Fleet Air Arm Maul Western to Submission
Fleet Air Arm
RN Western knew that to win their first Inverdale Challenge for ten years they would have to subdue the Fleet Air Arm pack, which featured seven capped players in the starting eight and one more on the bench. The young Western tyros lost nothing in comparison to their much vaunted opponents at the breakdown but were unable to match their power at scrum and maul. It was ultimately this power that determined the match with five of the tries coming from close range mauls and the sixth from a 5m scrum. Their 44-20 victory was well deserved but the enterprising play on show from Western, along with so many youngsters in their side, gives them a solid foundation from which to launch next year’s campaign.
Recent adverse weather meant that for the second successive year the game was moved to HMS Temeraire’s all weather pitch. Whilst there wasn’t the torrential rain of last year a bitter wind made kicking tricky and led to a few unforced errors as cold hands struggled to grip the ball. From the outset Western looked to move the ball at every opportunity and as the game progressed show remarkable adeptness at making good use of back foot all. However, this enterprise was also high risk and it was from an early error that Fleet Air Arm skipper, Chris ‘Sumo’ Thompson ran hard and deep into Western territory. The ball was recycled and taken within 10m of the goal line before Western infringed at the tackle to give Jon Humphrey a simple opening kick at goal.
From the restart FAA were immediately back on the attack and though they were repelled from a 5m lineout, Western couldn’t clear their lines and eventually, with the ball held up in the In Goal, had to defend a 5m scrum. With their pack under immense pressure they held the initial drive but allowed Fleet Air Arm scrumhalf, ‘Pony’ Moore, to cross for the first try of the night, leaving Jon Humphrey a simple conversion to extend the FAA lead to 10 – 0.
The omens did not look good for the Western side. However with Chris McDonald winning some good ball at the front of the line, Jonny Stephen and Josh Jones, at halfback, started to bring their backline into the game. Good angles and powerful running from Sam Davies opened up the Fleet Air Arm defence and at last the Western pack could come on to the ball. Their ferocity at the break down produced a succession of quick ball and the Fleet Air Arm defence was pulled left and right as Western probed for the break through. Eventually the pressure told and it was tight head prop Ollie Dugmore, finding himself out on the right wing, who crossed to get Western on the score board. 10 -5 as Josh Jones was unable to convert from wide out.
Clearly rocked, the Fleet Air Arm tightened up their game with Pony Moore either probing the fringes or Jon Humphrey using intelligent kicks to turn the Western defence and keep them pinned in their own half. When the ball was moved it was to bring a succession of their big forwards running on the cut back angle, into the heart of the Western midfield. The pressure forced another penalty but also forced a yellow card from Western openside, Jack Tindle, as he missed timed his chop tackle to leave the referee with little option than to give him a ten minute break.
With a man down the Western pack had to up their already impressive work rate in defence and whilst their restricted the Fleet Air Arm to only a single try before the break, it was clearly energy sapping work with the second half to come. The try was the Fleet Air Arm trademark of driving the maul over from a 5m lineout with flanker Ben Priddey controlling the ball at the base and claiming the score. 18 – 5 as the clock kicked down to half time but just enough time for one more attack from Western before the break. Though they couldn’t cross the line due to stout Fleet Air Arm defence, they forced the penalty. Having missed one long-range effort Jones made no mistake with the last kick of the half. FAA 18 – Western 8 at Half Time.
The start of the second half highlighted the contrast between the two teams. First the Fleet Air Arm launched wave after wave of powerful drives from either around the edge of the ruck or coming on a short line from a pop pass. When Western transgressed the resultant penalty was kicked deep and pressure increased via the rolling maul. Eventually they were able to win an attacking lineout and force Western to defend their fearsome mauling game. The outcome, as before, a Ben Priddey try and with Jon Humphrey converting, a 25-8 lead.
Western’s response was all about continuity, craft, running angles and keeping the ball moving. Regularly needing eight or more phases to get the Fleet Air Arm ragged they never let up with both forwards and backs running hard at inventive angles. Eventually the pressure and continuity was rewarded when Viv Willmott came off his wing taking the inside ball and crossing under the posts for Western’s second try, again Josh Jones landed the conversion. 25-15.
It was clear that Western were beginning to tire as the Fleet Air Arm stuck with a highly effective game plan. Two further tries, both from the lineout –maul -Ben Priddey axis, stretched their lead to 37 – 15 and secured the win. Western had one last riposte, a testament to their ‘never let up’ attitude. Wacker Payne first and then Luke Berry before Payne again, all drove the ball up before Josh Jones slipped Sam Davies on a yet another defence breaking run. Quick ball forced the penalty and from the resulting lineout a simple pop pass put replacement James Shaw over for Western’s third and final try of the evening.
It was fitting however that the last word belonged to the Fleet Air Arm and their pack in particular. Following the well-thumbed blueprint they once more took the game by the scruff of the neck from the restart. Sumo Thompson’s pack had too much experience within it to ever let the game get away from them. Whether it was Sumo Thompson, Stan Mortensen or John Lamsin taking the pop pass or the effective mauling of Court, Beasley, Blackburn and Mason, they always kept Western at arms length. From the restart they once more regained possession and played keep ball. Gradually they worked their way up the pitch until they were again camped on the Western goal line. Though time was fast running out they set up one last maul and from the back, out popped Pridds for try number five to him (and the pack of forwards). Jon Humphrey was successful with the last kick of the game and the final score saw the Fleet Air Arm regain the trophy 44 – 20.
An early knock had forced veteran lock forward Marsh Cormack from the field early. From the sideline he would have seen that the game was always under the control of the Fleet Air Arm but he will have also noted some of the young forward talent in the Western ranks where nineteen year old lock, Luke Berry, surely has a bright Navy Rugby future. Luke along with the whole of the Western team received deserved plaudits from John Inverdale before he acknowledged the impressive game management of the Fleet Air Arm and presented Chris Thompson with the trophy that bares his father’s name.
Fleet Air Arm: Blackburn: *, Beasley *, Court *, Lamsin *, Cormack *, Mortensen, Priddey *, Thompson * (C), Moore, Humphrey *, Saberton, Loydall, Houghton, Clarke, Vance * Reps: Mason *, Pollard, McChlachan, Cox, Jenkins, Sutton
Western Region: Yates, Payne, Dugmore, MacDonald, Berry, Hillman, Tindle, Humberstone, Stephen *, Jones, Willmott, Buinimasi *, Davies, Marlin *, Smallbone * (C) Reps: Gaught, Potter, Tooz-Hobson, Irvine, Crofts, Shaw, Adams
* Navy Capped Player
Next game at Burnaby Road is Royal Navy v Cambridge University 11 Feb 2015 KO19:15