12 Try Thriller as Vikings Edge Navy by a Point with Last Kick Winner

38

RN Senior XV

39

Richmond RFC

Dec Johnson scored after 2 minutes but also impressed throughout the game
Sam Matavesi was at the heart of the action all night, 1 try, 1 card, an eventful week
Nearly a second try for Gareth Rees but he won the Penalty Try anyway
Ratu Vakalutukali was part of a new look backrow that worked hard all night
Ben Watson had his first taste of action as a tighthead prop when he came on as a replacement
Kai Baker’s late try regained the lead for the Navy 38-36

Tries, Penalty Tries, Cards, Thrills and Spills.  This topsy turvy match had it all and more!  At the end heart break for a valiant Royal Navy side who produced their best performance of the season as they continue to build towards the Inter Services 2020.

If a try within the first two minutes is the start of dreams, then to lose to the last kick of the game is the script of nightmares.  In a match that started at a frenetic pace there was so much good from the Royal Navy that they can leave Richmond FC satisfied that they are on the right track and the positive column outweighs the negative one.  However, they need to learn from the Richmond’s rolling maul, which they never managed to get to grips with and also to be aware that when a side has an effective maul, midfield penalties lead to short range lineouts which lead to rolling mauls.  It can be a brutal sport at times, but followers of the team should also be confident that each game is seeing steady improvement towards the two key games next month and in May.

In his first game at tight head Ben Watson would not have wanted that last minute scrum on his own goal line.  A simple feed and clear, the final whistle would have sounded and the Navy would have won 38 – 36.  Instead Richmond Vikings produced a concerted drive, the penalty was an easy one to award.  Dennett had the simplest of kicks and the ball went through the sticks for the winning score.  A system failing, not due to one player.  A system failing with the scrum but before that in the defence which had become a little passive, a little hesitant and allowed the Vikings to push for the winning score.  A lesson learnt?  We must hope so as the recent Inter Services have been so, so close and perhaps the Navy will once more be defending a two point lead with minutes to go.  Dave Pascoe will recall a nervous restart in 2010 when the Navy needed to secure possession and clear they lines which their eventually managed to do as Wayne John kicked the ball high and handsome into the West stand.  Small margins and it is as well to learn them now.

So, when Bubba Watson reflects on his elevation to the front row and the new aches and pains he will be feeling subside, he can be pleased on a solid start and more importantly he now has a match foundation from which to build in training.  The front row can be a mysterious place but the Navy has always had to find ways to get their best players on to the pitch and Watson has always had a lot to offer.

Part of the reason for the change in position for Ben is the form of some of the other players including Dec Johnson who gave the Royal Navy a dream start, with a short range try after less than two minutes.  If it is the try that captures the headlines it is his improving work rate around the park that is making the difference.  He settled in well to a new look backrow and lost nothing in comparison to the more experienced Ratu Vakaltukali and Sam Matavesi packing down alongside him.  Together the trio gave the Navy a powerful and skilled backrow, one which would have been appreciated by the Richmond faithful.  They will well remember the Navy breakaway units of the past which featured their own Tony Hallett and Leigh Merrick, of Cossack Sword fame.  As Hallett gave way to Mike Connolly so a young Paul Dunn forced himself into the team as an openside who was also a very effective hooker. The Dunn, Connolly, Merrick trio created havoc as the Navy went on to secure consecutive Inter Services titles.  Paul Dunn was to become skipper and lead the team to another title in 1977.  The team of ’77 were to be awarded the Combined Services team of the year award and for Dunso the individual Combined Services Sportsman of the Year Award.  The parallels to today’s openside flanker come hooker, Sam Matavesi are uncanny!  Today’s trio stand up well in comparison but perhaps are just lacking that little bit of nouse when it comes to defending the maul!

The Navy’s 7 point lead was short lived and within 5 minutes the Vikings had scored their first try of the night, the conversion was missed but they were within 2 points.  Gareth Rees restored the advantage with a trade mark score but again within minutes Richmond had levelled.  This time it was a long raking kick and a wicked bounce of the ball that undid the Navy’s defence.  Somethings are hard to plan for but credit to Landray, the Richmond kicker, for nailing the conversion from right on the touch line.

Richmond were now beginning to take control of the game, squeezing penalties out of the Navy side which gave them field position.  The Navy’s job became that much harder when Sam Matavesi was the first player of the evening to see yellow.  One penalty too many from the side and Sam had to pay the price.  It was no surprise therefore that Richmond then camped in the Navy’s 22 until their pack surged forward once more and Sam Gratton crossed to put Richmond in front for the first time, 19-12.  How would Scott Makepeace’s side react to this set back?

Richmond Vikings defence are not the first unit to find Gareth Rees a live wire jack-in-the-box who is hard to contain.  And it was Rees who helped spark the side back into life.  The tables were turned and it was now Richmond Vikings who were conceding the penalties and giving the Navy field position.  Once more it was Rees who went for the break and as he dived for the corner the Richmond cover defender, Toby Dabell, took him high.  A penalty try levelled the scores and Dabell was to see yellow; closely followed by Callum Torpey as the Navy repeatedly forced Richmond’s defence to lose it shape and make mistakes.  The extra man made the difference and fullback Jordan Gott cut a fine line to score on the stroke of half time and for the Navy to finish the half in front, 26-19.

The start of the second half was, in retrospect where the Navy lost the match, not the last kick of the game.  Two quick tries for the Vikings, saw them regain the lead 31-26 with barely 15 minutes of the half gone.  Though Sam Matavesi levelled the score, parity was not to last long as Hadfield went over for the home side from a driving maul; 36-31 and 18 minutes left to play.

As the game entered its last 10 mins so the rain started, which always favours the defending team.  However, the Navy were able to conjure up another fine move which afforded replacement Kai Baker the time and space to dive over near the posts.  An easy conversion gave the Navy a 2 point lead and a long 8 minutes to defend it.  That they came up short is not the end of the world for a Navy side in March; as long as they understand the reasons and some of those reasons were the 8 minutes at the start of the half, not the end of it.  They will return back to Gosport with plenty to work on but plenty of play to be proud of.  Final score Richmond Vikings 39 Royal Navy 38.

Next match for the Royal Navy Senior XV is Wednesday 25 March 2020 v Cardiff University at Cardiff Arms Park; KO: 14:30.

Next match for the Royal Navy Rugby Union is Wednesday 18 when the Women’s XV play Hampshire Ladies at HMS Collingwood; KO:19:30.  The Mariners XV play the British Prison Service at Havant; KO:19:30 and the President’s XV play RAF Hawks at Burnaby Rd, Portsmouth; KO:19:00

Royal Navy Scorers: Tries: Johnson, Rees, Penalty, Gott, Matavesi, Baker; Conv: Rees x 2, Hanley

Senior XV:,1 ETME Richard Ives, 2 LPT Ben Priddey *, 3 LCpl Aaron Wilman *, 4 LCpl Edd Pascoe *, 5 AET Scott Makepeace *, 6 Mne Ratu Watisoni Vakalutukali *, 7 AB Sam Matavesi * +, 8 Lt RN Declan Johnson *, 9 AB Gareth Rees *, 10 AET Dan Rutter, 11 LAET Ben Chambers *, 12 AET Brad Janes *, 13 Mne Setareki Raumakita *, 14 Surg Lt RN Henry Hughes, 15 AET Jordan Gott

Replacements: 16 LA(AH) Ethan Barnaschone for Ives (60mins) , 17 ET(ME) Dom Cleverley for Matavesi (60mins), 18 NA(AH) Ben Watson * for Wilman (40mins), 19 LS(HM) John Kirwan * for Pascoe (53 mins), 20 SLt RN Mitchell Spencer, for Johnson (53 mins) 21 Mne Alex Peterson for Rees (50mins), 22 LCpl Toby Papp for Priddey (53mins), 23 AB Jake Hanley for Gott (60mins), 24 Mne Kai Baker for Raumakitia (53mins), 25 LCpl Troy Gobey for Chambers (16 mins)

* - -Denotes capped player

By line: Geraint Ashton Jones
Images credit: © Alligin Photography