Royal Navy At Strength for IDRC Opener

Johnny Stephen’s eye for a gap may prove key in the opening match against Fiji
Jarrad Hayler has quickly made the starting 7 shirt his own
Matt Bowden was ruled out through injury and his place is taken by Ben Chambers
Joe Burton and Harry Collins (left) will look to make an impact from the bench
Dave Fairbrother will need to produce a strong ball carrying performance for the 80 minutes against Fiji
If the match remains close it could ultimately come down to the precision kicking of Jon Humphrey

With only winger Matt Bowden not being available for selection due to a knock sustained at Blackheath, the Royal Navy have been able to select a strong XV for their opening game in the 2015 International Defence Rugby Competition.  Ben Priddey leads a team; many of who were regulars in the squad last season and welcomes a couple of Navy Rugby returnees on to the bench.

Followers of the Navy Mariners will be pleased to see that their young pup, John Court, will be anchoring the scrum at tight head prop where he is joined by his HMS Seahawk colleagues, Kyle Mason and Ben Priddey.  With John Lamsin, another HMS Seahawk player at lock.  It is only Royal Marine Bandsman, Edd Pascoe, who breaks the Fleet Air Arm dominance of the Navy’s front five.

Behind them the Royal Navy stick with the same players who started at Blackheath with the exception of Ben Chambers who replaces the injured Matt Bowden on the wing.  The valuable game time against Blackheath allowed some of the early season rustiness to be brushed off which will be important as they face up to a Fijian side that are at the end of their domestic season.

Both sides know that it is going to be a physical contest with the battle of the breakdown key.  In Seta Raumakita and Jarrad Hayler the Navy have selected two abrasive players who are strong over the ball and in their own way pose a ball carrying threat which complements the powerful running of Number 8, Dave Fairbrother.

Perhaps more importantly though will be the management of space where half backs Johnny Stephen and Nathan Huntley will have a very important role in shaping the game.  There is nothing a Fijian side like more that the development of chaotic space, the space caused when a match gets loose and they can generate their off loading game against unstructured defences.  However over the last couple of seasons, the Royal Navy have shown that they are becoming very adept at creating space for themselves in attack through clever running lines and decoys, particularly when maintaining a high tempo.  It is this creative space, so often generated through their halfbacks, that is likely to hold the key to the game.

If Stephen and Huntley are able to find holes in the Fiji defence then the Navy’s back five are well placed to exploit it.  From the direct powerful running of Silvenusi Buinimasi to the more elusive running style of Jon Humphrey there is plenty of pace and attacking threat.  Particularly with both Ben Chambers and Greg Welling being prepared to work hard off their respective wings.  However with defence being as important Matt Tichias’s defence organisational skills are also a key component of the back five’s strength.

Having benefitted, at Blackheath, from their first games back after a couple of years away from the squad, both Ian Cooper and Ben Fox make the bench and, along with RN U23 player Joe Burton, provide some good ball carrying fire power for the later stages of the match.  Cooper will also cover the front row if required with Tom Blackburn and Harry Collins.  Behind the scrum Richard Cadywould covers for Nathan Huntley who will move to scrum half if required with Darren Bamford and Tom Davies providing cover for the back five.

Reports from the Royal Navy camp suggest that their preparation has gone well and that there is an eagerness to get the tournament underway.  It will be an intriguing opening encounter, which mirrors the opening England v Fiji encounter in RWC2015.  Perhaps the Royal Navy will be able to lift the cloud of despondency that has subsequently engulfed much of England but should have no place over US Portsmouth as the rugby of IDRC2015 finally gets underway.

Royal Navy Starting XV:  Mason, Priddey (C), Court, Lamsin, Pascoe, Raumakita, Hayler, Fairbrother, Stephen, Huntley, Chambers, Tichias, Buinimasi, Welling, Humphrey

Replacements: Collins, Blackburn, Cooper I, Burton, Fox, Cadywould, Bamford, Davies T

Pool 1 Round 1 US Portsmouth Thursday 8th October
Japan v New Zealand - KO15:00
Royal Navy v Fiji - KO 19:00

Round 2 US Portsmouth Monday 12th October
Japan v Fiji - KO15:00
Royal Navy v New Zealand - KO 19:00

Round 3 US Portsmouth Thursday 15th October
Fiji v New Zealand - KO15:00
Royal Navy v Japan - KO 19:00

Article by Geraint Ashton Jones
Images by Alligin Photography / © G Ashton Jones and © John Walton