Jekyll and Hyde from Mariners
Two soft tries conceded in the first half ultimately decided the game in Havant’s favour but for the Mariners their play during the second half provided a template for the future. Though they only managed one try in a sustained period of pressure they proved that they have some serious firepower in a back line that looks dangerous with ball in hand.
Both sides took a while to settle in to the game. Unforced errors or over eagerness at the tackle led to a number of scrums and penalties with the game struggling to get out of second gear. In the opening quarter there was one excellent break from flanker Will Jerrold but it came to nothing when his final off load drifted forward. When Havant had possession they looked dangerous with fly half John Middleton orchestrating their play. Too often the Mariners fell off the tackle and allowed Havant to get over the gain line.
With neither side creating more than half chances it always looked likely that the first score would come from a penalty. The Mariners had declined two kickable opportunities but Havant took theirs, with a Middleton penalty giving them a three point lead. This certainly gave Havant a lift and they produced a little continuity to put the Mariners under pressure in the second quarter. However even they would have been surprised at how they were gifted their two tries.
The first came at a Mariners scrum. With the ball won and the pack comfortable, number 8 Milford lost control at the base and the ball sat outside for an age before the Havant scrum half picked it up and headed for the goal line. Two passes to support runners and their number 8 John Barfoot crossed for the opening try. Shortly after the Mariners conceded a penalty at the tackle and allowed Havant to kick deep for the lineout. With ball secured the Mariners stood off in defence and a simple loop around, along with a missed tackle in midfield created the gap for centre Steve Stapleton to run in unopposed. With Middleton converting a penalty Havant had a flattering 13-0 lead at half time.
Whatever was said at half time in the Mariners changing room certainly worked. With Max Boyce on at centre and Jamie Phillips moved to the wing there was suddenly much more bite to the Mariners play. Direct, powerful running started to open the Havant defence and was certainly more fruitful than some of the kicking options of the first half. Max Laliano cajoled the forwards, keeping Paul Clark at half back supplied with good ball. Clarke showed great variation as he brought his centres in to the game with both Boyce and the impressive Dean Fenton running good lines. When Havant did get the ball the Mariners much improved line speed in defence often forced the kick where Russ Sayer, the Mariners fullback, was eagerly waiting to run the ball back.
Twice the Mariners created gilt edged scoring opportunities to open their account only for the last pass to be knocked on, but at least they were creating the chances and they were making Havant look ragged in defence. During this period both Guy Pallett and Will Jerrold’s work rate in the backrow was impressive and they regularly provided the link to keep the moves flowing.
The Mariners try, when it came, was worth the wait. Replacement prop, Milky Lister, started it with a quick throw at the lineout. Clark and Fenton combined with Phillips cutting the angle from the wing to open up the defence. Aiden Riley carried the ball on and the Mariners were 5m out. This time they didn’t waste the chance through a knock on but kept battering the Havant defence who conceded penalties with regularity that might have resulted in a second yellow card, their winger having already been despatched for a swinging arm. It mattered not because with Havant unable to lift the Mariners siege blockade it eventually fell for Dixie Dean to crash over from a quickly taken penalty. Fenton added the conversion and the Mariners were back in the game.
Immediately from the restart the Mariners were on the offensive and looking for their second score. The penalties were still being conceded thick and fast by Havant and after hitting the post with one attempt Dean Fenton landed his second barely two minutes later. One score behind and with Havant rattled, what had seemed a distant dream, namely a Mariners win, looked far more likely. However, just when they needed a clean exit from the restart they were caught not moving at the tackle and the resultant penalty allowed Middleton to again push the lead out to six points.
The last few minutes of the game proved to be a stalemate between two sides, who in the second half in particular, had contributed to an enthralling match. The Mariners showed in the second half that when they trust themselves with the ball in hand they look dangerous and will pose any team problems. Some of the errors in the first half in particular were probably due to integrating a number of new players but the Mariners should approach the rest of their season with optimism as they prepare for their opening Inter Services match against the RAF Vultures. The final score was 16-10 to Havant but the Mariners probably took more positives from the game than negatives in what was a very Jekyll and Hyde performance.
Mariners Team: Dean, England, Valentine, Riley, Watkins, Jerrold, Pallet, Milford, Laliano, Clarke, Stokes, Fentum, Phillips, Holmes, Sayer
Replacements: Lister, Rule, Dash, Campbell-Baldwin, Boyce, McBeath, Hillan, Ibbotson
Alligin Photography / © Geraint Ashton Jones