All images from Friday’s match against the RAF U23 are available here.
Two years ago Tom Davies was an influential member of the Royal Navy U23’s team that opened the 2010 Inter Service Championship with an away win over the Army at Aldershot. On Friday he will lead the team out knowing that if they can repeat the feat they will be crowned IS Champions 2012. Tom knows, more than anyone, never to take things for granted and that it will be a very special win if they can achieve it. But in Tom the U23s have a leader who is from a slightly different mould. With due acknowledgement to the ‘Nearly Deads’ their lyrics in the title seem apt.
Tom Davies – four years, a leader in the making?
Speaking with Tom he comes across calm but assured and is humble in the assessment of himself. Yet this same player has known trouble on and off the field where a short temper often found him on the wrong side of authority – be it a match referee or his bosses or indeed the police. Indeed if he listed his clubs I wonder whether he would list Colchester, the military’s corrective training facility where Tom spent a short amount of time.
On the field Tom has experienced the highs and lows of sport. Whist serving on HMS Liverpool he came under the influence of two on Navy Rugby’s more recent loyal servants Dane Smallbone and Wayne ‘Cowboy’ John. Tom acknowledges that his game developed under their tutelage. During this time the Liverpool team were the team in the Fleet to beat, in no small part to Tom’s play alongside Dane and Cowboy. In 2010 they narrowly missed out of becoming the first ship to play a Navy Cup final since the 70’s. Though their competition ended at the semi final stage they had taken a couple of large establishment scalps with them during their cup run. However it was ‘the establishment’ that Tom still struggled with. As Tom acknowledges, and at the time Dane and Cowboy despaired with, he was difficult to manage.
In the same year Tom experienced Inter Service success in representative colours for the Navy U23s. Under the captaincy of Dennis Scotthorne and the off field leadership of Clayton Patilla and Jim Hunter, Tom was a key player in both the clinching win over the RAF but more so in the initial (and historic) win over the Army U23s at Aldershot.
After 2010 many expected Tom to ‘kick on’ with his game and really push for Senior honours, as many of his colleagues from that team have gone on to do. However a combination of injury and off field issues either meant he was unable to play (physically) or not released for matches by his unit. 2011 was certainly not a year he would wish to remember.
At the start of this year Tom was selected for the Senior squad and was in line to win his first Senior XV cap. However an arrest when out in a club ended that opportunity. I remember at the time, when hearing the news, thinking typical. How prejudiced we often are! The truth is more of a travesty although, as always, there are lessons to be learned. Though Tom was at the club at the time of the incident it was not late and he was not drinking anything other than coke. He knew what rugby opportunities were around the corner. He was identified by a security man as the ‘culprit’ and arrested. Unfortunately for Tom, by the time the CCTV evidence was available, his ‘Senior XV cap’ opportunity had gone. The footage quite clearly showed that Tom was nothing to do with the incident, an innocent bystander who did not get involved. It was little compensation but Tom did finish the 2011/12 season playing at Twickenham. He was rightly selected by Combined Services U23s to play against the Combined Varsity team. Another interesting footnote to this story was how strongly Tom’s Warrant Officer at work stood up for him. A sign that off field was moving forward as well as on field.
What then followed was a summer season with the Navy Sharks and selection for the Commonwealth Cup. Throughout the Sharks season Tom’s maturity on the field visibly improved. Reports from Sydney also confirmed a new Tom is rapidly developing. When asked the reason for the change Tom identifies a number of people and reasons. But one stands out. Navy captain, Dave Pascoe, is credited for showing Tom what is needed to be professional on and off the field. It is obvious that Dave’s work ethic in his training and the understanding that ‘as a Navy Rugby player’ he is in a privileged position has made a positive impact on Tom.
Tom has led the side in both their warm up matches against the varsity opposition and was appointed by coach Scott Ashley as captain for the Inter Service campaign. When asked what he would bring to the role Tom was somewhat modest in his response. He talked about his personal commitment, playing with intensity and demonstrating to others what it should mean to play for the side. Talking with Scott gives a wider perspective as he explains, in glowing terms, the contribution Tom is making behind the scenes in training. His leadership off the field being a major, and perhaps unexpected, contribution to the current, relatively inexperienced squad.
Tom is by no means yet the finished article, as his recent yellow card against Cambridge showed. However he now has a growing maturity to harness the undoubted talent he possesses and most importantly a strong, intrinsic desire to succeed. Along the way he has been helped by those already mentioned along with Sam and the rest of the Sharks coaching staff, and Ash’s coaching team with the seniors. The final person mentioned in terms of help was last season’s captain Kye Beasley. Kye won his first cap for the Navy last season and Tom was on hand to see Kye win his first Combined Services cap, earlier this month at Pontypridd. A mark of how close these two young potential stars of Navy Rugby are working together.
Tom no longer rages inside, he is beginning to understand and control the negative effects of frustration. However he is still as driven and as competitive as ever. He has the potential for a long career at the top for Navy Rugby. Last week his opportunities against the RAF U23’s were few, his defence was as abrasive as ever. On Friday I am sure he will lead the side, against the Army, in his now typical fashion – from the front. However, as I have said before, the success of the U23s is not just about results. In making Tom captain I am sure that a number of the younger players will benefit but also so to will Tom. Success in November? May be. A senior cap in April? I hope so, it will be well deserved.
However before he even starts to think about any opportunity that 2013 may hold he has probably the most important week of his ‘rugby life’. On Monday he will help prepare his side for Friday and their second match in the Inter Service Championship. For most of the team it will be an experience unlike any other. In Tom they have a captain whose apprenticeship has equipped him well to, in his words “lead from the front” and in the words of his coach “to inspire”.
Tom Davies will captain the Royal Navy U23’s in their final match of 2012 against the Army U23 at Aldershot Rugby Stadium on Friday 23 November, KO 19:30.
He is following in the footsteps of two of his player mentors, Cowboy John who captained the IS winning team in 2007 and Kye Beasley who captained the side last year. Cowboy lifted the IS trophy in 2007. Will Tom achieve this in 2012? In many ways that’s not the point, for Tom or the team in the wider perspective of Navy Rugby success. As for Tom well will return to The Nearly Deads who for me summed it up quite eloquently:
Forget your regrets
They’re better left behind
Say goodbye to whispering uncertainty
The only thing that holds us back