Navy Over Power RAF in Third Quarter
A solitary try from fullback Rhys Dimmock-Williams did not look enough reward after a first half playing with a strong wind on their backs. However a third quarter that saw the Royal Navy pack take the game to the RAF with some fired up driving play and tries from scrum half Gareth John Rees and winger Rory Penfold ensured the Navy U23 XV could leave RAF Halton with a comfortable win securely under their belts. The Army U23 XV is next, at USSG Portsmouth, on Wednesday and another win would deliver a long awaited Inter Service title.
The opening match in the 2015 Inter Services U23 Championship saw the Royal Navy travel to RAF Halton buoyed by a good build up throughout a season congested by the International Defence Rugby Competition. Greg Loydall led a team that though it was very different from last season’s squad did have some experience in key areas. Greg himself has been a regular with the Senior XV squad as has Jarrad Hayler who was making his U23XV debut. Gareth John Rees and the two Coopers, Luke and Lewis, had performed well for the Sharks throughout the Summer whilst in Harrison Marsh, Ben Roberts and Rory Penfold there were three players who had experienced victory over the RAF last year.
However despite this experience it was the RAF who settled in to the match the more quickly. Playing into the wind they controlled the ball for large periods, were fluent in the backs and solid in the set piece. The Royal Navy, by contrast, were disjointed and hesitant. The RAF were able to win too many turn overs, as players were isolated on the ground and the pass was either not going to hand or was being spilled. For long periods it looked ominous and the RAF U23s were in control. Both sides had penalty kicks at goal but neither Chris Craig for the RAF, nor Gareth John Rees, for the Royal Navy, could find their range.
The score when it came was worth the wait. Gavin Elsam won the turnover and Rees found skipper Loydall whose flick on allowed Rhys Dimmock-Williams to stretch the defence. With the RAF stepping in to cover the threat, Rhys put Rory Penfold clear down the right wing with just one player to beat. His dad, another strong running wing with both Navy and CS caps may well have fancied his chances of running through the final tackle, but for Rory a deft inside pass to the supporting Dimmock-Williams gave Rhys a clear run in for the opening try which Gareth John Rees converted. Royal Navy in front 7-0,a lead they held until half time.
Whether the lead would be enough, after the break when playing into the wind, was emphatically answered in the third quarter of the game. Having defended an early RAF raid the Royal Navy dominated the next twenty minutes. Close driving play from the forwards kept the RAF defence honest and the sniping of Rees around the fringes was testing their alignment to the limit. Nick Burgess, unsure in the first half at fly half, stamped his authority on proceedings and when the backs were released it was at the right time, on the front foot and running at space. Left to right and back again the Navy maintained continuity. As the pressure mounted the RAF infringed and it was from one such penalty that Gareth John Rees spotted a half gap, tapped quickly, spun and scooted over in the right hand corner. He made the difficult touchline conversion look easy and the lead was doubled, 14-0.
If the RAF felt they sniffed a chance at getting back in to the match with a penalty for offside they were mistaken. Chris Craig’s kick was immediately cancelled by one from Rees also for offside. From the RAF’s restart the ball was carried strongly first by lock Ben Watson and then prop Harrison Marsh. Greg Loydall thought there was half chance to the left and probed the home team’s defence but when it wasn’t on Rees and Burgess switched the play, Luke Warrington was the continuity and Rory Penfold took route one to the goal line from thirty metres. Another touch line conversion and at 24-3 the match was over as a contest.
In the final quarter the RAF managed another penalty but even when the Royal Navy lost Luke Cooper to the sin bin, for a deliberate knock on, their defence was looking secure. They absorbed everything the RAF attack could throw at them and when their first up defence was breached, the cover was always there. The eighty minutes had seen the Royal Navy transform themselves as they found their team play and fluency. By the end the pack was dominant in the set piece, man of the match Rees was controlling the game from scrum half, and skipper Loydall was proving rock solid at the centre of a defence that was never going to allow the RAF back in to the game.
With the victory secured the Royal Navy can look forward to a home match against the Army. The hit out will have done them some good but they will be aware that they will have to take their game up a level for Wednesday’s match. However they showed enough against the RAF to approach the match in a positive frame of mind assured that they have strength in depth in their squad and when their game clicks into gear it produces some first class rugby. One down, one last game of the season to go.
Royal Navy U23 XV: Harrison Marsh, Mark Dowds, Chris Robinson, Ben Watson, Dan Mason, Gavin Elsam, Jarred Hayler, Luke Cooper, Gareth John Rees, Nick Burgess, Rory Penfold, Greg Loydall (C), Luke Warrington, Harry Bates, Rhys Dimmock-Williams
Replacements: Sam Norton (for Harrison Marsh) , Isaac Salt (for Mark Dowds), Chris Bennett (for Chris Robinson), Alex Cragg (for Dam Mason), Ben Roberts (for Gavin Elsam), James Griggs (for Luke Warrington), Rob McGregor (for Harry Bates), Luke Cooper (for Rory Penfold)
Royal Navy U23 XV v Army U23, USSG Portsmouth RFC, Wed 18 Nov 15 KO 19:00
Images by Alligin Photography / © Geraint Ashton Jones and © John Walton