Navy Women take the Air out of the Air Force Women's Inter Service Challenge
Following on from the Royal Navy Veterans, the Navy Women's match was to set the scene for the Senior XV game against the Royal Air Force in the first round of the Babcock 2010 Inter Services Rugby Championship. It had been lean time of late for the Navy women in this competition, since achieving back to back wins against the RAF in the 2004/5 and 2005/6 seasons.
The Navy women, led by Vic Percival, was a mix of new and old players with an experience level ranging from new-comers to the Inter-Service competition to those who had already tasted victory over their close rivals the RAF.
From the kick-off it was obvious that this was going to be a classic encounter as the Navy women took the game to the RAF with strong drives from the back row trio of Nikki Dent, Becki Chapman and Sophie Roseamon. These runs were backed up by some excellent work by new comer to the Inter Service competition, Sasha Hole. However, it was to be the RAF who would claim the first points of the game as they were awarded a penalty for a Navy off-side; 0-3 after 5 mins.
From the restart the Navy women pressured the RAF that gave both navy wingers, new cap Coleen Dunne and Emma Swinton an opportunity to test the RAF defence which, although creaking, held firm. Again it was to be a penalty for not rolling away that gave the RAF some respite as they moved ahead 0-6 after 15 mins.
It was time for full back Sam Alderson and outside centre Julianna Straker to combine as Sam cleared with a kick from the Navy 22m line, this found some space behind the RAF defence. The kick was chased by both Straker and inside centre Fiesha Greene. However, it was the boot of Straker who got to the ball first and kicked it beyond the RAF cover defence, Straker then reclaimed the ball to score out wide making the score 5-6. The initiator of the try Alderson then stepped up to convert the try, taking the Navy into the lead 7-6 after 22 mins.
The Navy was to suffer from the whistle of the referee for offside on many occasions which placed them under mounting pressure. Several times the RAF crossed the line only to be denied by superb defence as every navy player put her body on the line to stop another RAF score. The result of this stalwart defence was the loss of 2nd row Sasha Hole who was replaced by another new cap Andrea Marshall. More pressure by the RAF led to an unconverted try that saw the half time score 7-11.
The 2nd half started with the Navy firing on all cylinders as they took the game to the RAF. Royal Navy Rugby League player of the season Sarah Simms had a huge impact as she took every opportunity to drive into the heart of the RAF defence. This gave scrum half and vice captain Kirsty Forward and stand-off Sarah Jenkins a chance to release the back line. This pressure allowed Sam Alderson to nip in for a try by the corner flag bringing the Navy back into the lead by 1 point 12-11 after 62 mins. Sam then had the conversion that would have given the great Johnny Wilkinson palpitations and also give the Navy a clear score lead. Most, if not all of the sideline had pretty much accepted the fact that this was too much for Sam. However, in true kicker style she slotted the ball over the crossbar to give the Navy the all-important 3 point lead, 14-11 with 18 mins to go.
Following an injury to Abbey Moyse she was replaced by one of the few players that can remember the feeling of beating the RAF. Pam Williams one of the Navy's most senior players, arrived with her powerful scrumage game and ‘route 1' running style. Also from the bench came another Navy Rugby League player Vakururualu (‘V') and Sarah Mitchell to take up positions at wing and back row respectively.
This was to be the 15 that finished the game and as the referee blew the final whistle, the cheers that rang out from the sideline and the pitch left no doubts about what this victory meant for the standing of women's rugby in the Navy.
A great day for the Navy players was also a just reward for the hard work of their support team, including Sam Cuff who took on the role of lead coach, and former player Clare Sherratt in her first Inter Service game as team manager. But also a touch of sadness as this was the last home Inter Service game for the Royal Navy Women's Chairman Paula Rowe, as she leaves the Service later this year, handing over the mantel to Kirsty Forward after 12 years of Royal Navy Women's rugby as both player and Chairman.
AB Sam Alderson (HMS CORNWALL), AB Coleen Dunne (HMS COLLINGWOOD), OC Julianna Straker (BRNC Dartmouth), Logs Fiesha Greene (HMS ARK ROYAL), LS Emma Swinton (HMS LIVERPOOL), LET Sarah Jenkins (HMS RICHMOND), Lt Kirsty Forward Vice Capt (SK IPT), NA Nikki Dent (RNAS Yeovilton), Mid Becki Chapman (BRNC Dartmouth), PO Sophie Roseamon (HMS COLLINGWOOD), PO Sasha Hole (HMS OCEAN), AB Sophie Hinds (HMS CORNWALL), LLogs Abby Moyse (HMS MANCHESTER), Lt Victoria Percival (UCL), AB Sarah Simms (HMS ARK ROYAL), AB Vakururualu (HMS CUMBERLAND), AB Erin Marner (HMS ARK ROYAL), AB Sarah Mitchell (HMS OCEAN), LPT Andrea Marshall (BRNC Dartmouth), LAET Pam Williams (815 Sqn).