Navy Cup Final: An All-Aviator Affair

24 January 2024

18:00 @ Devonport Services RFC

HMS Heron


HMS Seahawk

The Rectory in Devonport hosted a very personal contest to decide, not just the Navy Cup Rugby Champions, but also Naval Air Station bragging rights. The form book was left in the changing rooms as both HMS Heron and HMS Seahawk competed to be crowned ‘Masters of the Air’ (not to be confused with the Apple TV series of the same name).

It was Seahawk that showed their early intent with a try under the posts in the first 5 mins. Scrum Half Sam Cater hardly had time to add the extras when they were scoring a carbon copy pick and go from 5m out again ensuring both props, Connor Thurgood and Chris Ellor, inked their names into the history books. Conversion missed, Seahawk soon made their way back into the Heron 22 again following some ill-discipline from the men in green and it surprised no-one in the crowd when second row, Charlie Dalkins, crashed over from, you guessed it, 5m out. Extra’s added, Seahawk found themselves 19 - 0 up in the blink of an eye - having averaged a point a minute.

Heron could have easily capitulated under such an onslaught, but it had the opposite effect. Passes were suddenly sticking when previously they were going to ground, and the forwards began earning some hard yards, especially second row Charlie Kerr who was impressive all evening. Following some sustained pressure from Heron and ill-discipline from Seahawk, Heron crossed the whitewash (Michael Williams) and converted (Harry Mayes). You wait for 25 minutes for a Heron try and suddenly two come along at once. The eye-catching centre partnership of Luke Cador and Ben Collishaw looked dangerous every time they received the ball in space, especially when joined in the line by full back, Cory Bowes who showed both pace and power. Inevitably it was Collishaw that dragged the men from Somerset to within 7 - finishing off a slick move on the wide right.

As the half time oranges beckoned, neither team were quite finished. First Seahawk open side Cai Jones made the most of some sloppy play in the Heron midfield to go over from 40m out – successfully converted. Then, with the clock nearing 40 there was still time for Heron to respond in kind when they regained possession from the restart and wing Michael Williams went over in the corner for his brace.

It capped a topsy turvy 1st half and both managers must have been assuring their respective teams that the trophy was theirs for the taking. But it was Seahawk that had their noses in front at 26 - 17.

If the crowd were expecting the same free scoring start to the second half, they were made to wait for 10 minutes of back and forth until Seahawk playmaker, Matt Horton burst through 4 defenders to crash over. Conversion nailed; Seahawk started to look comfortable at 33 - 17. But Heron just refused to go away, and it was second row Kerr that capped a strong display in the loose with a try virtually from the restart. Unfortunately, Mayes missed a straightforward opportunity to add the 2 points and the gap remained at 11. Shortly afterwards Heron again demonstrated their stubbornness when Bowes capped an impressive display with a try of his own, beating 3 defenders on the right wing. The teams entered the final, nail biting, quarter separated by less than a single score at 33 - 29.

The game had been played in an extremely competitive but good-natured fashion, so it was perhaps unfortunate when Heron substitute, No. 20 was yellow carded for a high tackle. The result of a change in tackle height laws rather than a dangerous or malicious act. Regardless of the reasons, it gifted the men from Cornwall the extra space they needed for their bruising centre, Courtney Black, to crash over. Conversion successful, Seahawk stretched their lead to 40 - 29. With 7 minutes left on the clock Seahawk No.8, Charlie Newcombe, received his marching orders for an accumulation of offences that irked the referee, Kev Lewis, enough to reach into his pocket once again for yellow.

With the clock ticking down Heron desperately tried to make their one-man advantage pay. They did successfully run the ball from their own line following a series of Seahawk penalties and even managed to cross the oppositions try line with the clock in the red. But there was to be no consolation as the referee first signalled that the ball was held up and then whistled for full time to bring the curtain down on a fantastic final. HMS Seahawk managed to hold on to run out 40 - 29 winners and once again ensure their name is engraved on the Navy Cup Trophy.

In summing up the contest, Cdr Tim Leeder, RNRU Volunteer Manager, proffered that the game had been a fantastic example of grass roots rugby at its best. He would have struggled to find anyone in the crowd that would disagree. Both teams went all in for the win and left nothing on the pitch. It was physical and there were some fantastic skills on display – Fleet Air Arm rugby is clearly in rude health. But ultimately there could only be one victor. Seahawk certainly deserved their win and rightfully headed south with the trophy, but Heron more than played their part in this enthralling fixture. What a pleasure it was to witness - roll on next year.

HMS Heron: Jake Reynolds, Benjamin Rees, Simon Robson; Charlie Kerr, Jay Donaldson; Gavin Raftery, Christian Postle, Thomas Rowland; Jim Tribe, Harry Mayes (C), Josh Wheeler, Luke Cador, Ben Collishaw,  Michael Williams, Cory Bowes.
Replacements: Chris Mills, Tom Owen, Jack Copner, Alex Cockerill, Jack Cross.

HMS Seahawk: Connor Thurgood (C), Daniel Clark, Chris Ellor; Charlie Dalkins, Taylor Little; Josh Wand, Cai Jones, Charlie Newcombe; Sam Carter (VC), Matt Horton, Daniel Rogerson, Courtney Black,
Scott Maxwell, Jack Davis, Ryan Daughtery.
Replacements: Harry Whitehouse, Kyle Ashcroft, Ty Moss, George Burden, Travis Turke, Sam Sheppard.

Words by Neil Howe

Images by Callum Sanders