Looking Back Facing Forward

Ben Priddey leads the Navy team which are one win away from an Inter Services title
Dave Fairbrother with Jarrard Hayler in support will be a key part of the backrow battle
The Mariners know they had to produce and improved performance
Nathan Huntley will be facing James Dixon at flyhalf, should be an intriguing contest
Navy Women welcome back Loz Morton for her first game this season
Rhys Dimmock Williams is one of thirteen Navy U23s at Twickenham on Saturday, 5 in the Senior XV and 8 with the UK Armed Forces U23s

With the referendum looming later this year it is natural to look back to 1973, the year when Britain joined the Common Market and a year when two Royal Navy hookers combined to win an Inter Service title.  Ben Priddey is the first hooker to captain the side since the legendary Binge Gatehouse lifted the title in 1973 under the guidance of Selector, and fellow hooker, Glynn Thomas.  Both played and viewed the game in a way that is as applicable today as it ever was and were leaders in the truest sense of the word.

Alongside Binge that day was Leigh Merrick, a Number 8 whose name is on the most prestigious award in Navy Rugby, the Cossack sword.  Gatehouse and Merrick would never take a backward step but under the shrewd guidance of Thomas they knew that to be successful you had to harness cunning and tactical skill, to fearlessness, passion and commitment.  The pack of ’73 proved itself the match of anyone and played some furious rugby but through their discipline did not allow the opposition to relive the pressure through cheap penalties.  Thomas’ astute observations provided the team with a simple but effective game plan that fitted the Navy way.  It wasn’t flamboyant but it was effective and it set a template that the following season was able to assimilate a number of young players including Mike Connolly and Paul Dunn, but not to lose the ability to win tight games.

Twenty three years later the world is a much changed place but certain things remain the same.  A debate rages on as to the value of European Membership and a hooker, Ben Priddey, leads a team at Twickenham in search of an Inter Service title.  Ben and Binge have much in common, fearless hookers of the Fleet Air Arm who lead from the front.  Binge was lucky to have the counsel of Glynn Thomas at close hand, but the advice remains freely available from the sage still to be found on the USSG touchline.  Remember what is the Navy way, what makes Navy rugby tick.  A controlled fury of commitment, strong up front and direct in the backs.  Simplicity and subtlety.  A disciplined directness that tears at the heart of the opposition.  By looking back Ben Priddey and his team can indeed face forward with confidence, look the Army in the eye and take the game to them.  The only result that counts is a win, the talk in 1973 was all about the win, the same in 2010 when the possibility of countback was last raised.  The maths remains simple, two wins and the title is yours.  Whether by a point or more is irrelevant but the team’s destiny and legacy is in their own hands when they step out at Twickenham on Saturday afternoon. 

Of course before then it will be up to the Mariners and the Women to ensure the day gets off to the perfect start with a Navy feel good factor.  The Mariners are looking to bounce back from their below par performance against the Vultures and finish their season playing the rugby that they produced back in February and March.  For the Women, with Loz Morton making a welcomed return, it is again a case of taking the game to their illustrious opponents and producing the performance that they know they are capable of.  Sandwiched in between there is good representation from the Inter Service winning Royal Navy U23s in the UKAF side that plays Oxbridge.  There would have been more but the five that are in the Senior squad show how bright the future is.  However, for Ben Priddey and his team, as they face forward, the future is all about.

Images by Alligin Photography / © Geraint Ashton Jones, © Lee Crabb, © Mark Andrews