Havant Too Strong for the Mariners.
A very strong team, wearing the Havant RFC shirt, but comprising players from clubs across the Solent (Solent Barbarians XV) were far too strong for the Mariners in only their second game on the road to the Inter Service Championship.
The rain having abated, the evening was dry with little wind –perfect conditions for running rugby. For the second match of the season the game was again played on a 4G pitch with Mariners Fly-Half, Grant Thirlby, kicking-off. Easily taken by the Havant forwards straight into contact, the ball was recycled quickly, passing through hands at speed. Involving forwards and backs Havant drove hard into the Mariners’ defence before offloading; with the Navy defence in disarray Havant full-back broke through on the left scoring the first try, which was unconverted. Havant 5 - Mariners 0
Thirlby restarted with a long kick looking to peg Havant back in their 22, which forced them to put the ball into touch and a Navy lineout. It was an ominous start to the game’s first set-piece, Havant won the lineout and cleared long into the Navy 22, rucking the ball for the fly-half, who, showing some enterprise, put in a crosskick. Alive to this the Mariners allowed the ball to go dead. An assured scrum on the 22 allowed captain, Paul Saberton, to work well as a unit with No.8, Stephen Hillman, allowing the clearance to touch. Havant won their own lineout ball and using their forwards to make ground, won ruck after ruck, forcing the Navy defence to scramble to reset for the next attack. The Havant 10 again kicked into the dead ball area but their winger lost this race.
The Navy 22 drop out was caught by Havant, they gained ground with short, sharp drives into the RN 22 only to be penalised for holding on. The poorly executed exit strategy failed to find touch, which allowed Havant to put boot to ball resulting in a territory gain deep inside the 22. Recognising the Mariners’ frailties at the lineout, Havant won the lineout against the throw, driving deep into the Navy wavering defence, allowing one of the forwards to break through to score. The conversion opportunity was missed again. Havant 10 – Mariners 0
Havant continued to put intense pressure on the Navy defence aggressively attacking at close quarters to make small but significant gains; this pressure resulted in a Havant penalty inside the 22 for not releasing in the tackle. The lineout on the 5 metres was won and, with a sense of impending doom, they put together a huge drive and Havant had their 3rd try, again unconverted. Havant 15 – RN 0
Directly from the restart Havant knocked-on, scrum Navy. With their powerful set of forwards pushing the Navy backwards, Hillman, on the retreat, picked up from the base and supported by his backrow colleagues, Alan Sullivan and Oliver James attacked the open-side before passing to Saberton, who drew the defence before feeding Thirlby, who created space to pass to open Outside Centre Gareth Vallender at pace before offloading the ball to the right wing Lee Harris-Joce to score a well worked try out wide. The conversion was missed by Saberton. Havant 15 – RN 5
From the restart the Mariners were under pressure inside their 22; Havant turned the ball over at the ruck and despite the best efforts of Saberton and loosehead Keith Lister, the defence was breached by Havant’s forwards to score their fourth try which was converted. Havant 22 – RN 5 (20 minutes played).
It was obvious after 20 minutes that Havant had assembled a skilful, experienced and powerful group of players, from across the Solent who were well drilled in the art of veteran’s rugby. With the Mariners under continual pressure at both the set piece and in open play and with little possession, the Navy had no option but to front up and try to stop or at least slow down Havant’s attack. Hillman was everywhere, rallying the troops, putting his body in harm’s way and tackling anything that moved. Saberton was equally impressive, defending strongly, making time for his forwards to reset. Using whatever ball he got, invariably on the back foot, he sniped around the fringes, showing courage, no mean level of skill and taking contact in an effort to steady the ship. Defending for long periods of time saps both energy and the ability to make quick and correct decisions. Scoring three further tries, with two being converted before halftime Havant played simple veterans style rugby using both backs and forwards to create openings. The Navy had no answer, turning ball over in the set pieces, missing tackles, losing the ball in contact or just simply running out of defenders. The half time whistle could not come soon enough! Halftime – Havant 41 – RN Mariners 5.
With the game effectively lost the Mariners as a group had to react positively and fight back, to eliminate errors from the first half, create opportunities to show their skills. The 2nd half was all about pride in the shirt, pride in themselves and pride in their team mates.
Havant kicked off and were quickly in attack mode inside the Navy 22 winning a penalty for offside, Selecting a scrum they failed the physical test and were in turn penalised. The Navy were able to clear their lines with a long kick to touch by Saberton. Winning the lineout the Navy took the fight to Havant, gaining ground and entering the opposition’s 22. Rewarded with a scrum, Hillman picked up at the base and attacked the open-side before passing to Saberton in space, drawing the defence and feeding Ryan Wotton close to the 5 metre line only to be dragged down and the ball turned-over for Havant to relieve the pressure. This was much better play from the Mariners. The ball was collected by replacement Prop Ignatius Oberholzer and taken into contact in the opposition’s half. The Mariners’ forwards were slowly gaining the upper hand by keeping it simple and by making the right decisions in the right areas. They gained vital territory by picking and driving and eventually were rewarded with a try by prop Peter Kewn, which was unconverted. Havant 41 – RN 10
Into the last quarter and Mariners were enjoying a renaissance. Havant, by the early part of the second half, had replaced much of its forward pack. Although still dangerous the game was noticeably slower, enabling the Navy to gain more field position and better possession.
Restarted by Havant and taken by replacement forward Joji Volaisaya on the 10 metre line the Mariners attacked, taking contact and recycling the ball quickly with Saberton looking for weaknesses in the Havant defence before releasing the backs. With Hillman and Saberton working well together to keep the Mariners on the front foot, the rejuvenated forwards were gaining ground. Although errors were still occuring they were much reduced while conversely Havant’s error count grew as pressure was applied. With Saberton releasing the backs when space was available, Havant was forced to defend in their own half for long periods of play, making errors and infringing, giving the Mariners opportunities to regroup and go again. Camped in the opposition half the forwards were able to win good ball at set piece and in the loose. The Navy were able to move the ball across the backs with renewed confidence.
Havant’s defence, although stretched, was still largely effective, however Vallender and fullback Colin Campbell combined in the wide channel only for Campbell to be forced into touch inside the 22. Havant won the lineout and subsequent scrum but failed to find touch with the relieving kick. Vallender, just inside his own half, collected the ball and galloped into the oppositions’ half and to the relief of his forwards did enough at the breakdown to convince the referee that it was a Navy scrum. The tried and tested pick up from the back of the scrum was initiated by Hillman and, supported by his forwards, he drove close to the 5 metre line before Saberton was tackled illegally whilst sniping round the ruck close to the opposition line. Choosing to scrummage, the forwards pushed over the flagging Havant front five for a well-deserved try by Hillman, converted by Saberton. Havant 41 – RN 17
Deep into the final quarter of the match, Havant regained possession inside the Navy 22 and were awarded a penalty for a high tackle by Thirlby, it was not malicious, purely a natural reaction to a player quickly changing direction though it still resulted in a yellow for the Mariners’ number 10. With the Mariners down to 14 men it was important to refocus, keep discipline and continue to put Havant’s defence under pressure – it nearly worked, however with a couple of minutes to play Havant broke out of their own half and with speed and power using their backs and forwards scored the last try of the game which was duly converted. Havant 48 – RN 17.
Make no bones about it, this was a very a hard game against quality opposition which exposed the Mariners’ weaknesses collectively and individually. Management, coaches and players alike know where the limitations lie and what needs to be done to rectify them. As an aside, it would be interesting to see the Solent Barbarians players’ playing antecedence – some without doubt have played at a much higher level!!!
Team Manager, Guy Pallett commented after the game, “The score does not reflect the game that was seen, Havant were strong and powerful, finding holes in the Mariners’ defence with ease. We are trying to stick to a game plan but unfortunately forgot to do the basics and were exposed, but glimmers of hope were there when our only try in the first half was scored. The second half was much more controlled and managed by the team, you have to work hard to achieve the goals set. It will come, only our second game together, it takes time.”
Keith Lister was impressed by the side’s resolve saying, “…after the first half a lot of teams would have put their heads down and would not have wanted to go back out, let alone play in the second half. But the guys didn't and I thank them for that. They stuck at it for the full 80 and the second half was a totally different game. I am looking forward to seeing the guys in two weeks fully recovered.”
RN Mariners team; 1. LD Keith Lister, 2. PO Peter Eme, 3. CPO Robert Cozens, 4. Sgt Matt Thurston, 5. PO Ian Scovell, 6. WO1 (RSM) Alan Sullivan RM, 7. CPO Oliver James, 8. PO Stephen Hillman, 9. LAET Paul Saberton (Capt), 10. AET Grant Thirlby, 11. LPT Dean Fentum, 12. LH Kali Junior, 13. Sgt Gareth Vallender, 14. AB(D) Lee Harris-Joce, 15. LAET Colin Campbell.
Finishers: 16. AET Chris Warner, 17. PO Peter Kewn, 18. CPO Ignatius Oberholzer, 19. PO Joji Volaisaya, 20. Lt Cdr James Smith RN, 21. Lt Ryan Wotton RN, 22. Cpl Dan Croft, 23. AB Duncan Fraser, 24. Cdr Jon Holroyd RN.
TSG; ADoR, Jon Holroyd. Team Manager, Guy Pallett. Asst Team Manager, Kevin Boulton. Head Coach, Chris Richards. Asst Coach, Andy Vance. Team Physio, Kila O’Boyle. Technical assistant, Bryan Milford.
Match officials; Hampshire RURS Referee, Dean Crossley, ARs Simon Aldridge & Steve Overvoorde (both RNRURS).
Words: Tommy Atkins
Images: Royal Navy Rugby Union © Keith Woodland