The second round of the the 2012/13 Inter Command matches coincides with the return from Operations of Navy Rugby’s new Head Coach, Owen Salmon, and the day after his return he hopes to be on the touchline at HMS Heron to face the first test of his new role.
On Wednesday, subject to the weather, HMS Heron is due to be the venue as the FAA host the eagerly awaited match against the Royal Marines. If the players need any further incentive to perform then the presence of new Head Coach, barely 24 hours after his return from Aghan will surely be it. For Owen his greatest test may well be ensuring he remains neutral (outwardly at least) as for the last four season’s he has been the Naval Air Command coach seeking to plot victory in what is probably Navy Rugby’s fiercest rivalry at present.
Last week Naval Air won a routine victory over Plymouth Command and they will be looking to build on this solid start to the competition. With a game already under their belts and also the cohesion brought to the side from so many Seahawk players, they probably start favourites. However the Royal Marines have spent two days training with Aviva Premiership side, Exeter Chiefs, and will be keen to start the tournament in positive fashion.
Naval Air will hope to see Navy scrum half Pascoe return to their colours having been forced to miss out the opening round of action. Whether at his usual position of 9 or at fly half he will no doubt be hoping that the Air Command’s pack will continue the dominance they have shown. It is up front that the Royal Marines will know that they will need to work hard to ensure they can provide some sort of structure to their game. This will not be helped though with the lost of two of their more influential players, in recent encounters, namely Stu McLaren and the injured Damien Chambers. At time of writing I do not know whether the Corps team will include Gaz Evans or not but they would certainly benefit from his all action play.
With the new format this year neither side can be entirely confident of reaching the final. After the second round matches are done and dusted rounds three to five coincide with Senior XV fixtures and so, of the five Commands, the Corps and Fleet Air Arm will feel the pain the most as both will supply significant numbers of personnel to the Senior squad.
Indeed if, also on Wednesday, Portsmouth can travel to Plymouth and achieve an away win they would fancy their chances of making the final as they would entertain the Royal Marines at home and could even be in the situation of travelling to play the Fleet Air Arm in round 4 assured of a final place. They should travel with some confidence with a win already in their locker.
Similarly although Scotland lost their opening match to Portsmouth they will remain confident that with both Plymouth and Naval AIr having to travel to play them; that they may well have a significant influence on the finalists come the end of March.
Of course the weather may yet scupper the scheduled match at Yeovilton with midday temperatures only forecast to barely get above freezing on Monday through to Wednesday. Perhaps the Air Arm might move the match further west where Culdrose is due to bask in a comparative tropical climate!