Determined Defence Denies Vikings Victory
RN Senior XV
The Royal Navy inflicted the first defeat of the season for Richmond Vikings through a remarkable and in the end heroic defensive performance at the Athletic ground. Having regained the lead, through two tries from rolling mauls, they withstood a late Richmond Vikings onslaught camped on their own line as the game reached its finale. With wave after wave of Vikings raids being launched towards the Navy’s line, the Royal Navy’s defence became ever more resolute and as importantly disciplined. With no way through Richmond resorted to a couple of drop goal attempts, the first charged down by man of the match, Ben Fox. The second pushed wide, was the final kick of the evening, and the victory was sealed, 17-15. The Royal Navy had taken their chances well, rode their luck at times but defended with their hearts, as well as their bodies, to claim a valuable and deserved victory. As David Garrick’s anthem proclaims ‘Heart of Oak’ indeed but perhaps a more fitting analogy would be Richard Glenville’s famous picture of HMS Victory and the fighting Temeraire ‘Hold the Line’. Last night the Royal Navy team did just that and was rewarded for it.
The game started at a frenetic pace with Richmond Vikings dominating possession and looking to move the ball wide at every opportunity. Time and time again they managed to find the half gap but couldn’t fully break through the Navy’s aggressive defence. It was too aggressive at times and following an early warning from the referee, Dave Fairbrother paid the price for one too many penalties from the Royal Navy at the tackle, as he was despatched to the sin bin. However despite their domination of possession, the Richmond Vikings, were unable to cross the line and had to contend with a single penalty and a three point lead.
The penalty lifted the prolonged siege on the Navy line and at last Ben Priddey’s team were able to get their hands on the ball and build some pressure of their own. With Mat Tichias looking threatening at centre they produced some half breaks off their own and were eventually rewarded with the opening try. Gareth John Rees took a quick tap penalty to get behind the Vikings defence and with the ball quickly won he found Tichias on the blindside, whose run was held just short of the line. However Priddey was outside him, on the left wing, to take a well-timed pass and cross for the game’s first try. With the conversion missed the Royal Navy enjoyed a narrow 5-3 lead with a quarter of the match gone.
It was to prove to be the only real attacking opportunity the Navy were to have in the first half. A well judged cross-field kick from Nathan Huntley nearly put Seta Raumakita away but for a foot in touch. Apart from this, the Royal Navy were, too often, turned over at the tackle and Richmond Vikings were free to launch another of their frequent attacks. As the half progressed, the pressure mounted on the Navy’s defence and significantly the wind, they were playing into became stronger. Eventually, through sheer weight of numbers, Richmond Vikings broke through to score and with the conversion regain the lead 10-5.
From the restart, and with five minutes left in the half, the Vikings used the wind to clear long and again put the Royal Navy deep into their own twenty two. A second, quick fire score, would have changed the balance of the game entirely and the Royal Navy had to work hard to ensure that at half time they only trailed by the five points.
The second half started perfectly for the Royal Navy. Receiving the ball they were easily able to exit their half and soon set up a lineout on the Richmond Vikings 22m line. Edd Pascoe secured possession and the maul was well constructed. Royal Navy tries from their driven maul are not unfamiliar but to maintain control of a maul from such distance is rare. But this the Navy forwards did, as they drove towards and then over the Richmond Vikings line for Ben Priddey to claim his second try and for the scores to be levelled at 10-10.
As in the first half the score allowed Richmond Vikings to relieve the pressure and from the restart they were soon back pressing for another try. For a full ten minutes the match was played within ten metres of the Royal Navy’s goal line. Penalties were conceded and Richmond Vikings kicked to the corner to set up another attacking play. Three times the Royal Navy held them up over the line. More penalties conceded, warnings given, first to Ben Priddey and then to Harry Collins, who replaced Ben as skipper. Another offside penalty and Jarrard Hayler became the second Royal Navy player to see yellow as he was despatched to the sin bin. This time Richmond Vikings were able to capitalise on having the extra man. They worked the ball right before switching the ball left. With Raumakita facing a three on one he jumped out of the defensive line and very nearly halted the move. But the pass was made and Richmond scored their second try to regain the lead 15-10.
It was short lived as the Royal Navy again turned to the driving maul as their weapon of choice. At the first, Edd Pascoe became impatient and peeled off only to be met by a wall of Vikings defenders. However playing into, by now a strong wind, Richmond were unable to clear their lines and this gave the Royal Navy a second opportunity. Pascoe made amends with a well caught ball, under pressure, in the middle of the lineout, and again the maul was set. This time it was replacement number 8, Timo Kava who was on the ball and guiding the Royal Navy pack over the line. He made no mistake and the Royal Navy had their third try, which Richard Cadywould converted from close to the left touchline. The Royal Navy held a narrow two point lead as the game entered its final ten minutes.
It was to prove a very long ten minutes for the Navy supporters who had travelled to Richmond, as the Vikings went all out for a match winning score. The Royal Navy seemed unable to get their hands on the ball as again and again Richmond sent their big runners in to the heart of the Navy’s defence. All it needed was one offside, one failure to release, one slow movement away from the tackle and the eighty minutes of hard graft could have been for nought from the resultant penalty kick at goal. However the Royal Navy’s defence proved not only to be destructive but more importantly disciplined. Tackles were made and players were quickly back in position to make another. Ben Fox, who had impressed all evening in the dark recesses of the breakdown, won a couple more vital turnovers to thwart the Vikings attacks, but still they looked to prise open the Navy’s defence.
With time running out it dawned on the home side that they were not going to be able to get through the Royal Navy’s defence and so they started to set up the drop goal option. This they did well and they engineered a good chance from twenty five metres, and in front of the posts, only for Ben Fox to cement his man of the match performance with a lung bursting charge down of the kick. Still the Royal Navy were unable to clear and Richmond Vikings launched one last attacking set as the clock ticked into the red. This time the drop goal attempt was a little rushed, pushed wide, and the Royal Navy’s defence were rewarded with the sound of the final whistle.
For the first time this season the Royal Navy had been given a serious examination and put under pressure. It was clear to see why Richmond Vikings were unbeaten. They created enough chances to win the game but did not count on the desire of the Navy team to work for each other and ensure that every piece of possession was fought for. Their appetite for the tackle was voracious and the intensity did not drop for the eighty minutes. It was a victory born of defence and one that should serve the team in good stead as they prepare for the trip to Toulon later in the month. Before then the Royal Navy host Hampshire at USSG Portsmouth, 9 March, KO 19:30.
Royal Navy Senior XV: Gareth Evans *, Ben Priddey * (Capt), Chris Warner, Edd Pascoe *, John Lamsin *, Ben Fox *, Jarrard Hayler *, Dave Fairbrother *, Gareth John Rees, Nathan Huntley *, Matt Bowden *, Mat Tichias *, Sam Davies *, Seta Raumakita *, Jon Humphrey *
Replacements: Harry Collins * for Ben Priddey, Chris Robinson for Chris Warner, Harrison Marsh for Gaz Evans, Ollie Mason for John Lamsin, Timo Kava for Dave Fairbrother, Cory Moore for Hareth John Rees, Silvenuis Buinimasi * for Mat Tichias, Richard Cadywould for Jon Humphrey, Dom Taylor * for Jarrard Hayler
* Denotes capped player
Article by Geraint Ashton Jones
Images by Alligin Photography / © John Walton, & © Geraint Ashton Jones