Dixon Dashes Navy’s Dream
An accomplished display from Army U23 fly half, James Dixon, proved to be the key difference between the two sides as he guided the home team to a 34 – 12 victory. Though it was the Royal Navy U23’s who started the better they were unable to break through a committed Army defence and as the half progressed it was the home team that looked the more dangerous as they gradually exerted a degree of control on the game. Throughout the second half the Navy were playing catch up but were unable to sustain pressure either through territory or ball in hand.
Already without the powerful Jon Henty, the Royal Navy suffered a further set back when Chris McDonald had to withdraw shortly before kick off due to a hamstring injury. The loss of two strong ball carriers was well masked early on as the Navy started the match full of running, drive and determination. But as the match wore on Henty and McDonald’s ability to cross the gain line was missed more and more as the Navy struggled to punch through an organised Army defence. Their loss also seemed to affect the Royal Navy lineout where Parkins, the Army skipper, stole a number of important Navy throws.
For the first fifteen minutes it was all about Navy possession. An early Sam Benzie penalty was pushed wide but two further penalties allowed them to keep the Army pressed deep in their own half. Spurning the kicks at goal, Loydal went for field position in the corner but at successive lineouts the Army were able to steal possession. The Army were under pressure but committed at the breakdown and with the penalty count mounting against them Parkins was warned about the consequences if his team’s discipline didn’t improve. The warning wasn’t heeded and before the end of the half the Army had lost both wingers to the Sin Bin.
However playing short handed wasn’t to hurt them. With the Army forwards beginning to get some possession, Dixon began to exert his influence on the game. A counter attack from deep rang the first alarm bell before turned over possession gave the Army an unexpected opening. With the Navy offside and the Army not getting any advantage, the referee returned to the penalty, which Dixon converted from long range.
The Army’s opening try was also built on the back of their willingness to counter attack from deep. With the Navy pressing hard the Army secured possession and Dixon orchestrated the break from defence that was finally finished eighty metres later when fullback Mercer crossed for the try. With Dixon kicking the conversion the Army had eased to a 10-point lead. The Navy bounced straight back and had a couple of half chances before half time only to suffer from another Army counter attack when Dixon straightened the attack and put outside centre Main through to score. A half time score of 17 – 0 was probably a little harsh on the Navy but credit to the home side for taking their chances.
The Navy needed to score first in the second half. However it was with a sense of déjà vu that an early period of Navy pressure was lifted by turn over ball and Dixon orchestrating the Army’s play up to half way. With Tristan Trehan being adjudged offside and being shown the third Yellow Card of the night Dixon landed his second long range penalty to further increase the Army’s lead.
Perversely the loss of a player was the impetus for the Navy pack to up their game. At last the lineout clicked with skipper Edd Pascoe winning some solid ball, the Navy gained a degree of control on the play. Like the first half it was a penalty that gave Greg Loydal the opportunity to kick to the corner and this time the Pascoe / Dewi Pearce axis worked. With a secure maul it was eventually Jack Basher who emerged from a pile of bodies for the Navy’s opening score.
The Royal Navy desperately needed the score to be a springboard. However, as is so often the case, an error from the kick off put them under pressure and with the Army regaining possession they worked an opening for their Number 8, Lewis, to cross for the sucker punch try. Dixon was again successful with the conversion and in all honesty the game was over.
It was therefore to the Navy’s credit that they kept looking to take the match to the Army. The forwards were continuing to make ground in the close quarter exchanges and forced yet another penalty from the Army at the tackle. This time it was replacement prop, Taylor who was sent to the naughty step by referee Nick Marshall. The template was well known and Benzie put the ball in the corner, Pascoe secured possession and though the Army repelled the first maul, the Navy were able to regroup and Basher crossed for his second try. Benzie’s conversion closed the gap to 27-12.
With the Navy continuing to press for their third try, despite losing Jack Basher to the Sin Bin, there was always the risk that they would leave themselves exposed. Looking to play from deep in their own half it was another Navy turnover that gave the Army one last opportunity. It was Dixon who spotted the gap in the defence and broke through for the final try of the match. His conversion making the final score 34-12. The Army awarded the man of the match to their Number 8, Lewis, although it was Dixon who caused the Navy the most problems over the eighty minutes. Yes the Royal Navy missed Henty and McDonald but in the end the Army were deserved winners and now travel to RAF Halton in search of their fourth consecutive title.
RN U23XV: H Marsh *, D Pearce *, A Birkett *, Pascoe E * (Capt), Roberts B *, Lewis Cooper, Basher J *+, Tristan Trehan *, Shuttleworth J *, Loydal G *, Tyrer S *, Davies S *, Shaw J *, Cooper L *, Benzie S * Reps: Potter S *, Reynolds J, Bonnick N, Pullinger J *, Burton J *, Coleman D *, Carter S *, Penfold R *
* U23 Colours + International
Army U23XV: Hamilton , Hunter, Jenkinson, Collins, Parkins (Capt), Hopper, Thompson, Lewis, Watkins, Dixon, Turaganivalu, Morgan, Main, Petueli, Mercer Reps: Shough, Taylor, Mellor, Lamont, Carter, Lawless, Berry, Koroivuay
Article by Geraint Ashton Jones
Images by Alligin Photography / © Geraint Ashton Jones & © Lee Crabb