Navy U23s learn lesson from Cambridge University RFC




Cambridge University U23

Josh Skinner made his mark in the front row.
Penfold wrestles free with Mason looking on.
Prop Joe Burton was a double try scorer for the Navy.
Chris Mills created a good impression as replacement fly-half.

If there was one big lesson that the students of Cambridge University taught the 2016 Royal Navy Under 23 team last Sunday afternoon at Grange Road, it was that you can’t play rugby without the ball.  Time and time again, the Navy spilled the ball or were out played at the ruck, gifting possession back to the University side who were not quite so careless.

The University side, made up predominately of undergraduates, started the better and save for some dogged defence by the Navy full-back, Rory Penfold, they would have been the first to score. However, the first of two long injury breaks (which saw Navy fly-half Weale replaced by Mills), appeared to throw the University side off their stride and it was the Navy who scored the first try. After a good break from Penfold, Navy wing Will Black, making his U23 debut, darted down the wing before a good Cambridge covering tackle forced him into touch.  From the ensuing line-out, Navy No8, Scott Makepeace, leapt in front of his opposite number to steal possession before being joined by the heavier Navy pack. The 5 metre drive for the line was not going to be easily stopped by the University team with Navy second row, Hayden Wilkinson, eventually touching down.  The conversion missed, the Navy had the lead at 0-5.

Playing in their traditional pale blue and white hooped shirts, the University response was immediate with two tries scored in quick succession.  Twice more, careless play cost the Navy possession in midfield and on both occasions it led to tries for the student team.  Firstly, the ball was turned over at the ruck with the Navy side playing rugby deep in their own half, until the outstanding Cambridge University outside centre eventually scored, and the second came from an easy intercepted pass by the student fly-half.  20 minutes in and the scoreline had been quickly reversed; the Navy were 14-5 down.

To their credit the Navy responded.  During another long injury delay, this time a serious concussion injury to a Cambridge player, the Navy made a couple of personnel changes and it was replacement scrum-half, Burgess who upped the speed of Navy play.  A good kick to the corner applied the pressure on the student line with the superior Navy line-out again stealing the student ball.  In a replica try of the first, it was Navy prop Joe Burton who made the final carry to make the score 14-10.

With the two long injury breaks, there was still plenty of rugby in this half.  If the second of the Navy tries was a copycat of the first, the way in which the Navy then went on to squander possession again followed suit.  Numerous missed first-up tackles and turned over balls at the ruck cost the Navy dear as the Cambridge inside centre scrambled over in the corner.  The conversion again kicked, the Navy were now down 21-10.  However with the approach of half-time, it was the Navy who finished the better side with some decent running rugby.  Navy open-side Dan Mason made the initial carry with hooker Isaac Salt continuing in support.  Finally, the Navy got some quick recycled ball with which to play; Burgess fed Joe Burton who was unstoppable in scoring his second try of the match.  Burgess converted and the score at half-time was 21-17.

The second-half was a dull affair after the excitement of the first-half with neither side firing on all cylinders.  Both teams made a number of changes with a new Navy front-row being installed.  On came Vernon, Bonnick and Miller whilst in the centre, Craig Jones, made way for Adam Gallagher.  It took over half an hour before the first try of the half was scored and it went the way of Cambridge University.  Again, a series of unforced basic errors led to the Navy team squandering possession time and again.  Eventually the pressure told, with the student left-wing scoring an unconverted try. To the enormous credit of the Navy team, they scored the last try of the game and it came from another catch and drive at the line-out; Rutherford eventually touching down, Burgess again converting.  Despite some desperate final efforts to create a final match-winning score, it wasn’t to be for the Navy side and the referee finally closed the game down with the students winning 26-24.

The Navy’s next game is at the Rectory in Plymouth against the Exeter Chiefs Academy – these games aren’t getting any easier and the Navy need to be much improved if they are to be victorious. It promises to be a good game and the Navy team would appreciate your support.  Kick off is at 1900.

Royal Navy Team: Josh Skinner, Isaac Salt, Joe Burton, Ben Watson, Hayden Wilkinson, Ben Roberts, Dan Mason, Scott Makepeace, James Rutherford, Tim Weale, Will Black, Craig Jones, Brad Janes, Jack Power, Rory Penfold. Subs (all used): Rory Bonnick, Ash Miller, Sam Vernon, Sam Brierley, Ben Borman, Nick Burgess, Adam Gallagher, Chris Mills.

Words Rob O'Kane
Images Royal Navy Rugby Union / © John Walton

Army v Navy - Babcock trophy - Twickenham Stadium - Saturday 29th April 2017
Tickets for the 2017 Army v Navy match will go on sale on Tuesday 1st November 2016. The 2017 match will be the 100th Army v Navy match since the formation of the Royal Navy Rugby Union and the Army Rugby Union in 1906.  Tickets can be purchased from the 1st November 2016 through the Royal Navy Rugby Union #GoNavy