Titans Final Test before Twickenham

03 May 2023

19:30 @ Venues

Senior Men XV


Taunton RFC

The Royal Navy have completed their last test on the road to Twickenham, with an impressive victory over National League One’s Taunton Titans. The Navy out-scored Taunton by five tries to four, with the rolling maul proving crucial in this West Country clash that finished 35-28 to the Navy.

Royal Navy Senior Men Assistant Director of Rugby Michael ‘Arty’ Shaw was delighted by the sides’ performance, saying, “We came here expecting a hard test and it was. I mean perfect conditions, fast track, we didn’t underestimate the Taunton team. I think they put in an outstanding performance. But I think for me personally, you know, it was a game of two halves, we changed a lot of players at half-time. The boys came on, added value, so it was a complete performance. Delighted with that to be honest, very good.

“I think a lot of people out there put some markers down, we’ve still got some selection decisions to make. Everyone stepped up, the nerves are starting to show now, you can see it. Everyone’s getting excited, and next week is going to be a big week for everybody.”

It took just two minutes for the first points to get on the board at Veritas Park, as the Navy pilled on pressure immediately from kick-off. Foul play in the breakdown awarded the Navy a penalty, which was kicked to the corner, with a powerful rolling maul set to follow. Hooker Rhys Williams threw, re-gathered and grounded the ball for the servicemen’s opening try. A well struck conversion by Jordan Gott built an immediate seven point lead.

Taunton were ignited by the early set-back, and took the pressure down to the Navy’s ‘red zone’ for a 10 minute spell. However, the Navy were resilient in defence, and kept a strong structure to surpass the waves of pressure. Costly handling errors form the Titans kept their score-sheet empty, and the Navy were able to double their lead soon after.

An explosive line break against the run of play, saw winger Ben Chambers break away at pace, before playing full-back Craig Duncan into the back-field. Duncan took the ball high to the line, and slipped a pass away to right winger Jerome Rudder, who sailed away to the line, unopposed on his way through to score. Another neatly struck conversion by Taunton’s own Jordan Gott built a 14-0 lead.

Taunton would not roll over, and kept putting the Navy under pressure. Navy back-rower Ratu Vakalutukali was sent to the sin-bin for illegally halting the fast-ball at the breakdown, when the Titans approached a try-scoring position. Taunton made the most of the extra-man advantage, and scored off the following penalty. Kicking to the corner, the Titans orchestrated a textbook rolling maul, with hooker Liam Dray dotting the ball down at the back of the pack. A well struck conversion by Ben Coen narrowed the gap to 7-14 after 21 minutes.

The Navy thought that they were in again on the half hour mark, yet a disallowed try kept the score-line the same. Taunton cleared their lines, yet the Navy fired back with a fast-paced counter-attack, putting Chambers through to score. However a forward pass in the build-up cancelled out the score.

Taunton then levelled up the scoring to 14 points-a-piece, with their powerhouse pack once again leading the charge. Another rolling maul forced the Navy back behind their try-line, and this time number-eight Seb Nagle-Taylor came up with the ball, and reaped the plaudits. Coen’s conversion brought the score’s back level.

The Royal Navy’s ill-discipline continued to hinder them, with scrum half Dan Rutter sent to the bin for a high tackle. Despite dropping down a man once again, the Navy had the final say of the first half, with a try on the 40th minute. The Sailors pinned the Titans on their try line, with short pick and drives edging them ever closer. Captain Jarrard Hayler fell just short, but prop Kye Beasley was able to crawl over the line. Gott’s conversion sent the side’s departing at 21-14 in favour of the Navy.

The second half began as hotly contested as the first, with Navy full-back Craig Duncan setting the tone. An astonishing solo try saw the flying back weave in and out of the Titans defence, before holding off a final tackle attempt, and muscle his way over the line. Fly half Gott extended the lead to 28-14, just five minutes after the break.

A slight lull in the try-scoring saw the sides jostle for position, with the match opening up for the fresh-legged replacements. Both sets of players kept the spectators on the feet, with a stand-out line-break from Taunton prop Brian Ncube showing great pace from the big man.

Taunton kept themselves well within the fight, taking the match down to just one score, in the final 10 minutes. Taunton lock Sam Leworthy charged down the Navy’s clearance box kick, and regained possession inside the 22m. The ball then found Coen, who executed a neatly placed cross-field kick, and found winger Noah Fenton out wide. Fenton then span past the tackle attempt, and sprinted in to score. Coen’s conversion took the score to 28-21 with eight minutes remaining.

However, Taunton’s hope of a late comeback was diminished by the Navy’s instant reply. Once again the rolling maul is the tried and tested try-scoring method, with the Navy once again showing their success from the set-piece. A fresh pair of shooting boots were equally as accurate, as replacement fly-half Jake Hanley slotted the conversion.

Taunton closed out the match with the final try of the evening, as the final moments took another exciting turn. Hanley sent a looping pass out wide to Fenton, with the winger able to secure his brace of tries with an impressive finish out wide. A final conversion etched the last points onto the board, yet the Titans were defeated 28-35.

Despite coming out on the losing side of the score-line, Taunton Titans Head Coach Tony Yapp was impressed with his young side against the servicemen. Taunton have a great relationship with the Navy, with matches like this proving challenging tests for both sides. Yapp spoke after the game, and highlighted these aspects.

“For some of those kids to have the opportunity to play against the Navy is excellent, and it’s something they’ll live with for a long, long time. Very proud of our guys, I though the Navy at times were going to pull away from us, but we dug in. We kept fighting, and we stuck around long enough to make it quite tight come the end.”

“I think services rugby is great, there’s a real interest in it. We’ve got good links with 40 Commando, we’ve got a number of players here at Taunton. Toots is a Taunton player, and Gotty (Jordan Gott) and Jay (Toogood). Chris Mills as well, there’s a couple more in there as well. We’ve got a good relationship with the Navy, in terms of players, and we have over a number of years as well. It’s a great fixture for us, and is one we really look forward to.

“Inter-services rugby is something that is growing. You don’t get 80,000 people at Twickenham if people aren’t interested, and we’ll look forward to watching that one next week, and we wish the Navy well in their final against the Army”

Words by Tom Samson

Images by Lee Crabb and Jarrad Hulm