Inverdale Challenge 2019/20 Final – Royal Marines v Fleet Air Arm


Royal Marines


Fleet Air Arm

Rory Bonnick scored the Royal Marines second try.
Hayden Wilkinson takes contact.
Ratu (Toots) Vakalutukali eyes up the defence.
Nathan Huntley supported by Ratu (Toots) Vakalutukali.
Nick Burgess finds touch.
Sam Carter gets the ball away.
Kyp Bridgen receives the trophy from John Inverdale.
Winners are grinners.

In the first game of rugby at Burnaby Rd for 3 months the Royal Marines and Fleet Air Arm contested the last game in the 2019/20 Inverdale Challenge – The Final. In a fiercely fought, entertaining game it was the Royal Marines that overcame a spirited Air Arm to claim the trophy, victors by 32-16.

On Wednesday, 22nd January 2020 rugby returned to Burnaby Road, Portsmouth after a 3 months closure whilst the stand was refurbished, for the annual Inverdale Challenge Final, contested by the most successful teams in recent years the Royal Marines (RM) and the Fleet Air Arm (FAA) in the presence of both John Inverdale and his sister Jendy Weeks, after whose father, Capt John Inverdale RN the competition is named.

By kick-off, 1930hrs the drizzle which had been falling all day had moved away leaving the playing surface damp but firm with little or no wind. Ideal conditions for a January evening. On time RM Fly-half (10) Nathan Huntley kicked into the Fleet Air Arm half, taken by the FAA on the 10 mtr line where a ruck formed, won by the FAA but under pressure they were into touch just inside their half. The Marines continued to pressure the airmen but with both sides committing errors were unable to put more than 2 or 3 phases of play together. Royal Marine Scrum-half (9) Nick Burgess with quick   and accurate ball from scrum and breakdown enabled Huntley and team captain Centre (12) Bridgen to attack the FAA defence, making ground only to be tackled and the ball lost in contact, however it was clear the RM were going to play fast, aggressive rugby using both backs and forwards alike. With the FAA defending hard and turned the ball over but invariably kicked possession away. On 5 minutes Marine Fullback (15) Glidden collected the ball in his own 22, accelerated into space towards halfway before kicking high into the night sky, the airmen now in their own 22 held the ball, however they were caught by Marine backrow and penalised, which Huntley converted into points. 6 minutes played RM 3 FAA 0.

On restart the errors continued with a Marine knock-on inside their own 22, scrum to FAA, picked up by No 8 Taff Holland who drove into the RM defence where after a ruck the Marines turned the ball over, kicking through only for the FAA to fly-hack into touch inside the RM 10 mtrs. With the Marines losing the lineout the FAA kicked into the RM 22, taken by Glidden and passed to 22 Greg Welling and kicked into touch from outside the 22. The subsequent lineout was won by airmen and the Marines were penalised for offside. Converted to points by Scrumhalf and team captain (9) Sam Carter the two sides were level – RM 3 FAA 3 – after 13 minutes played.

As play continued RM No8 Toots Vakalutukali collected a kick and driving into Air Arm defence before taking contact enabling Burgess to release Huntley at pace to continue the move into the opposition half before being tackled and awarded a penalty for offside. Kicking to touch on the Air Arm 22, where the airmen knocked-on. Scrum to RM, ball quickly won and spun by Burgess to Huntley who throwing a dummy pass before feeding Bridgen in space, causing the FAA defence to scramble to eliminate the danger. Still in possession the Marines moved the ball left before being forced into touch, as the referee had been playing advantage, Penalty to RM ably kicked by Huntley. RM 6 FAA 3 – 18 minutes on the clock.

Restarted by Fly-half (10) Dan Rutter with a long kick into the Marine 22, taken by Glidden who failed to find touch giving the FAA forwards possession on the Marine 10 mtr line, taking contact, ruck, recycle and go again across the back line to winger (11) Matt Horton who was tackled, ruck close to the touchline and was penalised. RM penalty, kicked by Huntley, lineout on Air Arm 10, won and rucked by the Marine forwards allowing Burgess to release the backs to gain ground into the airmen’s 22 where the movement was halted by the defence only for the RM to win the ruck with Burgess again moving the ball to his backs, however losing territory as the FAA got the upper hand eventually turning the ball over to the airmen to kick long to the RM 22. Collected by Greg Welling (22) attacked beating 3 or 4 defenders before being tackled inside the Air Arm half, ruck, with quick ball moved left but forced into touch by the FAA defence. Winning the lineout the airmen kick through into the Marine 22 where Glidden again ran from deep towards his forwards, taken down by the airmen, ruck formed but the Marines went off their feet and were penalised. The airmen found touch just the 22, the lineout won by (16) Sam Skinner, and driven on in the forwards, gaining ground slowly after 3-4 rucks before being turned over illegally by RM. Penalty, converted by Sam Carter – All square after 28minutes - RM 6 – FAA 6.

With the ball taken by Second-row (5) Hayden Wilkinson, taking contact to form a ruck and enabling the airman to kick high into the sky landing on the halfway where the Marine defender knocked-on, scrum, won by Air Arm and moving   across the backs, Carter to Rutter to Inside-centre (12) Grant Thirlby who was tackled, RM penalised at the ruck. Kicked to touch in the RM 22, lineout won cleanly by Wilkinson, feeding Carter close to the 5 mtr line before passing to Rutter supported by his forwards picking and driving but was turned over allowing the Marines to clear to touch just inside their half. Taken again by Wilkinson and driven by the forwards, but the imposing figure of Vakalutukali was able to turn the ball over Marines and attack around the fringe of the ruck, tackled and not released by the airmen - Penalty to RM. Kick to touch, lineout won, ball quickly passed by Burgess to Huntley who finds touch inside the airman’s 22. The airmen fail to form-up, RM awarded a free-kick and drive through the centre, driving deep into the 22. With increasing Marine pressure Burgess fed Huntley who passed to Winger (14) Callum Southgate to score under the posts with the conversion secured by Huntley. RM 13 – FAA 6 – 38 minutes played.

Half time score – RM 13 – FAA 6.
Whilst the Royal Marines had more possession and opportunities, both teams tried to play open and fast rugby but were unable to assert their authority on the match, cut out errors or retain the ball long enough to impose their game on the opposition to make it count – all still up for grabs!! 

Second half. With the FAA still kicking long into the Marines 22 at restarts, Burgess was able to catch and dispatch the ball to touch back on the halfway line, the Air Arm winning the lineout and with Carter spinning the ball right to Fly-half Rutter who was tackled illegally, penalty to airmen, failing to find touch, Burgess collecting the ball in the RM half, passed to Bridgen who fed Welling to drive into the belly of the Air Arm defence, creating a ruck for Burgess to again attack the defensive line. With the FAA offside and a quick penalty by Burgess the attack continued across the backs before petering out. With the Fleet Air Arm under pressure in the first few minutes of the half they regrouped, through the forwards with second-rowers (4) Ben Watson and Wilkinson to the fore in the loose, reinforced by the front row trio of (1) Will Napier, (2) Connor Bick and (3) Joe Burton, who together created good quick ball for the backrow to exploit around the fringes. With the Airmen in the ascendency and against the run of play the Marines after winning a lineout, broke out of their half with Burgess and Huntley combining well before (17) Laws took contact, ruck formed, recycled – into contact on the 5 mtr line, RM forward drive before Burgess passed to Huntley for him to execute an excellent long pass to the waiting backrow forward (7) Rory Bonnick to score in the corner. Conversion missed. RM 18 – FAA 6 – 48 minutes played.

With the game moving away from them the Airmen needed some points and quickly. With new urgency and vigour the Air Arm applied pressure in the loose, turning the ball over, winning lineouts where Wilkinson was superb, cleanly catching the ball and feeding Carter to attack the Marines in the centre of the field, gaining ground and camping inside the 22, recycling time and again. Something had to give, on 58 minutes and winning a scrum on the Marines 5 mtr line, the airmen in unison drove Prop (3) Joe Burton over the line to score the FAA first try, converted by Carter. RM 18 – FAA 13 after 58 minutes.

Resuming where they left off the Airmen pressurised the Marine defence. With Burgess replaced at scrumhalf by Bridgen moving from the centre the Marine defensive set piece and work in the loose remained strong with both Bridgen and Huntley putting kicks in to relieve their line, causing the Air Arm start attacks from deep in their own half, keeping the ball tight and taking advantage of some poor tackling to progress into the 22. With both sides trying to take control of what had become a scrappy period of play, played predominantly inside the Marine 22, with numerous basic errors from both sides eventually the Airmen were awarded a kickable penalty for a high tackle. Kicked by Carter. RM 18 – FAA 16. 

Game on 10 minutes to play (70 minutes played) - Game on!!!
With all to play for both teams, tiring and with the benches emptied engaged in combat for the final push, back and forth with both side creating some forward momentum only to be called back for an infringement, until the Marines were awarded a penalty, quickly taken, Air Arm backrow forward (7) Jack Grady couldn’t resist tackling the ball carrier within 10 metres – Yellow card with 6 minutes to play. 

Down to 14 players the Airmen were under the cosh when Huntley kicked to touch on the 5 mtr line, lineout successfully taken by (18) Scott and driven by supporting forwards over the line for Second-row (4) Martin to score. With the conversion successful by Huntley the FAA needed at least two scores to win. RM 25 – FAA 16 – 4 minutes to play. With the game won both sides continued to attack when in possession, and still keeping the referee busy with errors, it was the Marines with last move of the game turning the ball over in the FAA half leaving (20) Warwick to score the final try in the corner, again converted by Huntley. RM 32 – FAA 16.

The Royal Marines were the better side on the night, the score line slightly flattered them at the end. The players from both sides should be proud of their achievements, whilst there was plenty of errors, there was even more endeavour, courage, team work and effort. This game was very well worth the Burnaby Road admission price!! 

With the RN Senior XV coaches watching I expect to see some old and new faces in the squad.

Royal Marine Team
1. Mne J Lewis, 2. Sgt M Stevens, 3. LCpl Aaron Wilman, 4. Lt J Martin, 5. Mne J Staniforth, 6. Cpl C Pulman, 7.LCpl R Bonnick, 8. Mne Ratu Vakalutukali, 9. Bug N Burgess, 10. LCpl N Huntley, 11. LCpl T Gobey, 12. Cpl Kyp Bridgen (Capt), 13. Mne K Baker, 14. Mne Callum Southgate, 15. Mne H Gliddon, 16. Mne A Peterson, 17. Cpl B Laws, 18. Mne Will Scott, 19. Mne B Clarke, 20. Cpl M Warwick, 21. Mne J Fowler 22. LCpl G Welling, 23. CSgt G Evans.

TSG – Team Manager – Cpl C Pulman, Head coach - Capt O Mason, Coaches, Cpl D Fairbrother, LCpl N Huntley

Fleet Air Arm Team
1. AET Will Napier 2. AET Connor Bick 3. Lt Joe Burton 4. NA(AH) Ben Watson 5. AET Hayden Wilkinson 6. AET Alex Kyle 7. LAET Jack Grady 8. NA(SE) Taff Holland 9. LAET Sam Carter (Capt) 10. AET Dan Rutter 11. LAET Matt Horton 12. AET Grant Thirlby 13. AET Chris Mills 14. AET Jerome Rudder 15. NA(AH) Brad Watson 16. NA(AH) Sam Skinner 17. AET Chris Warner 18. LA(AH) Ethan Barnaschone 19. LAET John Followell 20. AET Ryan Cox 21. AET Josh Belcher 22. AET Matt Holland.

TSG - Head Coach – LAET John Lamsin, Asst Coach – AET J Gott. Physio Miss Helen Andrews.

Match officials
Referee – Lt Col Tom Evans-Jones RM, Assistants – Lt Cdr Tim Bailey RN, Cdr Del McKnight RN and WO1 Bruno Brunning.

Words: Tommy Atkins
Images: Royal Navy Rugby Union © Keith Woodland