Royal Navy’s University Challenge

A vocal and enthusiastic crowd braved a damp and chilly evening in Portsmouth to witness the first run out for the newly-formed Royal Navy Senior XV squad. The fixture against Newbury in January had been cancelled so this was the first chance for the Director of Rugby and his coaching team to see his squad play against strong, competitive opposition. Oxford University had travelled down to Portsmouth, fresh from their win a week earlier against the RAF (by 38 points to 14), with a team that boasted 8 Blues and 2 Internationals. The scene was thus set for an interesting and entertaining encounter.

The rain eased off but the conditions underfoot were damp and slippery. The RN kicked off and immediately put the opposition under pressure. The Navy made some testing, penetrating runs through the Oxford defence and the students soon realised that they had a tough game on their hands. They in turn had an opportunity early on when a penalty kick to touch gave them a lineout in the Navy's 22. Determined defence and a good clearance by Scrum Half, Marine Jonny Stephens (CTCRM), put the Navy back onto the front foot. A kick down the line by wing Corporal Carl Saunders (40 Commando RM), put the Navy in a good attacking position. Determined to turn territorial advantage into points, centre AB Dale Sleaman (HMS Cumberland) made a scything run, to gain valuable yards. Flanker and Navy Skipper, Corporal Greg Barden (RM Poole) continued the advance, to score a well-deserved try after 16 minutes of play (unconverted). After 20 minutes of play, the RN was awarded a penalty for an Oxford player holding on at the breakdown. Navy stand-off, Captain Tom Glover (CTCRM), saw the chance for a free shot at 3 points and landed a drop goal to put the RN in the lead by 8 points to nil. This was the half time score.

The second half started with a number of changes that saw almost the whole of the Navy bench take to the field. Despite the changes, the team settled into its stride, was able to maintain momentum and mount some resolute defence against a reinvigorated and determined student side. Oxford scored after 10 minutes of the second half through a quickly taken tap penalty by wing Will Browne (Balliol), converted by stand-off Charlie Marr (Brasenose), to put them within one point of the Navy. Less than 10 minutes later, Will Browne did the double, showing impressive individual skills to put the students ahead, 8 -12. The Navy defence was tested repeatedly, with the students showing good pace and lines of running. The rest of the Oxford points came in the final quarter of the match, with 2 penalties kicked by Charlie Marr, bringing the final score to RN 8 - Oxford 18.

This was an encouraging performance, with a number of emerging players keen to stake their claims to wear the coveted Royal Navy shirt. Undoubtedly, there will be strong competition for a place in the Royal Navy team for the next "University Challenge" against Varsity winners Cambridge University, at Cambridge, on Wed 17 Feb. The next home match for the RN is against the Irish Defence Force on Friday 26 February (Burnaby Road, ko 6pm).

Royal Navy: Mne R Lloyd (42 Cdo RM). LAET A Vance (HMS Nelson), Mne S Llewellyn (Cdo Logs Regt), AB D Sleaman (HMS Cumberland), Cpl C Saunders (40 Cdo RM), Capt T Glover RM (CTCRM), Mne J Stephens (CTCRM), O/C T Blackburn (BRNC / HMS Ark Royal), Capt T Evans-Jones RM (42 Cdo RM), LCpl M Owen (42 Cdo RM), Lt N Copeland RN (HMS Collingwood), Capt S McClaren RM (RMR Bristol), NA(AH) G Jones (RNAS Yeovilton), Cpl G Barden (RM Poole) (C). Reps: SLt D Smith RN (HMS Sultan), AET J Lamsin (RNAS Culdrose), Lt R Green RN (DE&S Abbey Wood), POPT L Dennis (HMS Nelson), Mne M Egglestone (45 Cdo RM), O/C E Gaught (BRNC /HMS Ark Royal), POAET D Pascoe (RNAS Culdrose), Cpl R Mayson (SFSG St Athan).