Per Mare, Per Terram, Royal Marines Retain Inverdale Cup

HMS Temeraire’s 3G pitch remained immaculate despite the constant rain that threatened to ruin the final of the Inverdale Challenge Cup.  During the heaviest showers even the excellent drainage struggled to cope.  However throughout the match, the Royal Marines showed that they were equally determined and adept in all conditions as they battered the Fleet Air Arm in to submission and retained the Inverdale Challenge Cup with a comfortable 31-15 victory.

The first quarter of the match was stop start as both teams looked to get used to both the wet conditions and the speed of the 3G surface.  Jonathon Humphrey converted an early penalty to the Fleet Air Arm for a 3-0 lead following some promising play as their forwards looked to drive the ball close and the Royal Marines were slow to move at the breakdown.  It was very much a false dawn.

From the restart the Royal Marines lay siege to the Fleet Air Arm goal line.  Dominant in the scrum Josh Terry was prominent at loosehead prop and ensured that the Corps stranglehold on possession was firm and secure.  Unable to get their hands on the ball it was unsurprising that the Fleet Air Arm transgressed at the breakdown and it wasn’t before Royal Marine Captain, Nathan Huntley, landed his second attempt at goal to level the scores.

The kick off gave the Fleet Air Arm scant respite as once more the Royal Marines were soon back on the attack.  In the heaviest of the rain Huntley’s tactical kicking regularly turned the Fleet Air Arm defence and the Royal Marines forwards did the rest.  Their physicality at the breakdown was relentless and ensured that their monopoly of possession was maintained.  Coleman at scrum half was having the easiest of rides and eventually, following more quick ball he sold the most outrageous dummy, to ease through the Fleet Air Arm defence and score the first try of the match.  Huntley converted and followed shortly afterwards with two more penalties to give the Royal Marines ac comfortable and deserved 16-3 lead.

Whether it was that the Royal Marines relaxed slightly or the Fleet Air Arm raised the game but at last the game saw a little parity in possession and the Fleet Air Arm began to pose the Royal Marine defence some problems.  A neat break by Ben Clarke finally gave them field position and lifted his forward’s spirit.  At last they found some continuity to their game and following their third lineout close to the Royal Marines goal line they managed to get their maul working for Ben Priddey to cross and reduce the lead to 16-8.  Humphrey couldn’t land the conversion from wide out.

No doubt with only a few minutes of the half left the Fleet Air Arm were hoping to hold out without conceding a further score.  To reach half time only eight points down after the pounding they had endured at the breakdown and having lost flanker Sam Laird to the sin bin would have been partial success.  However the Royal Marines had other ideas.  Not for the first time, Huntley opened up the Fleet Air Arm defence and took the ball deep in to their half.  Coleman and Tichias combined to keep the defence stretched before the forwards took over.  The Fleet Air Arm managed to repel the attack but conceded their second yellow card as captain Kyle Mason was despatched.  The extra man allowed the Royal Marine’s influential Number 8, David Fairbrother, to cross for their second try.  The conversion was missed with the final kick of the half and the Royal Marines at a comfortable 21-8 lead.

The second half was played in slightly better conditions.  As the sea like surface water drained to leave fast, firm playing surface so Huntley began to mix his game more and though his kicking from hand remained effective he more and more brought he strong running Tichias and Welling into the game.  Credit is due to the Fleet Air Arm defence, which never slackened as wave after wave of Royal Marines attack continued.  Eventually however they were forced to yield.  First Tichias and then Fairbrother went close before outside centre Mills took the cover tackling Ben Clarke with him as he crossed for the Royal Marines third try, converted by Huntley to extend the lead to 28-8.

Following the pattern of the first half, the score seemed to spark the Fleet Air Arm into life.  Once more they managed to win some possession and as importantly retain it.  This time it was Ollie James that gained the ground before once more they were able to set up a short-range maul from which Priddey was able to cross for his second try.  Humphrey converted with a quickly taken drop goal but time was running out.

The Fleet Air Arm had shown the ability for ‘surgical strike’ and no doubt were convinced that they could find the way to score their third try.  However from the restart it was the Royal Marines that emphatically demonstrated the advantage of taking and holding territory with feet on the ground.  As a team they once more lifted their intensity at the breakdown and, once more, the Fleet Air Arm possession simply disappeared.  With the added pressure indiscretions followed and Huntley was given a chance to further extend the Royal Marines lead.  The kick missed but possession retained off the post.  Pressure maintained and another Fleet Air Arm penalty at the breakdown.  This time Huntley made sure ensured that there was no coming back from the Fleet Air Arm and become the first Royal Marines captain to retain the Command level championship, now played for the Inverdale Challenge Cup.

Despite the torrid time Terry had given Mason in the scrum or the claims of strong running Fairbrother at Number 8 it was Huntley who was the stand out performer as he led his side from the front.  Sixteen points from the boot tell their own story but his game management set him apart and ensured that despite resolute Fleet Air Arm defence this match was always going to end in a Royal Marine win.  He stepped forward after the game to receive the Inverdale Challenge Cup from John Inverdale and Jendy Weekes.  I am sure that their father, in whose name the game is played, would have approved of the positive effects that the 3G pitch is having of rugby in the Royal Navy and for both Devonport Services and US Portsmouth, two clubs he was so supportive of.

Another small chapter in the History of Royal Navy rugby has been written.  The first time the Royal Marines have retained the command level cup in a first final on an artificial pitch.  The Fleet Air Arm contributed to a memorable game that held up well in the conditions.  However it was the Royal Marines who showed that irrespective of how wet the conditions they had the skills and the game plan to thrive.  Per Mare, Per Terram – indeed.

Royal Marines: Terry *, Collins, Clarke, Morris, Warwick, D Taylor *, Fairbrother, Worboys, Coleman, Huntley * (Capt), Wellings *, Tichias *, Mills, Write-Hider, Glastonbury  Reps: Downey-Stevenson, Redman, Griffiths, Keating, Blackburn, Caddywould, Kovula, Taylor

Fleet Air Arm: Morgan, Barney, Mason * (Capt), Mortensen, Lamsin, Priddey *, Davies, Laird *, Clay, Humphrey *, Cox, Hunt *, James, Clarke, Hall  Reps Pallet, Barnschone, Morgan, Wakefield, Horton, Smith

Referee: Geoff Howells RNRURS Assistant Referees Steve Woolley RNRURS, Phil Ware RAFRURS

Images by Alligin Photography / © Geraint Ashton Jones