Lessons to learn in Oxford
RN Senior XV
Oxford University RFC
Their first match of the season wasn't perhaps quite the success the Royal Navy Senior XV were looking for but there were certainly plenty of lessons to be learnt following the match against the Oxford Blues at Iffley Road. Travelling to Oxford only a few days after the start of their training camp, they came up short against the youth and cohesiveness of the Blues squad, going down 22 - 17, but it was an exciting match to watch and all players got a run out.
It was a cold, crisp evening with the home side wearing their traditional dark blue strip so the Navy team turned out in white shirts for the occasion. Starting strongly, Jon Humphrey put the first points in the board for the visitors after a penalty was awarded against Oxford in the scrum, 0 - 3. This created a stir in the Oxford side and they responded strongly, playing some quick ball amongst the backs, resulting in an overlap on the wing to score in the corner. Amazingly, the very difficult conversion kick managed to hit the bar but bounced back to fall in front of the posts. Oxford took the lead 5 - 3. From the restart Oxford gained possession, working their way into the Navy territory. Keeping the pressure on, the home side forced the Navy to defend hard as they repelled the students time and again. A couple of times the Navy managed to clear the ball from their own 22 but it wasn't long before the students regained possession and were attacking again.
The second Oxford try was a repeat of the first as the students managed to find the space to play some running rugby, passing the ball out wide to the winger who flew over the line to make the score 10 - 3. The next ten minutes saw The Blues with the majority of the possession, but this time in their own half. On the brief occasions the Navy side had the ball they failed to make the most of it. Eventually working their way up the field the home side reached the Navy 5 yard line. Dogged persistence was rewarded with a third try, this one scored by prop, Hugo Lu, 15 - 3.
The remainder of the second quarter continued in a similar vein but without a further score until the Navy gained the ball and after several phases of play inside the Oxford 22 it arrived in the hands of Matt Bowden who found a gap in the Oxford defence to cross the line for the first Navy try of the evening, which was expertly converted by Jon Humphrey. The half time whistle blew with the gap narrowed to 15 - 10.
The Navy made a few changes at half time with Owen and Basher replacing Kyle Mason and Eldon Myers. From the restart the Navy seemed much improved, definitely on the attack but despite most of the possession and being camped in the Oxford half they couldn't add to the score. More changes followed; Rhys Dimmock-Williams came on at fullback, Greg Loydall came off and Jon Humphrey pushed up to fly half; Gareth Rees was replaced by John Stephen, Staniforth came on for Olly Mason. Still there was no breakthrough for the Navy.
Then the tide turned in Oxford's direction. Quick passing and some fast running by Oxford replacement Dan Barley gave the Blues their fourth try of the night and their first successful conversion made the scoreline 22 - 10. More changes to the Navy side saw Tom Hughes on for Ben Priddey, and Kava and Buinimasi replaced Cooper and Davies.
The final quarter of the match went more of the Navy's way. Play was on occasion a little scrappy but there was still time to level the score. A kick from Humphrey gained some territory and from the resulting lineout the Navy gained further yards. Oxford were on the back foot but defended well. However they could not maintain their discipline and after sustained Navy attack conceded a penalty try and their team captain received a yellow card! Humphrey's kick soared between the posts and the Navy closed the gap 22 - 17. With about 10 minutes left to play, and Oxford down to 14 men, there was still all to play for. However despite a few chances, the Senior XV couldn't make it over the line. Oxford were determined to hold on to their lead and worked hard to keep it. After several minutes of injury time, during which the Navy edged ever closer to the Oxford try line, Oxford gained position and kicked to touch, scoring a deserved win 22 - 17.
The students had used their match fitness and home advantage to dominate the game, and the Navy never got the chance to take control and play their own style of rugby. After the match, Head Coach, Ash Coates and Assistant Director of Rugby, Scott Ashley, compared notes. In general, they were pleased with the performance of their team and had plenty to take back to Fort Blockhouse to work on, ahead of their next match away against Cambridge University, Grange Road, Cambridge on Wednesday 15 February KO 1930.
Team List: K Mason, Priddey (C), Robinson, Pascoe, O Mason, Fox, Trehan, Cooper, Rees, Loydall, Bowden, Davies, Myers, Chambers, Humphrey.
Replacements: Hughes, Owen, Warner, Staniforth, Harvey, Stephen, Basher, Dimmock-Williams, Kava, Buinimasi.
Images Royal Navy Rugby Union © John Walton