More Dr Jekyll, Less Mr Hyde
For the first twenty five minutes of their opening 2014 Inter Service match, the Mariners produced a brand of rugby that was full of intensity, movement, support play and continuity. For the next fifty five they fail to deliver on this early promise, although they continued strong in defence. The Mariners deserved their 27-15 win because of their opening play. However as they now look towards Kneller Hall, they need to make sure that Mr Hyde is not available to travel.
Unlike the RAF v Army veterans match last week, the game started in a bright fashion with both sides looking to move the ball and probe each other’s defences. An early penalty conceded for side entry by the Mariners allowed Smailes an easy kick at goal to open the scoring. From then on the Mariners took control.
It started with a turnover ball by Dom O’Connor in the lineout and suddenly the Mariners game clicked in to place. Quick ball at the tackle saw Chuck Norris breach the Air Force defence. Though he couldn’t make the line Laidler was on hand to score the first Mariner try. Paddy Gore pushed the conversion wide but the Mariners had a slender 5-3 lead.
From the restart Navy flyhalf Dave Sibson started to use the wind to good effect. He deployed his full range of tricks and kicks to keep the RAF defence guessing and the Navy pack on the front foot. With the lineout and scrum both functioning, Fidock at scrum half, was getting all the possession he could desire and started probing the edges of the ruck. It wasn’t long before Navy skipper saw a chink in the defence and burst through the gap for the Mariner’s second try. Paddy landed the conversion for a 12-3 lead.
Phillips quickly doubled his try count when from the restart Sibson found a touch 5m out, from the resulting line out, the RN stole the ball, and with the RAF defence in disarray, Phillips scored his brace of tries. Again Gore was unsuccessful with the kick but the lead was a healthy 19-3; the Mariners had the wind in their sales and were about to go for the jugular.
The home crowd did not have to wait long for the fourth try and it was fitting that it was one of the pack that scored it. Their work rate had been immense both with the ball and in defence. Having made a try saving steal of the ball in the tackle, just 15m from his own line, Dom O’Connor found himself wide out of the right with the line beckoning as the Mariners swept down field. He made no mistake. The Mariners had their fourth try and even though the conversion was missed it seemed an unassailable lead 24 – 3.
Whether it was a lack of concentration or not but the fourth try signalled the end of the Mariner’s purple patch of excellent rugby. They allowed the RAF to come back at them and their old habits of earlier in the season crept back in to their game. Too many penalties conceded at the breakdown gave the RAF a monopoly of possession and they put the Mariners under the severest pressure. A deliberate knock-on from fullback Gore on thirty minutes saw the first of the Navy’s three Yellow Cards, eight minutes later he was joined by Sibson whose offside play saved a certain try as ‘he took one for the team’. The ill discipline aside some of the defence just before half time was immense and if the Mariners are able to keep the good in their defence without the high error count then they will prove a difficult team to break down.
It was the RAF who started the second half the better and they clawed some of the Navy’s lead back when after ten minutes their right wing Sabella stepped in side and crossed under the posts leaving Smailes with an easy conversion. 24 – 10 with half an hour to go.
The game now lost its early spark as both sides tired. Much of the game was played between the two twenty twos with unforced errors creeping in to both teams play. On one of the Mariner’s rare visits in to the RAF twenty two they were able to exert enough pressure to win a penalty of their own. Gore landed the penalty and with fifteen minutes to go the RAF needed three scores to win.
It was to prove a step too far. Despite a second try through Willmott and Mariner’s Holdroyd becoming the third Navy player dispatched to the sin bin the Navy held on for the victory 27 – 15. They deserve their victory and will rightly celebrate their win. However as Paul Clark, the Navy Coach, looks forward to the Army Masters he knows there is still much work to be done. The team took a massive step forward in their play and demonstrated that they can be contenders for an illusive Inter Service crown. The equation is simple; reproduce the first twenty five minutes for longer at Kneller Hall, keep the scramble defence from the last fifty five minutes and trust in this defence without the need to give away penalties at the tackle. It must be more Dr Jekyll and a determined desire to banish Mr Hyde.
The Royal Navy Mariners next match is at 10:30 Kneller Hall on Army Navy day, 3 May 2014. Entry with an Army Navy match ticket.
Royal Navy Mariners: J Chennoeur, J Holroyd, J Court *, D O’Connor *, J Doney *, P Laidler, P Wood, L Norris, M Fidock, D Sibson *, S Halofaki, J Phillips *, D Smith, M Laliano, C Gore * Reps: J Brown, W Rees, A Riley, T Matanatabu, I Jenkins, J Oliver, P Clark *
Royal Air Force Vultures: A Hill, J Atthews, R Mathais, T Down, S Bloomer, M Cornish, R Billing, D Carey, C Farrington, A Smailes, G Willmott, I Rasiga, S McMinn, R Sabella, R MClaren Reps: M Aspinal, G Veall, J Steel, C Lewis, M Silva, K Brockless, D Cox
Referee: I Bibby (ARURS)
Images by Alligin Photography / © Geraint Ashton Jones © Lee Crabb