannon who ground out 10 m before linking with Michael McCormack and fellow second row Luke Brown who smashed his way up to the visitors’ 10m line.
From here, centre Ryan Vasey took over, taking the ball on and feeding left-wing Jack Cooper who sprinted around the Ripon winger and full back to score under the posts.
The conversion was made by James Grimont.
Luke Brown claimed the restart kick, once again bulldozing his way over halfway, with Cannon continuing the move for a further 15m before feeding centre Alex Waddington, whose strong run took play up to Ripon’s 5m line.
Whitby’s forwards were on fire now and great support play from Adam Harrison and Joe Russell secured possession for Cannon to drive at the line. Good tackling however, from the visiting defence just kept him out.
The 5m scrum gave Cannon the opportunity to once again drive at the line on the blind-side, but still strong tackling forced him into touch for a line-out.
From here, Ripon were able to clear their line, but only as far as winger Jamie Radford, who, having just come on for Jackson, made an immediate impact with a fine catch and run passing to Harrison, who then fed Brown and once again McCormack linking to get the ball away to centre Toby Mok.
He in turn popped the ball to Cooper. Only strong cover tackling thwarted what had been an inspired passage of play and with the ball running into touch, the referee signalled half-time.
For the first time this season, Whitby looked like the team they should be.
Superb inter-play between the forwards and great support from the backs made them look a different class.
The restart saw a good catch and drive from wing-forward Joe Russell and support from Cannon and Harrison allowed blind-side flanker, JJ Wood a clever, darting run to set up the ball perfectly.
By now, Astin was completely running the show. Short balls fed to Brown, Cannon, McCormack and Harrison robbed Ripon of any decent possession.
Cannon once again drove at the Ripon line, only to be held up 5m short.
However, from the resultant scrum, he would not be denied a second time, carrying the ball and three tacklers over the line for a try in the corner.
A perfect conversion from Grimont took the score to 14-0.
As the game progressed, fly-half Grimont kept the visitors pinned back in their 22 with some incisive kicking, showing how he can adapt to any position when required.
Heavy rain slowed the game down now and brought Ripon back into contention.
As Whitby’s forward began to tire, the visitors moved the ball wide to their big outside centre who rounded the wing to score a 50m solo try.
Seeing a chink in the host’s armour, they raised their game and after a good period of possession, were rewarded with an almost copy-book try, once again from their centre. This time the conversion was successful, taking the score to 14-12.
With five minutes remaining, the game looked as though it could slip away from the Maroons, despite their dominance in 75% of the match.
With Ripon feeling they had a real chance, it required some desperate defence from the hosts. Vasey, Mok and Tom Wood in particular showed guts and determination to hold onto their narrow lead.
Replacement flanker Kyle Woods really impressing and full back Fountain put in a couple of good hits towards the final whistle. However, ultimately Whitby had to rely on winger Cooper to save the day with a crunching tackle in the last passage of play.
So many strong contenders for the man of the match. Brown, Cannon, McCormack and Harrison tormented the opposition all game, but this week the award goes to James Astin who organised the attack and set the platform for the forwards to perform.
Tries: Jack Cooper, Mitch Cannon
Conversions: Grimont 2.
Man of the match: James Astin
Whitby U15s 14 Ripon U15s 12