The opening round of the 2012 Inter Service U23 Championship saw a tense win for the Royal Navy.
The opening match in the 2012 Inter Service sides saw two sides who have suffered in their build up from either lack of games or many changes due to the current tempo of operations. The visiting RAF U23s had had only one preparation match and although the Navy had benefitted from three, each game had seen very different sides selected.
It was probably for these reasons that the first quarter of this match never really got going. Both sides struggled with continuity and the defences were by far the most dominant. With neither side looking like scoring a try; the opening twenty had only a long range penalty miss from RAF hooker Brad Cook to mark in the book.
However the penalty miss seemed to galvanise the home side. They started to be far more purposeful in their driving play with Henty, Chris Davies, Terry and Puleston all carrying well. With more ball on the front foot Aaron Lewis at fly half was more prepared to release the backs where Sam Davies was particularly influential.
With 30 minutes gone the Navy forwards set up a strong maul from a 20m line and when the RAF missed the initial sack it was always going to be a difficult proposition to stop. Despite one warning from the referee, the Navy pack kept enough forward momentum and gradually they reached the RAF’s goal line for Sam White to cross for the opening score which was converted by Lewis.
For the next five minutes the Navy then had to show how effective they could defend as the RAF started to off load out the tackle and produce some of their most productive rugby. However with Sam Davies proving as effective in defence as he was in attack a number of promising moves were stopped through turnovers or aggressive tackling. With time up the Navy deserved their half time 7 – 0 lead but both sides had showed glimpses of promise that had not quite been fulfilled.
The second half started with the Navy forwards at their robust best. From the kick off they set up camp deep in the Air Force half and for fully five minutes kept a tight strangle hold of the game. However the RAF defence was holding firm so it was probably a wise move from Aaron Lewis to take the drop goal and extend the lead to ten points.
Then for some in explicable reason the Navy lost both their shape and intensity. Frequent turnovers and penalties allowed the RAF some field position and Brad Cook was successful with his second attempt at a penalty goal. Still the Royal Navy sat back and the RAF could be seen to visibly grow in confidence and started to run more purposefully at the Navy defence. Again penalties were proving costly to the RN and after a second miss Cook landed a penalty to reduce the lead to a single score.
This seemed to wake the Navy out of their slumber and from the restart they were far more purposeful and went very close to scoring from a number of pick and drives right on the RAF line. However a wayward pass allowed the turnover and it wasn’t long before Craig Palmer sent the RAF right wing, James Hodge, away. Despite having 80m to run he picked off the Navy’s cover defence to score under the posts and with an easy conversion for Cook the RAF were in the lead for the first time in the match 13-10 with under ten minutes of the match length.
At a time when the RAF needed composure it left them. A needless penalty from Cook was punished by Navy fullback Matt Horton who set up a 5m line out with his kick. The Navy’s driving maul was illegally collapsed and the 5m line repeated. This time the RAF stole the ball but from a partially charged down clearance kick from in goal John Henty was on hand to score the RN’s second try and with Horton’s kick being successful the RAF had a couple of minutes to score a minimum of a try.
To their credit they gave it a good go and were soon within metres of the Navy line. However as flyhalf Charles Kirkham took the ball on a wrap around he slightly slipped and was tackled by Sam White who was soon back on his feet and winning the turnover. With possession once more secure the Navy were able to kick the ball dead and win the match.
Tom Davies received the cup as the winning captain but as is his way did not get to carried away. The win was very pleasing and give the squad a platform from which to work but they know that they will have to step up their performance for next week’s trip to Aldershot and the match with reigning champions, the Army.
Watching Navy DoR Andy Kellett will have been pleased with what he saw. A number of players demonstrated clear potential for higher and better things. Late replacement lock Dylan Woods will give coach Scott Ashley something to ponder should McDonald be fit. Sam Davies was a handful in midfield whilst Scott Puleston, Josh Terry, Chris Davies and especially in the second half John Barrett all carried well. However for me John Henty sneaked it as man of the match. A strong all round display with some good runs from the base of (an at times) retreating scrum, excellent work rate in defence with some strong tackling and also did his fair share of clearing out rucks.
Royal Navy U23 Team: Chris Davies, Lee Mellor, Josh Terry, Dylan Woods, Sam White, John Barnett, Scott Puleston, John Henty, SJay amuel, Aaron Lewis, Morgan Andrews, Sam Davies, Tom Davies (Capt), Bobby Conroy-Smith, Matt Horton
Replacements: Robbie Fowler, Tea Talemasimaiveya, Tom Howard, Dan Richardson, Josh Jones, Josh Balckburn, Sam Tyrer
Royal Air Force U23 Team: Fraser Walsh, Brad Cook, Stu Dinsdale, Rhys Dent, Tom O’Leary, Callum Hales, Jordan Williams, Matthew Morgan (Capt), Will Chilton, Chris Kirkham, James Hodge, Liam Bradley, Dan Millership, Tom Bolland, Rob Booth
Replacements: Don Garrowway, Tom Windibank, Brendan Bale, Sam Hutchinson, Craig Palmer, Ryan Doland, Sam Smith
Army U23′s Complete IS Preparations
The Army U23s have been in training camp all week and last night played Havant Academy to finalise their preparations for the 2012 Inter Services. A 47 – 0 victory at Aldershot suggests that they are prepared. The Army open their campaign when they play the Royal Navy U23s at Aldershot Rugby Stadium, Friday 23 November, KO 19:30
Earlier in the day and across the road at HMS Temeraire, Navy capped scrum half and former U23 captain Jonny Stephen completed his move from Royal Marine to Navy Physical Trainer Instructor. Following the 26 week course Jonny joined his class mates in the traditional end of course passing out performance when the skills they have learnt are put on display for family and dignitaries.
Hopefully Jonny will soon be back on the rugby pitch challenging Dave Pascoe and Jack Foster for the scrum half position. Jonny will bring a good deal of comeptition and no little experience to the mix. Though he has only won four caps he has Inter Service championship honours at both U23 and Senior level and was also part of the 2009 Commonwealth Cup winning side. He won his first cap in 2010 in the same match that Navy centre Dale Sleeman made his Senior debut and was the 678th player to represent the Royal Navy Rugby Union in a capped game.
Perhaps in one of the warm up games Navy DoR, Andy Kellett, could select both Jonny and Tom Glover so that the team would have a pair of half backs who have served in both the Royal Navy and Royal Marines, Tom joining the Navy and transferring to the Corps.
For those of you who have not seen a ‘club swingers’ passing out display then click here for a YouTube clip of PT Qualifying Course 57.