Cool Hand Luke Too Hot for RAF to Handle
On the night that he won his RN U23XV colours, Royal Navy wing Luke Cooper scored the first two of the Royal Navy’s four tries and set them on course for a richly deserved victory. The Royal Air Force were always behind on the score board and though they at times pressurised the well organised Navy defence they could not quite find the fire power to sink a determined Naval team. A 24 – 20 victory means the Royal Navy now travel to the Army’s home ground at Aldershot looking for a second win and a first Inter Service trophy since 2010.
Friday night U23 Inter Service rugby at Burnaby Road on a heavy but dry pitch and the Royal Navy Under 23’s rewarded the home support with some excellent early play. With the forwards aggressive over the ball and the backs looking to move the ball quickly, the RAF were forced in to conceding penalties. An early kick at goal was missed by Sam Benzie but from a second penalty the Navy went to the corner. Despite turning over possession the RAF were unable to clear their lines as the Navy were pressing hard with an intensity in their defence not seen all season. Having won the ball back they drove through the forwards, the RAF’s defence was stretched and Luke Cooper ran in on the left wing for the opening score. Sam Benzie landed the conversion to give the home side an early 7 – 0 lead.
From the restart they kept their attacking intent and had a couple of half chances to further extend their lead. However, credit to the RAF though they were seeing little of the ball they were always prepared to counter attack. It was from such a counter; deep in their own half that they at last managed to get pass the first up defence. With good continuity it was prop forward Harry Challenor who was on hand to score. Kirkham’s conversion tied the game.
The Royal Navy returned to the game plan that was serving them so well. With the backrow winning the collisions over the ball and a strong mauling game, Jordan Shuttleworth was able to control the game from half back. With a lineout on the RAF 22m line the Navy threw long to Jon Henty at the tail. The initial surge sucked in the defence before Sam Benzie caused havoc in the RAF midfield. The ball was brought back to the right and Cooper was again on hand to score his second try of the night. With the conversion timed out the Navy had a 12-7 lead, were playing some good rugby and looked in control.
The second quarter of the match will be an area that the team will wish to improve on. The error count crept up and penalties conceded that allowed the RAF to have possession and space in which to run. With six penalties conceded in short order it was only a matter of time before Kirkham decided to go for goal. Having landed one, he narrowly missed from long range just before the half time whistle. With the score 12 – 10 at half time and the game was wide open. If the Navy recaptured their earlier form they were clear favourites for the win but the RAF had shown themselves to be dangerous in broken play.
It was the Royal Navy forwards that deserve the plaudits for the start of the second half. Realising that when the game was loose, the RAF could exert some pressure, they tightened up their play. Strong running, some very effective mauls and the ball moved wide when required kept the RAF on the back foot. A yellow card to the RAF’s left wing, Taylor was born of frustration, as the RAF simply couldn’t get their hands on the ball.
It was only a matter of time before the pressure was going to tell on the scoreboard. Again it was the lineout that provided the launch pad. The forwards mauled at first before popping the ball out to replacement Jo Burton running a hard line, next up it was skipper Edd Pascoe and from the quick ball, Jordan Shuttleworth looked up and seeing no defence set darted over for the third try on the night. An easy conversion gave the Royal Navy some breathing space at 19 – 10 which was extended shortly later when Tristan Trehan who was the kingpin as the Royal Navy forwards mauled the RAF over the line for the ‘bonus’ point try and a 24 – 13 lead, the RAF having landed their second penalty between Navy tries.
That should have been the game done and dusted but the Royal Navy allowed their intensity to drop a little and the RAF sniffed an opening. Playing a high-risk game they looked to keep the ball alive at every opportunity. On a couple of occasions they were nearly burnt as the RN turned over the ball and looked to counter. However to the gambler the rewards and eventually their harem scarem game broke the Navy defence wide open for Maughan to score under the posts. Suddenly, with still over five minutes to go Kirkham’s conversion brought the match back to a single score.
Facing a tense last couple of minutes the Royal Navy didn’t panic and as importantly didn’t loose their composure. Having gained field position through some good play they very nearly worked an opening for a 5th try. Though possession was lost their defence returned to its intense best and the RAF found that once more they faced a Naval blockade that they couldn’t penetrate. With the ball knocked on in the tackle, the referee’s whistle sounded the end of the game and the Royal Navy had a well-deserved opening victory.
The Royal Navy now travel to Aldershot with the Inter Service title at stake. Tonight saw a real step up in performance from their earlier games this season and if they show further improvement for next week it is sure to be another cracking game at the home of Army rugby.
RN U23XV: H Marsh, D Pearce *, A Birkett, Pascoe E * (Capt), Roberts B, McDonald C *, Basher J *+, Henty J *, Shuttleworth J *, Loydal G *, Tyrer S *, Davies S *, Benzie S *, Cooper L, Penfold R * Reps: Potter S *, Reynolds J, Burton J, Trehan T *, Coleman D, Carter S, Shaw J, Daunibau A
* U23 Colours + International
RAF U23XV: Wilson R, Cooke B, Challenor H, Downing S, Hadley L, McKnight K, Maughan P, Williams J, Eaton L, Kirkham C, Taylor L, Byrne A, Lockwood J, Tupua Jiute Reps: Gilbert R, O’Leary T, Baskerville R, Lance C, Boswell J, Windibank T, Edwards J, Webber S
Army U23 XV v Royal Navy U23XV Aldershot, Friday 21 November KO 19:00. Free entry.
Images by Alligin Photography / © Geraint Ashton Jones