A hotly contested clash between Masters and Mariners
A balmy morning at Kneller Hall provided the setting for what would be a hotly contested game of high-tempo rugby. Dane Smallbone kicked off for the Royal Navy and the first scrum was awarded to the Mariners for a knock forward. The ball was passed out to the Masters’ wing but another fumble led to the first scrum Mariners’ put-in. The ball was passed out quickly to the Mariners’ centre with Ollie James taking on the charge into a passage of loose play resulting in turn-over ball for the Masters. A repeated sequence which would come to dominate the game followed and saw the ball pass between the hands of the Masters’ three-quarters for the first try of the match.
Following the conversion, the Mariners restarted the game and were brought back for a scrum on the centre spot. The Masters No8 picked up the ball from the back of scrum and the referee blew up for a Mariners’ infringement which provided the Masters an opportunity to kick to touch, however, the first line-out of the game was quickly followed by Mariners kicking to touch – the accuracy of Rob Jones’s throw being rewarded by the Mariners being able to make ground by way of a rolling maul and soon followed by Smallbone kicking the ball some distance down field and into touch once more.
The Mariners were able to keep up the pressure in the Masters’ 22 with another kick to the corner and again Jones’s throw-in allowed the Mariners’ pack to muscle forward making vital ground towards the Masters’ try-line. However this was thwarted by a Masters’ kick to touch. The ball rebounded from the jumper to bounce into the safe hands of Jones who crashed forward into the Masters’ pack. A scrum followed with the Masters putting into the scrum on their own 10m line. A big shove from the Mariners rocked the scrum but the ball popped out into the custody of the Masters’ back-row who passed the ball out through their backs to score the second converted try (Army Masters 14 – Royal Navy Mariners 0).
Smallbone restarted for the Mariners and the return kick landed in hands of Andy Vance playing at full-back who passed to Ollie James. Showing his formidable pace he thundered into the Masters' defensive back-line The Mariners dominated the following passage of play – from the scrum the props, Keith 'Milky' Lister and senior XV veteran John Court, with hooker, Rob Jones, worked hard to secure the ball. Rob Jones went off injured and was replaced by Richard England. The next Mariners’ scrum was solid and Mariners’ No8 and the team’s captain, Chris Thompson, picked up and drove on. A fifteen-man effort saw the ball pass to fly-half, Dane Smallbone who, with support from Alan Sullivan, made a stunning break deep into the Masters’ half resulting in the ball going to ground but it was picked up by Thompson before eventually going into touch for a line-out. Once the ball was back in play the Mariners’ forwards took charge and ground towards the Masters’ try-line to be rewarded with Joji Volaisaya going over for the five points, (Army Masters 14 – Royal Navy Mariners 5); the try was not converted.
Following the Army restart and a Mariners’ scrum the Mariners kicked to touch. The Mariners’ back-row were seen to link-up effectively as flankers, Volaisaya passed out to Paul Mortensen, who in turn passed to Thomas Boyce on the wing. Again Thompson was on hand to lead the attack and clean up messy ball. The Mariners retained possession and second row Marshl Cormack crashed into the Masters’ defence whilst offloading to Ollie James playing at outside centre. A penalty was given to the Mariners and the Masters’ prop was yellow carded. A kick to touch set up a Mariners’ line-out deep in their opponent’s half. Possession and territory remained with the Mariners who were awarded with a scrum and a second whilst edging closer to the Mariners’ try-line. But the besieged Masters broke-out and their backs were soon threatening at the half-way line. Again a strong performance by the Mariners’ pack ensured the next scrum was won and the ball was swiftly dispatched down the line from scrum-half Paul Saberton to Dane Smallbone, onto Ollie James, and then back to Smallbone to be kicked to touch. But the Army succeeded in retaining possession from the line-out and once more their three-quarters broke-out to score a third try which was converted. A few minutes later the Masters profitted from applying pressure at the scrum to score another unconverted try. And the last move of the first-half initiated from a Mariners’ kick to touch led to another try under the posts (Army Masters 33 – Royal Navy Mariners 5).
The second half in front of the very well attended Kneller Hall crowd of spectators commenced with a Masters’ restart sending the ball high into the glittering May sunshine only to land safely in the hands of the Mariners’ full-back, Andy Vance who passed to centre, Ollie James, who linked up with scrum-half, Paul Saberton – a text-book demonstration of attacking rugby penetrating into the Masters’ half. The Masters kicked to touch from a scrum and Richard England threw in for Mariners’ ball which enabled captain Chris Thompson to lead in making further gains in territory. Second row, Marsh Cormack stole the ball from a Masters’ line-out and the Mariners were given a penalty when their maul was deemed to have been pulled down. The Mariners’ pack worked in unison in the line-out that came from the kick to touch and saw the back row, Paul Mortensen and hooker, Richard England, carrying the ball through the next passage of play. Another penalty to the Mariners and another kick to touch but the conversion of pressure into points remained elusive for the Royal Navy side.
With his first touch of the ball replacement Mark Pollard drove into the Masters’ defence and offloaded to Mortensen. The ball went into touch and from the line-out again Pollard took the ball passing to Saberton who shipped the ball down the line out to Dean Fentum on the wing. The Masters dominated the next few minutes of the game much to the delight of many of the spectators on the Kneller Hall touch line.
The Mariners’ team captain was replaced by Matt Smith joined the fray as the close contest up-front continued. Fifteen minutes into the second half and the Mariners came close to scoring a try as Ollie James was thwarted on the Masters’ try-line. The Mariners’ scrum led to a scramble for the line but the Masters succeeded in recycling the ball and kicking to touch. Again the Mariners’ back-line were able to courier the ball out wide and head for the try-line only to be frustrated once more. The frustration continued as the Masters’ backs broke away and scored a try under the Mariners’ posts which was converted (Army Masters 40 Royal Navy Mariners 5).
Fresh legs rejuvenated the Mariners’ efforts, props, Keith Lister and John Court went off and full-back, Andy Vance joined them on the bench for a well-earned rest, as John Moult, Ollie Dugmore, and James Melhuish came onto the pitch. Straight from the Mariners’ restart territory was regained and once more the passage of play remained in the Masters’ half, but only a few minutes later another break-out provided the Masters’ the opportunity to put more points on the scoreboard (Army Masters 45 Royal Navy Mariners 5).
A second yellow card was awarded to the Masters but the persistently effective play from the Mariners at the set-piece and in the loose did not conjure up any points as the clock ticked down. Impressive flourishes of play from the Mariners’ back-line were not able to break through the Masters’ defence. Despite the Mariners having the majority of territory and possession another of the Masters’ backs were able to break-out from a fortuitous interception and score a converted try which was followed by another just moments before full-time. The final score: Army Masters 59 Royal Navy Mariners 5. The scoreboard failed to represent what had appeared to many observers to be a much closer contest and a hard-fought battle with flourishes of brilliance from both teams. Congratulations to the Army Masters the 2018 Inter Service champions.
Congratulations also to Matt Smith, James Melhuish and Andy Vance for winning their Mariners' caps. Great effort lads. And to Ollie James for being awarded the Mike Connolly award for the Mariners' player who has shown leadership, commitment and energy in the finest traditions of the over 35s game throughout the 2017/2018 season.
LS(D) Keith Lister, CPO Rob Jones, CPO John Court, LAET John Lamsin, CPOAET Marshall Cormack, CPO Paul Mortensen, PO(AH) Joji Volaisaya, CPO Christopher Thompson (Captain), LAET Paul Saberton, Lt RN Dane Smallbone, LPT Dean Fentum, WO1(RSM) Alan Sullivan, PO Oliver James, CPO(AWW) Thomas Boyce, Lt RN Andy Vance, CSgt Richard England, PO Ollie Dugmore, CPO John Moult, Lt RN Matthew Smith, CPO Mark Pollard, WO2 James Melhuish, CPO Dan Lockey, CSgt Ben Mardle
Words: Jon Wheale
Images: Royal Navy Rugby Union© Mark Andrews