Burnaby Road bathed in Autumnal sunshine was a perfect setting for the Navy U23s final match before the Inter Services. However yet again they were slow out of the blocks and through over eagerness or ill discipline kept losing territory through needless penalties. With twenty five minutes gone the visiting students from Cambridge University deservedly scored in the right hand corner for a 5-0 lead. It was only through the Navy’s tenacity in defence that it had taken so long.
The score seemed to act like a light switch. Gone was the poor decision making, the ill discipline at the contact, the unforced errors. It was replaced by purpose, intensity, work rate in support, passing before and out of contact. The team transformed. Jack Dannagh at scrum half started getting ball on the front foot. Forwards started carrying and punching holes and at long last the skipper Tom Davies could cut some angles in mid field.
Pressure brought its rewards. A penalty for offside converted by Aaron Lewis narrowed the score to 5-3. From the kick off Josh Terry punched down the centre. Good clearing from the forwards and the twelve channel was attacked on the right before the ball was brought back left and Jon Henty scored in the corner. Aaron again made the conversion and the Navy were in front. The lead was extended before half time when further pressure brought a second offside decision which Lewis converted for a 13 – 5 half time lead.
Halftime expectation was short lived in the second half and the Navy once more sat back and invited Cambridge to attack. Again solid defence kept the students at bay but eventually possession and continuity told and they scored close enough to the posts to make the conversion a formality. Was this to be the spur that the Navy needed as per the first half. Briefly the answer seemed to be yes as they controlled the ball long enough to win a penalty in kickable range for fullback Matt Horton to score.
However a late tackle by skipper Tom Davies reduced the home team to 14 men and it was during the sin bin period that the students upped their intensity and the Navy did not match them. The two scores in this period gave the students a commanding lead and despite Kye Beasley scoring late in the game, again converted by Matt it was too little too late.
Three matches, three losses but also significant improvement in each game. Availability, continuity are never in abundant supply for the U23 coaching staff. However they can be pleased with what they are achieving. Sunday saw Mark Sharp play his first ever game at hooker. Aggressive in the tackle, strong with the ball in hand and ok in the technical aspects of the position. One to watch for the future.
A week on Friday the RAF U23s are the visitors at Burnaby Road. The Navy will have some more players back from injury which will help Tom’s job on the field. It is then just a question of which Navy takes to the field. The team before the interval were a credit to the shirt and showed a tantalising glimpse of the promise they possess. They just need to ensure they deliver. We should all remain optomistic.