Mariners Turn the Screw with the Final Play
HM Prison Service
An agonising final period of play at Burnaby Road turned to euphoria as Fentum sent over the match-winning penalty for the Mariners to take tentative steps towards the finale of the season, the Inter Service competition, having just beaten a determined Her Majesty's Prison Service XV 15 – 13.
In quickly deteriorating conditions the Mariners experienced the worst possible start to a match; a knock on from kick off allowed HMPS their first taste of the red zone, an area of the field they became far too familiar with in the first half. Both sides suffered from the greasy ball but it was HMPS who mishandled first. In the scrum the packs were fiercely competitive with both sides standing their ground.
Following the solid Navy scrum, the ball was cleared by Smallbone up the field but only as far as the 10m line. Again the Prison Service made strong in-roads into Navy territory. A litany of penalties at the breakdown occurred; followed by kicks to touch with the lineouts dominated by the team in possession. A wind-assisted clearance arrived with Prison Service fullback Horne the other side of half way. Making the kick chase look very ordinary and disorganised, he seared through the gaps and attacked wide on the left. With only Mariners’ wing Daku to beat, the pass to Patterson was judged forward. Concerns over the homeside's defence were never more so keenly felt due to the speed and agility of the visitors' back three.
At the end of the first quarter with the match tied at nil-nil, the Mariners finally woke up and broke down the blind side following strong running from Stokes, Mortenson and Hillman in the loose. Failing to roll away at the breakdown gave the Mariners their first prolonged exposure to HMPS’s half. This time with the elements in their favour Smallbone opted to kick a long-range penalty attempt, missing by the smallest margin. Noting the wind strength the Prison Service were to use it to their advantage in the second half, adapting well to the conditions.
Of concern was the penalty count mounting up against the Royal Navy (9 in the first half alone). More pressure by the Prison Service led to one such penalty. With head into wind they opted for an attacking line out following a kick to touch with Mansfield taking quick ball off the top from Lorimer. Showing intent in the tight they drove hard to the line, attacking the fringes and testing the Mariners’ guards. Crossing the line, the Navy was sufficiently combative to squeeze players under the ball with Lister doing just enough to spoil.
The Prison Service richly deserved the first score due to their higher territorial and possession percentages. Thirty minutes had elapsed and all the game had to show for it was 5 solitary points. A more controlled restart for the Mariners with Matt Smith taking the ball and with the trademark charge up the middle led to a good sequence of play up to the Prison Service 22. Sustained pressure was let down by handling – it was not a good half to be in the backs! Adding insult to injury was a yellow card for Daku who bore the brunt of the referee's frustration over the high penalty count.
Perhaps against the run of play and with a player down, the Royal Navy equalised from a solid scrum set-piece. Inside the opposition 22, No. 8, Bainitabaua picked from the back and with Sayer running an option out wide, Dawson ran a subtle line inside and with the defence scrabbling to get back, dived over to score under the posts. Smallbone converted to end the half with a 2 point advantage to the Mariners, 7 - 5.
On came the cavalry for the second half including former Cossack Sword Winner Cormack. The Team Management were keen to give everyone a run-out and the opportunity to put their hands up for Inter Service selection. One of the Prison Service danger men, right wing, Davenport broke through four tackles before being brought down by a high tackle. Mapletoft kicked, for the lead to swing back the other way. 7 - 8. 5 short minutes later, HMPS extended their lead in a mirror image try to Dawson’s though this time the conversion was missed, extending the Prison Service lead 7 - 13.
Looking to capitalise on the wind advantage in the second half, promising field position for the Prison Service was denied by the direct running from Vallender and Matt Smith. Stray kicks were seized upon and 2015/16 Mariners’ Player of the Season, Royal Marine Sayer, returned the ball with interest from deep, breaking through tackles while taking the play into the opposition 22. An infringement presented an eminently kickable penalty for Mardle which was not converted. A further straight-forward penalty kick was also missed causing much consternation and anxiety for the watching Team Management.
Ill-discipline continued to hamper progress, with an early engage penalised with a free kick which was walked back 10 metres after some frustration was let out! The final roll of the dice as the last of the changes was called. Could these fresh legs make the difference?
Quite simply – yes! The Royal Navy began to exert sustained pressure leading to a number of line-outs leap-frogging up into the opposition half. Quick ball supplied by Riley at line-out, a line break from centre, Vallender, and surging support line from Wilcox got the Mariners back into game with a great try but still left them trailing by one point, 12 - 13.
A composed Mariners’ team at last began to dominate and it was now their opportunity to camp out in the opposition 22. Playing the simple effective rugby suited to conditions was at last executed. The constant pressure finally overwhelmed HMPS as the referee was forced to take action after losing patience following a series of infringements by the Prison Service; they were down to 14 men for the remainder of the match.
Having already missed two penalties, and following a sustained period of Navy possession, another penalty was awarded, which would be enough to clinch the win if successful, this time slap bang in front of posts. Up stepped the Mariners’ third kicker of the evening and with the clock in the red and 80 minutes gone, Fentum placed the ball and with the surety of last season’s accuracy saved the Mariners’ blushes. Final score Royal Navy Mariners 15 - 13 HM Prison Service.
After the game team captain Mortenson said of the teams’ progress, “We showed composure under pressure especially towards the end of the game. Our strength in depth is clear by the number of subs we made and we continued to play our systems and push a very organised and fit Prison Service team.”
The Mariners’ next fixture will be played at HMS COLLINGWOOD v Havant Veterans, 8 Mar 17, KO at 1900. Spectators are welcome.
Mariners: Lister, White, Cowie; Smith M, Mortenson (C); Hillman, Stokes, Bainitabaua; Melhuish, Smallbone; Daku (Yellow 34), Satala, Boyce, Peel, Campbell-Baldwin.
Replacements: Cozens, England, Geldard, Cormack, Riley, Wilcox (Try 59), Bond, Dawson (Try 39 – Conv = Smallbone), Mardle, Vallender, Fentum (Penalty 80), Sayer, Croft, Smith J, Laliono.
Officials (Royal Navy): Simon Aldridge (Referee), David Martin and Raeburn (Assistant Referees)
HMPS: Darby, Griffiths, Barba; Tucker, McCarten; Lorimer, Hassan, Morris; Mansfield, Mapletoft; Patterson, Peel, Bluck, Davenport, Horne.
Replacements: Stanyon, Griffin, Spiller.
Management: Ash Thomas, Andy Herlihy, Kev Hallam.
Words by J Campbell-Baldwin and T Westwood
Images by RNRU ©Keith Woodland