Nail Biter at the Rectory
Navy Academy XV
On a damp, cold Plymouth evening on Wednesday 25th January the Royal Navy Academy side played it’s season opening fixture against the invitational Torbay Sharks side. The game marked the end of a two day training camp to bring the players together into a cohesive unit from their base at HMS Raleigh.
Early exchanges demonstrated that both teams were determined to play open expansive rugby. As they tried to settle, both sides showed mistakes as the game focussed in the middle third of the pitch. An early penalty against Sharks gave the Academy chance to kick for touch, giving them a line out 15 meters out, but with an overthrown lineout Sharks were able to exit. All too soon afterwards, however a spirited running return by Kiniviliame Dakuliga from an “over-cooked” kick opened up the other wing for Ben Raivalitia to score the first try of the match. The kick from Gwydion Jenkins was successful and the score 7-0 at ten minutes in.
A hard chase at the restart gave Torbay a good field position and a series of tight drives allowed them a scrummage five meters out. As the Sharks began to dominate the scrummage, the ball was driven over for John Arnold to score from 8. The conversion was not successful leaving the score 7-5 at the eighteenth minute.
Determined to run the ball in hand from virtually anywhere on the pitch, the Sharks then struggled to exit their own half and eventually opted to kick. This was once again returned with a piercing break from Jenkins and Jack Davis was able to finish with a try in the corner for the Academy. Jenkins was accurate from the tee to leave the score 14-5 twenty-five minutes in.
Continuing to run the ball at all costs, the Sharks conceded field position and despite continuing to dominate the scrummage, Freddie Elliot crossed twice for an unanswered ten points. The half time left the score of 24 points to five in favour of the Academy.
At the break, the famous Guz drizzle became rain and it was apparent that handling would become more of a challenge in the second half. Early into the second half it became just as clear that Sharks would continue to keep ball in hand and run from everywhere. A quick tap penalty marched the RN back still further and the Academy were under intense pressure.
The tight drives from the Sharks were proving difficult for the Academy to defend and after a yellow card for dropping the maul, the Sharks opted for a scrummage once again. The Academy having lost another player to head injury, the Sharks drove over for a second try which was converted from out wide.
The one-man advantage became evident after the re-start and having moved the Academy defence from side to side, an incisive break from Sharks led to another try at minute sixty for John Arnold in what was no doubt an expensive hat trick!
With the yellow card now back on the field, the Academy were back to full strength but tiring. The Torbay scrummage dominance became problematic for the Academy and a series of visits to the Sharks’ twenty two all ended with scrum penalties allowing exit for the Sharks. Turning the driving maul into a real weapon, the sharks then crossed for a try under the uprights and a successful conversion to level the scores at 24 each at minute seventy five.
The fingernails of the crowd now under severe attack, the Sharks turned down a simple penalty kick under the posts to drive the ball to touch for a lineout. It seemed that the decision would go against the Sharks when an overthrown line gave possession back to the Academy side, which allowed a kick to exit their danger zone. Unfortunately, the kick was charged down and grounded by Sharks, giving them a five-point lead with five minutes left on the clock.
With everyone looking at the clock, a scrummage in the middle of the pitch resulted in a rare scrum penalty for the Academy and a well taken kick allowed an attacking lineout for a last-ditch chance to turn the tide. However, it was not to be as the line was fumbled and the resultant scrum allowed a simple exit for Sharks to secure the exciting win 29-24.
A victory for experience and powerful driving rugby over youthful exuberance, this is a fixture that the RNRU is already looking forward to next year. It is to the credit of the Torbay Sharks that they stuck with their running open game, and a thanks go to Dan Thurgood and his assistants Simon Reeves and Paul Burton, who officiated an exciting and entertaining fixture.
MWords by Paul Moore; Images by Jarrad Hulm