Much Improved U23s Run Havant Close
Much changed but also much improved, the Royal Navy U23XV produced a much more impressive performance than their first match on Sunday and were unlucky not to record their first win of the season. The Royal Navy took the field in US Portsmouth kit after Havant arrived with a Navy strip rather than the blue and white hoops that had been agreed. However they settled quickly and produced some excellent rugby in an opening half hour that regularly stretched a much bigger Havant team. It was only through the number of changes, in the second half, that they lost some of their cohesion and Havant were able to score late on to secure a narrow two point victory.
Skipper Mark Dowds, playing in his preferred position of blindside flanker will have been pleased with both his own performance and that of the team in the opening half hour of a closely fought encounter against Havant. Aggressive in the tackle, with a secure set piece and some impressive counter attacking the Royal Navy U23s had clearly lifted they game by a couple of notches from Sunday.
The opening try was a collective effort when from a lineout close to the Havant goal line; the forwards produced an effective maul with Dan Mason driving over for the five points. Greg Loydall was unable to convert. Despite Havant managing a similar score of their own, this time converted, the Royal Navy were shading all the exchanges and providing simple but effective rugby that was proving a handful for the Havant defence.
With ball in hand they displayed a precision that had been absent on Sunday and were able to threaten from close range through the forwards or from deep through a backline that was regularly bringing the back three in to play. It was only a matter of time before they would surely score their second try and when it did come it was worth waiting for. The forwards had set the platform and taken the ball up through some good interplay along the left touchline. Greg Loydall called for the play to be switched open and John Menday linked with Rhys Dimmock-Williams wider out. With the cover defence having been dragged across Dimmock-Williams freed his arms for a deft inside offload where Greg Loydall was on hand to cross for the try. He was unable to add the extra points but it was enough for the Navy to have restored their lead, 10-7.
With ten minutes of the half left they should have added a third. Both Rory Penfold and Lewis Cooper on the wings were enjoying a lot of ball and making strong runs. However as the half drew to a close the Navy lost a little of their shape, the intensity dropped a fraction and the timing of the pass fell away. Instead of going for the jugular and possibly killing off what was always looking like a tight game the Navy allowed Havant to hold out, preventing the third score before half time.
The second half proved very different from the first. With the Navy making a number of changes to look at all their combinations the match became fragmented. The home side also came under pressure in the scrum and lost the security of their lineout that they had enjoyed in the first half. Denied their first phase platform they had to absorb a great deal of Havant pressure that was gradually wearing down the smaller Navy pack. That it took Havant so long to get their second try was a testament to the Navy’s defence where try scorer Mason was proving to be particularly effective.
With the try coming just before full time the Royal Navy had little time to respond. Though they will naturally be disappointed by the 12-10 defeat the game provided a great deal of clarity as they seek to build their Inter Service side. Taken together, the two games, against Hampshire and Havant have provided a solid base from which they can build towards the next double header in a couple of weeks. Ealing and Chichester are sure to provide stern tests but after tonight’s match the Royal Navy U23s should be looking forward to them as they will now seek to bed down a more settled team ready for the challenge of the RAF on 11 November.
Royal Navy U23 XV v Havant:
Chris Robinson, Isaac, Sam Norton, Alex Cragg, Dan Mason, Mark Dowds (C), Gavin Elsam, Ben Roberts, Dan Holbrook, Greg Loydall, Rory Penfold, Harry Bates, John Menday, Luke Cooper, Rhys Dimmock-Williams
Nathan Trower for Alex Cragg, Ben Bolman for Mark Dowds, Apenisa Daunibau for Rory Penfold, Lewis Cronin for Harry Bates, James Griggs for Jake Menday, Luke Warrington for Luke Cooper, Sam Mitchell for Rhys Dimmock-Williams, Sam Benzie for Lewis Cronin, Rob MacGregor for James Griggs
Next U23 XV Match
Ealing Trailfinders Academy v Royal Navy U23 XV @ Ealing RFC Sun 18 Oct KO 14:00
Royal Navy U23 XV v Chichester U23 @ HMS Temeraire, Wed 21 Oct KO 19:00
Inter Service Championship Matches
RAF U23 XV v Royal Navy U23XV @ RAF Halton, Wed 11 Nov KO 13:30
Royal Navy U23 XV v Army U23 XV @ US Portsmouth RFC, Wed 18 Nov KO 19:00
IDRC Kicks off at US Portsmouth on Thursday 8 Oct
15:00 Japan v New Zealand
19:00 Royal Navy v Fiji