Army Masters School the Mariners in Expansive Rugby
Records tumbled as the Army Masters ran riot against the Mariners in an emphatic 68-27 victory. Royal Navy team captain Stan Mortensen said before the game how important it was for the team to end the season on a high, “…not because it’s the Army game, not because it is a big occasion…we owe it to ourselves not to feel like we did after eighty minutes [against the RAF].” The team showed glimpses of their potential but were outplayed in a master class of expansive rugby.
The Army Masters were clear favourites after their 35-14 victory over the RAF Vultures who had previously beaten the Mariners 32-3 at RAF Halton. The Mariners were therefore determined to avoid a whitewash and not to have a repeat of their lacklustre performance of the 2015/16 season. All augured well during the two-day camp at Temeraire, as the players were put through their paces (including swimming in the Solent) and challenged to develop a game plan to beat the Army. They were ultimately undone by wizardry in the wide channels.
In a mirror image of last year’s match the Mariners started strongly from the kick off but it was the Army who crossed the line first using the speed and creativity synonymous with their style of rugby. On the 15 minutes mark Satala raised Royal Navy hopes with a successful penalty.
The coaches had got it right and the pack produced simple but effective set pieces; winning their lineouts while disrupting the Army and controlling the scrum against a heavier pack. Running rugby was on display from both sides.
A few moments later an illegal tip tackle on Sayer was missed by the officials, the resultant fracas afterwards ended in an undeserved penalty against the Mariners for retaliation: potentially the turning point of the first half. To further compound the situation Mariners’ scrum half Melhuish was yellow carded for coming in at the side and with the man advantage the Army doubled their score to take their tally to 14. A foul against Cormack saw him eventually leave the field having been taken out in the lineout; to the surprise of the innumerable spectators it was the Army who were awarded the free kick as the Royal Navy had too few in the line.
Lady Luck’s smile faltered and the flood gates opened with two more converted tries for the Army with the half finishing 35-3. A near insurmountable score line threatened to completely demoralise the Mariners but it was the Royal Navy side who got on to the board first in the second half with a long arm reach for the line from Mortensen reminiscent of his effort from last year. Tit for tat scoring followed but unfortunately where the Royal Navy scored one the Army would score two.
Tries from Hillman and Halofaki showed that the Army had weaknesses in defence and that the gaps created by elusive or direct running could be exploited. This was never a concern for the Army though because they were supremely in attack with ball in hand and confident throwing speculative, looping passes twenty-five metres or more.
With the game all but over with a minute on the clock the Royal Navy thought they had scored the final points of the game with flying winner taking the defeated sides tally up to 4 tries but the Army had the last say as they scored between the uprights having carved up the defence in a seamless display of soft hands, deft passes and penetrative running lines. The Army were deserved winners of the Veterans’ Inter Service tournament and will remain the team that the RAF and Royal Navy will have to beat.
Mariners: Lister, England, Cowie; Cormack, Riley; Mortensen (C), Hillman, Thompson; Melhuish, Clark; Daku, Satala, Boyce, Valemie, Sayer.
Replacements: Cozens, Jones, Geldard, Smith, Milford, Stokes, Smallbone, Halofaki, Fentum.
Words by J Campbell-Baldwin and G Pallet
Images by RNRU © Mark Andrews