Masterful Mariners Soar to Inter Service Title
Having clipped the wings of the Royal Air Force Vultures last month it was the Army Masters who were put to the sword at Kneller Hall. The 20-15 score was in many ways equally as impressive as the earlier win at RAF Halton. First half pressure was not reflected on the scoreboard and despite the Masters regaining the lead the Mariners held their composure to close out the match for a Championship winning 20-15 victory.
It was the Army who took the lead through their livewire scrum half Slade-Jones who evaded the Mariners cover defence to stretch out for the try in the right corner. With the conversion missed the Mariners found themselves 5-0 down but unconcerned. For the rest of the half they systematically set about imposing their game upon the defending champions.
With Chris ‘ Sumo’ Thompson leading from the front the Mariners pack were regularly punching great holes in the Masters’ defence and Paul Clark, at flyhalf, was able to bring his centres of Jamie Phillips and Max Boyce in to the game on the front foot. Constantly under pressure the Army Masters were forced to concede penalties and it was no surprise that Clark was able to ease the Mariners in to a slim lead 6-5 through two kicks at goal.
The Mariners cause in the first had been helped by the sin binning of the Army’s Matt France. However they were clearly the better side and a little loss of composure, and to be fair good Army scramble defence, was the only reason why they were not further ahead. The only question was whether they could close out the match or would the demons of previous seasons return?
The Mariners came out of the blocks the quicker at the start of the second half, assisted with a slight wind on their backs. Their early pressure and enterprising played was quickly reported when fullback Russ Sayer was able to dart through the gap for a Mariners try. Paul Clark landed the conversion and the Mariners at a little breathing space at 13-5 in front.
With their backs to the wall the Army Masters now began to through caution to the wind. With the game becoming more loose this seemed to suit their play and their began to show why they were defending champions. First a penalty brought them back to 13-8 before Tomasi Turaqabeci was driven over from close range. With the conversion the Army were back in front 15-13 and were the Mariners about to let another Inter Services Championship slip by?
Though they were behind on the scoreboard the Mariners had not lost their composure nor their belief. Their response to the setback was to tighten their game and go back to what they did well. They lifted the tempo and returned to their simple but well executed game plan. The forwards started running hard in to the heart of the Masters defence with the backs providing the variety when required. Sam Halofaki, on the left wing and winning his Mariners cap, began to find more space for his elusive running and soon it was the Mariners who were exerting the pressure once more.
With pressure come penalties and these allowed Paul Clark to dictate field position. A kick to the corner resulted in a short range lineout with the ball secured and the maul formed. Composed, compact and in control the Mariners pack squeezed towards the Army goal line. The backs joined the maul, it goes to ground and the referee is under the posts for the penalty try. A collective try to close an Inter Service campaign that had been defined by the Mariners team play was an appropriate closing curtain on their season. A 20-15 win but more importantly a first Inter Service Championship since the inaugural tournament twenty years earlier.
All that was left was for skipper Jamie Phillips to receive the trophy in his last game in a Navy shirt and the celebrations to start. He also received his Mariners cap along with Halofaki and the long serving Mariner Paddy Gore. There will no doubt be a number of changes to the side next year but the Mariners have a nucleus of players that bode well for the future. Bring on 2016.
Royal Navy Mariners: K Lister, J Taubale, J Court, M Pollard, A Riley, G Pallet, W Jerrold, C Thompson, W Dawson, P Clark, L Daku, J Phillips (Capt), M Boyce, S Halofaki, R Sayer
Reps: J Brown, W Rees, B Milford, T Matanabatu, M Fidock, D Fentum, P Clark, C Gore
Images Alligin Photography / © Geraint Ashton Jones & © Lee Crabb