Navy Men Hold On in One-Point Thriller

20 April 2024

13:00 @ Plymouth Albion RFC

Senior Men XV


RAF Senior Men

The Royal Navy’s Senior Men began their Inter Service Championship campaign with a win, but in a sun-drenched Brickfields Stadium they had to withstand a late fight-back from the Royal Air Force.

As so often happens, it took a few minutes for the teams to size each other up. The Navy’s Jordan Gott opened the scoring in the ninth minute with a penalty, a chip from Ben Chambers bounced over the dead ball line, and the RAF managed to get their back line going off a retreating scrum, only for Kieron Prescott to fumble a pass with space in front of him.

Gott also forced a touch-finding penalty that little bit too far from halfway, the ball bouncing half a metre the wrong side of the corner flag.

The resulting scrum brought the RAF’s best passage of attack. Jordan Oatley whipped the ball through the backs, and even with Setareki Raumakita levelling Mark Williams the light blues managed to keep the ball alive. Prescott got an opportunity to stretch his legs, but just as pressure was building a penalty was conceded for back-chatting to referee Iain Kiy.

Then came a double-punch from the Navy which put them firmly in control.

Firstly, a dummy run from Ratu Vakalutukali drew in two defenders to open space for Kristan Dobson to scythe his way to the try line. Then a couple of minutes later Jarrard Hayler made a defence-busting break which put his team into the position from which Jesse Lowe dived over between the uprights.

Gott landed the second conversion, and with 20 minutes on the clock the Navy were leading 15-0.

The sun may have been out but the wind was deceptively long, and when the breeze took a Chambers kick ahead all the way to the dead ball line from just outside the winger’s own 22, it handed the RAF a superb position. This became even better when Oatley kicked a penalty to the corner, and Connor Morris was driven over by a powerful maul.

The extras made it 15-7, and as half-time approached the RAF would probably have taken that score into the sheds. Sam Matavesi had other ideas, and after taking Dobson’s offload at full pace the Fijian international showed calmness and dexterity to chip the final defender and regaining the bouncing ball to dot down.

However, the RAF received a massive boost when Vakalutukali was yellow carded for hands in the ruck which broke up a dangerous attack, and when a couple of penalties were kicked to touch hooker James Roberts had the perfect platform to drive over.

Oatley’s successful conversion made it 22-14 at half-time, but having pulled themselves back in the contest the RAF suffered an immediate set-back a minute after the restart when Sam Moorby was yellow carded for tackling Will Rigelsford in the air.

From the penalty the Navy put Matavesi onto the front foot, who in turn sent Dobson over the line, the winger held up by some last-ditch defence. This was offside, and Gott had the straightforward role of nailing a three-pointer from in front of the sticks.

Gott missed his next attempt, a challenging effort after a great Josh Williams run took the Senior Service deep into RAF territory.

This was a taste of what was to come from Williams on the 50th minute, when the big second rower was put into space by some sublime play from Matavesi, the hooker freezing the defence with a stop-start run and dummy. Unfortunately, Williams lost the ball while diving for the line brought a scrum instead of the try, and even though the Navy were awarded possession immediately for a fumble this did not bring points, either.

That was because Toby Evans timed a defensive insertion superbly, intercepting and turning on the afterburners. Dobson’s pace was a match for the RAF full back, however, and the winger’s try saving tackle was followed up by Chambers’ diving on a loose ball to win a turnover.

The RAF then had a couple of 50/50 decisions go against them, which took the momentum away from them, and not even Ryan Crowley could make the final step count after being put in the clear down the left wing.

Play went up the other end, Matavesi bringing the crowd to life by cutting a great line and taking the ball up to within a couple of metres of the whitewash. But the ball was fumbled in the next play, and Will Lamont did what Evans was not able to do a few minutes earlier, the centre going from goal line to goal line to bring his team back to within a score.

Oatley stayed calm to nail the conversion and at 25-21 the contest was back in the balance with 70 minutes on the clock.

Four minutes later the tension was ratcheted up several more notches by an Oatley penalty which made it a one-point ball game.

Gott did not help things with two more misses – the normally reliable fly half ending the game with a 50 percent ratio – and going into injury time the RAF just needed a kick to hit the front.

They had a lineout and then a scrum in promising positions but could neither win a penalty nor put Oatley into a position for a drop goal, and the Navy go forward to Twickenham eyeing their first repeat Inter Service Championship crown in 50 years.

Senior Men: Kye Beasley, S Matavesi, B Watson; J Williams, E Pascoe; R Vakalutukali, B Mallett, J Hayler (C); W Rigelsford, J Gott, B Chambers (VC), J Lowe, S Raumakita, K Dobson, C Duncan.
Replacements: R Williams, T Lindsay, D Cleverley, AJ Hussell, C Mills, J Toogood, D Rutter, J Hanley.

Words by Chris Wearmouth

Images by Callum Sanders