Priddey Leads Navy to a Draw as Sweet as a Victory

Dave Fairbrother crosses for the first Navy try
Gareth Rees starts the Royal Navy comeback
Rhys Dimmock-Williams levels the scores for the Navy, 26-26
If only they knew what lay ahead, once of the best Army Navy matches in recent memory. Jarrard Hayler looking relaxed as he arrives at Twickenham
Ben Priddey and B Buinimasi lift the trophy as Inter Service champions
The emotion at the final whistle shows that a draw can taste as sweet as a victory
Jon Humphrey’s final kick. Straight and true to once more level the scores
Dave Fairbrother’s Dr Jekyll won the battle with Mr Hyde to deservedly win Sky’s man of the match

With fifty minutes of the 99th Army Navy match gone, the Army were leading 26-7.  They had taken control of a match which had started with the early skirmishes being shared.  Not for the first time in their illustrious history the Royal Navy were facing what seemed insurmountable odds.  However, for the next half hour, led by their youth but guided by some of their experienced warriors, they stemmed and then turned the tide in their favour to twice level the match in the last ten minutes.  The Army Navy trophy was shared but the draw gave them the greater prize, a first Inter Services title since 2010.

It was the Royal Navy who drew first blood as the game reached the end of the first quarter.  Having comfortably survived a period of sustained Army possession the Navy worked their way back up to mid field.  An Army penalty allowed Nathan Huntley to kick to the corner and the Navy crowd braced themselves for the customary driving maul.  The lineout was fifteen metres out, Edd Pascoe called the ball to himself and showed great discipline not to transfer the ball when the Army refused to engage.  The tactic was to horribly back fire on them as Pascoe drove through and cleverly off loaded the ball to prevent the Army regrouping their splintered defence.  From three metres out Dave Fairbrother was not to be denied and he crossed for the opening try, Jon Humphrey adding the conversion to the give the Royal Navy a 7-0 lead.

From the restart the Army once more monopolised possession and this time their patience was rewarded when, with the defence stretched, England international Semesa Rokoduguni arced wide to break the line and cross for the first of his two tries.  James Dixon’s conversion levelled the game 7-7.  Having been the toast of the Royal Navy it was the turn of David Fairbrother’s Mr Hyde to surface.  He always plays the game on the edge but following a television review his high tackle prompted the first yellow card of the match and the Navy had to suffer ten minutes with fourteen players.  It was to prove expensive as Roko crossed for his second after the Army’s fullback, Owain Davies, had also scored in the corner.  With only one conversion landed the Army had established a 19-7 lead and were bossing the game.  This was to continue until halftime and indeed at the start of the second where Dixon began to turn the Navy’s defence with some astute kicking. 

With the Navy struggling to get in to the match it was the Army who were to score first in the second half when scrum half James Farrell stretched out from close range to dot down.  With the conversion landed the Navy were the wrong side of a 26-7 score line and with only thirty minutes of the match left the Navy crowd were silent.

The situation called for something drastic and so the Navy were quickly sending on their young replacements along with a couple, B Buinimasi and Kyle Mason, who brought on a wealth of experience.  However, it was the youngsters who were to hit the headlines, those same youngsters that had lifted their own Inter Services trophy back in November.  Those same youngsters who in early February and played in the Senior shirt with such panache and fearlessness that the season had always been full of hope, that was only partially extinguished by the defeat in Toulon.

Their moment in the spotlight was aided by some fulsome traditional battering play led by the returning Dr Jekyll.  Dave Fairbrother repaid his team fully for his earlier discretion and produced a period of sustained driving play that forced the Navy in to strong field position and forced Paul Llewellyn from the field as the Army had to conceded one too many penalties for the referee’s patience.  The proud heritage of Navy forward play was now on show and with the Army down to fourteen it was time for Navy’s exciting future to express themselves.

First replacement scrum half Gareth Rees exploited a chink of space from short range on his right to get the Navy crowd going.  Then with Chris Robinson to the fore, ably supported by the Maltesse International duo of Harry Collins and Kyle Mason the Royal Navy pack forced the Army in to reverse and when they buckled the referee went under the posts for the penalty try.  Those in red were falling silent, White Ensigns, previously hidden, were being unfurled and the Navy followers were beginning the find their hearty voices.  When Rhys Dimmock-Williams crossed shortly after to level the scores the noise of appreciation was quickly filled with a tension that spread around a sold out Twickenham crowd.  The Royal Navy support knew now that a draw was the victory that they needed, nine minutes to go and the Inter Services on the line.

With seven minutes left the Army were restored to a full complement with the game being played in the middle of the pitch and both sides showing a degree of nervousness that was being shared by the crowd.  Jack Prasad has often been a thorn in the Navy side and with him on you had to expect the unexpected.  A show and go break turned defence in to attack and the Army swept up the field driven on by the crescendo of their support, as those in red re-found their voice.  Navy scramble defence held but wave after wave of Army attacks continued before the referee’s arm went out for advantage Army.  It didn’t come so he returned for the penalty in front of the post and Davies held his nerve to put the Army three points in front with two minutes left.

Had the comeback faltered, at 29-26 the Army were on the cusp of regaining the Inter Services.  But it is one of rugby’s truisms that a score is not a score until after the restart.  It was to become true as the Army could not clear their half and conceded a penalty 40m out but in front of the posts.  Jon Humphrey had earlier missed one from a similar range but he made no mistake with the one that mattered.  The match was 29-29 and in the last minute.  Army kick off and they were soon deep in the Navy territory but without the ball.  With a patience that was often the hallmark of Nelson’s most famous victories the Navy did not try anything flash but simply played the ball with control and support on the edge of their 22.  The seconds continued to count down, the referee called last play and just like Cowboy John in 2010 the ball is booted high into the crowd.  The final whistle and the Royal Navy hands are raised; players, TSG and supporters united in shared relieve that they had held out.  So when in the future you are asked when is a draw not a draw?  Think back to the 99th Army Navy match, when a draw brought an Inter Services victory that tasted as sweet as any that went before.

Royal Navy Team: Sgt Gaz Evans (Cdo Log Regt RM), LA(AH) Ben Priddey (Capt) (RNAS Culdrose), CPOAET John Court (RNAS Culdrose), Musn Edd Pascoe (RM Band Plymouth), LAET John Lamsin (RNAS Culdrose), Cpl Ben Fox (40 Cdo RM), Mne Jarrard Hayler (Plymouth AFCO), Cpl Dave Fairbrother (42 Cdo RM), NA(AH) Cory Moore (RNAS Yeovilton), Mne Nathan Huntley (30 Cdo IEG RM), Lt Matt Bowden RN (Flag Officer Sea Training), Mne Mat Tichias (11 ATTU RM), ET(ME) Sam Davies (HMS Ocean), Mne Greg Welling (1 Assault Group RM), AET Jon Humphrey (HMS Sultan) Replacements: Mne Harry Collins * (CTCRM Lympstone) for Ben Priddey, NA(AH) Kyle Mason * (RNAS Culdrose) for Gaz Evans, Mne Chris Robinson (CTCRM Lympstone) for John Court, NA(AH) Ben Watson (RNAS Culdrose) for John Lamsin, Mne Dom Taylor (42 Cdo RM) for Ben Fox, AB(MW) Gareth Rees (MCM2 Sqn) for Cory Moore, AB(D) Rhys Dimmock-Williams (MCM2 Sqn) for Matt Bowden, Log Silvenusi Buinimasi (HMS Argyll) for Sam Davies

Article by Geraint Ashton Jones
Images by Alligin Photography / © Geraint Ashton Jones, © Andrew Fosker © Nick Flexman