Cambridge Top of the Class at Grange Road

14 February 2024

19:30 @ Cambridge RFC

Senior Men XV


Cambridge University RFC

A crisp winter’s evening in Cambridge saw the arrival of a Royal Navy Union Senior Men fresh from last week’s triumph at Brickfields. The sizeable crowd were in for a treat as the two sides came together for the 1930 kick-off. Cambridge University is nearing the pinnacle of their preparation for the Varisty match on 2 March, whereas Navy Rugby’s senior squad is still taking shape some ten weeks away from Twickenham.

Cambridge kicked off and for the first ten minutes the two sides oscillated back and forth across the half-way line in broken play, with probing forays no further than much beyond their respective 10 metre lines. The initial passage of play culminated with an ambitious Cambridge penalty kick from the half-way line which fell short of the posts.

Navy Rugby’s pack had its first test at the scrum with fifteen minutes spent on the clock, and a Cambridge put in. The ball was quickly taken by the home side’s back row down the blind side. Through the phases the hosts advanced, deftly demonstrating their well-drilled back-line play which terminated with a skilful kick to the corner close to the visitor’s try line. Navy Rugby’s defensive resolve was put to the test as they absorbed rolling maul after rolling maul and a second line-out on the 5m line. After twenty minutes, Cambridge eventually turned pressure into points, with a try in the corner which was not converted. 5 - 0.

After the restart Cambridge sent up a Gary Owen which tested Navy Rugby’s full-back, Rory Dingmans, the ball tumbling through the jet black night sky into a safe pair of hands. Cambridge attempted a cross-field kick following their scrum but only succeeded in handing possession to the Navy. Jay Toogood put the ball in for a Navy scrum at their own 22m line and a spirited fight-back ensued from there. Battling up to the half-way line, those in the stands were provided with an encouraging vision of the Navy team’s potential.

Again, Cambridge opted to kick for the corner and Navy Rugby valiantly defended their line with a series of try saving tackles. The crowd gasped when, prop, Dom Cleverly put in a crunching tackle, temporarily shunting Cambridge’s impressive ability to get over the gameline and their quick ruck ball speed. The home side’s momentum had a certain inevitability about it, and they were rewarded when their three-quarters darted over the line to score a converted try as the clock chimed eight o’clock. 12 – 0.

The final ten minutes of the St Valentine’s Day game were perhaps the most entertaining for those indulging their true love – the love of rugby, played with skill, determination and passion. Undaunted by the earlier set-back Navy Rugby engaged in an aerial kicking contest for which they were rewarded with a penalty. Rickus Brink kicked for the corner and following the line-out, the Navy raised their tempo in recycling the ball, and for their efforts they were rewarded with a Navy scrum on their own 10m line from which they launched an impressive fifteen-man fight-back cutting through the Cambridge defence. Dingmans accelerated with ball in hand, breaking tackles, to get over under the posts for a try converted by Brink. 12 – 7 at half-time.

Navy Rugby kicked off the second half, and a number of changes were made to maximise the opportunity to provide experience to the squad drawn from regulars, under 23’s, Academy, and 7’s players. Fresh from the bench, prop, Harry Wright, sparkled with a phase when he linked up with wing, Ben Chambers, who passed onto second-row, Matt Scott. Cambridge continued with their well-oiled machine but were thwarted from garnering more points on the scoreboard because of positive scrummaging from the visitors and their eye-watering tackling. Again, an audible intake of breath was heard from the side lines as inside centre, Jamin Hoffman, put in a hulking tackle on their opposite number. Cambridge won a penalty and kicked for the corner, only to lose out in the line-out to a persistent, hard-working Navy Rugby pack. The home side’s talented number eleven turned on the gas with a run which seemed destined to score. But Navy Rugby’s own talent was up to the test – Wales sevens and Navy Rugby wing, Kane Teear-Bourge, put an end to Cambridge’s hope of a third try with a tackle to tell your grandchildren.

The second half continued to entertain and reached a crescendo with only four minutes remaining on the clock and a Navy Rugby scrum. The ball indolently coming into the hands of Cambridge who were rewarded with a penalty which was unsuccessful. The tension of the final few minutes kept the crowd on the edge of their seats – could Navy Rugby steal points in the dying embers of the contest or would Cambridge cement their accomplished performance? The sides continued to exchange kicks for touch, but their mutual resistance cancelled out any chance of a final flurry. In the very last moments of the game Cambridge were awarded another penalty which was sent scudding through the posts. Full-time 15 – 7.

Head Coach, Dave Pascoe, said: “Lots of positives to take from the game. It was a good run-out for the boys and on a fast track in good conditions – exactly what was needed to test a side which is still developing. Congratulations to Cambridge – a well drilled side and obviously in their final stages of preparation for the Varsity match.”

Director of Rugby, Owen Salmon, smiled and said: “Frustrating slow ball at the ruck and too many penalties. Cambridge was on the front foot and quicker at the ruck. But on the positives – this is a side with talented players, many who are new or are returning from being away and who are slotting in well.”

John Court, Team Coach, said: “We’re very excited for this season and the new players, so there’s a real feeling of optimism. We do have some very inexperienced players who need games like this one against Cambridge but there are some old heads in there too.”

Jarrad Hayler, Captain, Royal Navy Union’s Senior Men, said: “It was a long journey for everyone from HMS Raleigh to Cambridge. Credit to the Cambridge team as they flew out of the blocks and gave us a tough game. It was a great opportunity for us to get a lot of new players on the pitch and see what they can do. We’ve got some great new potential out there and it’s going to be an exciting season.”

The next match for the Senior Men sees them travel to Cornish Pirates RFC, 23 Feb, KO 1930.

Senior Men: G Evans, M Stevens, D Cleverley; D MacAdams, M Scott; G Wagstaff, C Mills, J Hayler (C); J Thurgood, R Brink, J Davis, B Chambers, K Dobson, K Teear-Bourge, R Dingmans.

Replacements: H Wright, J Wright, T Lindsay, L Sutton, C Lewis, J Moore, R Hume, H Mayes, D Ronald, A King, M Hall, J Maleham

Words by J Wheale

Images by S Welsh