Centennial match ends in Army victory
RN Senior XV
Army Senior XV
29 April 2017 marked the 100th match between the Senior XVs of the Army and the Royal Navy since the formation of their Rugby Unions in 1906. Always a popular match with supporters from across the serving Armed Forces, veterans and other rugby fans, this year tickets sold out within four days of going on sale.
As the teams stepped out onto the pitch they were watched by 81,577 spectators in the stands and thousands of others, watching via Sky Sports or Forces TV around the World. Furthermore, the teams had the honour of playing in front of a member of the Royal family. Prince Henry of Wales, patron of the Invictus Games charity, was in attendance as the Invictus Games Foundation was the chosen charity partner for the match.
The first quarter went the way of the Army. They took an early lead 3 - 0 following a successful James Dixon penalty kick after the Navy were penalised for hands in the ruck. And the first try of the match was scored by their winger Junior Bulumakau in the right hand corner. The difficult kick was not converted and the scoreboard stood at 8 – 0.
At the start of second quarter the Army were penalised and Jon Humphrey kicked for 3 points to close the gap 8 - 3. The Navy were back in the game. But it was not long before things took a downward turn again when the dark blues were reduced to 14 men after the referee awarded a yellow card to Gareth Rees (foul play spotted by TMO). With Dixon kicking the penalty for another 3 points the Army extended their lead 11 – 3.
It is testament to the Navy side that they did not allow the Army to score any more points before half time despite being a player down. So when the whistle blew both teams and the crowd knew they were in for an exciting second half.
Keen to stamp their authority on the match the Army scored their second try a few minutes into the start of the second half as winger Chris Leathem dived over the line to stretch the Army lead 16 - 3.
Dom Taylor came on to replace Ben Fox, winning his 11th and final cap for the Royal Navy, as he leaves the Royal Marines in August. Shortly afterwards, Navy fullback, Jon Humphrey took a heavy knock and was taken off the pitch in the medical vehicle. Rhys Dimmock-Williams stepped into the full back role and Scott Makepeace replaced lock Matt Harvey. Trailing by 13 points it was ‘now or never’ time for the Navy.
To the delight of the Navy supporters a period of sustained possession saw the Navy side pressurising the Army deep in their half. Attack after attack moved closer to the try line and when the group of bodies dropped over the try line it was Ben Priddey who claimed the Navy’s first try, after the referee requested TMO assistance. Gareth Rees kicked a successful conversion and the Navy were back in the game, closing the gap 16 - 10. Robinson replaced Mason in the front row.
Then it was the turn of the Army to pile on the pressure as Army winger Bulumakau scored his second try of the day, converted by Dixon to keep the pressure on the Navy 23 – 10.
More replacements followed, Collins replacing Priddey in the front row and Raumakita replacing Myers as centre. Before they could get amongst the action, the Navy were penalised again for hands in the ruck, Dixon's kick extended the lead 26 – 10 and another penalty on the 72nd minute allowed Dixon to add a further 3 points and the score stood at 29 – 10 with 8 minutes left to play. Surely the Army would be crowned Inter Service Champions for 2017.
But the Navy side were not going down without a fight and as the final replacements came on - Owen for Evans and Dave Pascoe (winning his 35th cap for the Navy) for Rees - Seta Raumakita flew down the wing and dived over the line for the Navy’s second try of the day, 29 - 15.
A final rally by the Navy came in the form of a try by No 8 David Fairbrother in the 79th minute. The scoreboard showed 29 - 20 but the Navy were out of time. The Army claimed their 61st Inter-Service title. Man of the Match unsurprisingly went to Army No 14, winger Junior Bulumakau, for his outstanding performance throughout the match.
A special mention goes to Gareth Evans. Winning his 27th cap for the Royal Navy, he has been playing for the Senior XV since 2004 in a number of forward positions including 1, 2, 3, 6 and 8. He has announced his retirement from playing, but is looking forward to moving into coaching so his experience will not be lost to the Navy team.
Head Coach, Ash Coates, will be rightly proud of the performance of the team he has mentored since 2014. During this time the contest has become much more competitive, and indeed he can look back on 2016 as the year the Navy won the IS championship. To go one better and win two years in a row was always going to be a tall order, a feat not achieved since the consecutive wins in 1973 and 1974. The Navy side can hold their heads up high; they played well, scoring three tries like the Army, but following the loss of full back Jon Humphrey to injury and the temporary reduction to 14 players in the first half because of the yellow card, the advantage went to the Army. Overall, the 100th match will be remembered for being a highly competitive match and a great display of amateur rugby.
Team List: Kyle Mason, Ben Priddey (c), Gareth Evans, Edd Pascoe, Matt Harvey, Ben Fox, Sam Matavesi, David Fairbrother, Gareth Rees, Nathan Huntley, Matt Bowden, Greg Loydall, Eldon Myers, Greg Welling, Jon Humphrey. Replacements: Harry Collins, Mark Owen, Chris Robinson, Scott Makepeace, Dom Taylor, Dave Pascoe, Rhys Dimmock-Williams, Seta Raumakita.
Images Royal Navy Rugby Union © Keith Woodland, John Walton and Mark Andrews.