Mariners set course for Inter Service championship
It was a blazing hot day when the Royal Navy Mariners and the Royal Air Force Vultures took to the pitch at Kneller Hall for the 2018 Inter Service clash. At the end of the 80 minutes it was the Royal Navy side that were victorious, winning 38 - 10.
The first points of the match were scored by the RAF who were determined to start the match as they meant to go on. With pace and aggression they stormed into the Navy half but the Mariners defended well and repelled the Vultures. The points came from a penalty which was cleanly kicked between the posts by the fly half.
Now it was the turn of the Royal Navy. Quickly fighting back they took the game to the RAF from the re-start. Working through the phases they began to put the Vultures under pressure and after a couple of probing attacks, centre Ollie James went over for the first Mariners' try, which was swiftly converted by Paul Saberton. It wasn't long before the Mariners got possession again; this time the ball was passed out wide into the steady hands of Dane Smallbone who found a gap in the RAF defence to touch down in the corner with the second try of the match to extend the Mariners' lead 12 - 3.
The next twenty minutes or so the sides were fairly evenly balanced. First one side and then the other gained possession. A sustained period of RAF pressure was successfully defended by the Mariners however a yellow card was awarded for repeated offside infringement which saw the Navy team down to 14 men. This didn’t stop the men in the dark blue from adding to their points tally. As soon as they gained possession, the Mariners worked through the phases and after several pick and gos the ball was in the safe hands of Mortensen who powered over the line for the Mariners’ third try, which Saberton successfully converted Mariners 19 – 3 Vultures.
The Mariners dominated the remainder of the half and following some excellent work by the experienced pack, it was in stoppage time that new Mariner, Jojo Volaisaya, thundered over the try line for the Mariners fourth try, and as the half time whistle blew the Mariners had the lead 26 – 3.
The break was the opportunity for the players to seek the shade, re-hydrate and wipe the mix of sweat and sun protection cream from their eyes in preparation for another demanding 40 minutes. Confident that their players had the stamina to continue there were no changes to the Mariners line up as they returned to the pitch.
The opening ten minutes of the second half again saw the teams evenly matched. The brief respite out of the sun had allowed the players to recuperate and they were able to stick to their game plans. It was the RAF Vultures who broke through the opposition defence first. The seemingly impenetrable Mariners’ defence momentarily crumbled in the face of repeated attacks from the Vultures and they scored their first try of the game to narrow the scores to Mariners 26 – 10 Vultures. A second yellow card was also awarded against the Mariners. Would the RAF be able to capitalise on the situation?
Despite being a man down the Navy team held fast. A few sets of fresh legs arrived, Matt Smith replaced Paul Mortensen, and later John Moult replaced John Court in the front row. This had been the opportunity for the Vultures to get back in the game but as the clock ticked by Dane Smallbone’s time in the sin bin was over and the Mariners were determined to get the game out of the reach of the opposition.
And this they did in short order. The replacements integrated quickly and after some superb co-ordination between the forwards and the backs, the ball was worked to Ollie James who leapt over the line for his second try and after Saberton kicked successfully the score was Mariners 31 – 10 Vultures. With ten minutes left to play the Royal Navy supporters were starting to think of victory.
Unsurprisingly the heat was now beginning to take its toll, and several replacements were made by both sides. England, Pollard, Lockey, Dugmore, Melhuish and Mardle replaced Jones, Thompson, Sullivan, Lister, Saberton and Smallbone. These players were keen to get a part of the action and play continued to be exciting and expansive. However the Mariners were able to keep the Vultures at bay, the resolute defence ably repelling any hint of an RAF attack. The final replacement was made when Mardle replaced Smallbone.
With five minutes left the Mariners had a final period of sustained pressure, camped deep in the Vultures’ danger zone. Their patience and effort were rewarded as Ollie James found a gap out on the right wing to seal the match for the Navy as he touched down for his third try of the match. Final score 38 – 10.
The Mariners should be rightfully proud of their performance, reversing the picture from the 2017 Vultures v Mariners match. Great teamwork, dedication and outstanding leadership have really turned around the fortunes of the Mariners this season. Team captain Chris Thompson led his team impeccably, earning his cap after making his qualifying number of representative appearances for the Mariners. He was ably supported by the previous Senior XV experience of Marsh Cormack, John Court and John Lamsin in the pack and Andy Vance and Dane Smallbone in the backs. And let’ s not forget the Training Support Group, including head coach Paul Clarke, and Team Manager Andy Holmes, assisted by Guy Pallett and Physio Mickila O’Boyle.
The Mariners are now looking forward to their final encounter of the season, on Saturday 5th May when they return to Knelller Hall to take on the Army Masters to find out who will be crowned Inter Service Veterans Champions 2018.
1. K Lister, 2. R Jones, 3. J Court, 4. J Lamsin, 5. M Cormack, 6. P Mortensen, 7. J Volaisaya, 8. C Thompson, 9. P Saberton, 10. D Smallbone, 11. D Fentum, 12. A Sullivan, 13. O James, 14. T Boyce, 15. A Vance Replacements 16. R England, 17. J Moult, 18. O Dugmore, 19. M Pollard, 20. M Smith, 21. J Melhuish, 22. D Lockey, 23. B Mardle
Images: Royal Navy Rugby Union © Keith Woodland