Navy Sinners Leave Qualification Hanging by Golden Thread
RN Senior XV v New Zealand
Burnaby Road hosted a full-blooded encounter between the Royal Navy and New Zealand Defence Forces in the 2nd Edition of the International Defence Force Rugby Competition. The Royal Navy knew it was a game they had to win and were looking comfortable until, within quick succession, both skipper Ben Priddey and centre Matt Tichias were sent to the sin bin. In just under nine minutes with thirteen men, New Zealand turned the game and established a lead that they refused to relinquish. It leaves the Royal Navy’s qualification for the quarter finals dependent on Australia not getting anything out of their match against Canada and the Navy getting all five points against Japan.
The match started so well for the Royal Navy. For much of the opening quarter they played the game at pace and New Zealand were rocked on to the back foot. Though a couple of breakdown steals, by the DefenceBlacks, frustrated home side it didn’t distract them from their purpose. At the scrum the Royal Navy were dismantling the black pack and the large vociferous crowd were in buoyant mood.
It was the scrum that allowed the Royal Navy to build their lead. After an early exchange of penalties and the sin binning of New Zealand prop, Angus White, the Navy held a 6-3 lead and Jon Humphrey had the option for a long range attempt at goal. However, Ben Priddey asked Nathan Huntley to go for the corner and his kick was well judged to give the Navy an attacking lineout 8m out. Harry Collins throw was spot on and Jarrad Hayler secured possession at the back of the line. As seen many times before the Navy maul was well built and started heading to the kiwi goal line. Just as it seemed as if the New Zealand defence had halted its progress, Ben Priddey spun off to the right to score in the corner. Though Humphrey couldn’t convert the Royal Navy were two scores up and enjoying a deserved 11-3 lead.
New Zealand were rocked at this stage but had already shown that their backrow and especially their scrum half, Hamish Pyne, were dangerous at and around the breakdown. Conceding the try seemed to lift their efforts and for the first time in the game they began to hold on to possession and exert pressure. The Navy was now the team on the wrong side of the referee’s whistle and eventually his patience ran out when Ben Priddey went off his feet at the tackle and the second yellow card of the night was flourished. The resultant penalty allowed New Zealand fly half, Ben Wyness, to reduce the Navy’s lead to a single score.
New Zealand had played their period with fourteen men quite astutely and the Royal Navy would have wished to do the same. From the restart they started well enough and regained possession. Though they were under pressure at the breakdown and at times struggling to prevent the turnover they were keeping hold of the ball well until the assistant referee flagged for foul play. Matt Tichias had removed a player using the outlawed neck roll and joined his captain in the sin bin. The Royal Navy now had the daunting task of just over eight minutes with thirteen men.
The ferocity of the next eight minutes from the DefenceBlacks prevented the Royal Navy getting any structure to their game or any control. Repeatedly driven off the ball at rucks New Zealand monopolised possession and levelled the game when Number 8, Ben Achillies, crashed over from short range. Ben Wyness added to conversion and for the first time New Zealand were in the lead, 13-11. From the restart New Zealand were soon back on the attack, with the Navy unable to slow their possession to give themselves chance to organise their defence. Frequently having to scramble they again were forced into conceding penalties. Taking a leaf from the Navy’s play book New Zealand went to the corner and showed their prowess with the maul before prop Karl Furey dived over for their second try. Wyness was accurate from the touchline and the Navy were behind 20-11 as they returned to fifteen men and also the sanctuary of the changing room to regroup.
The second half started with both teams playing at a physical intensity that took them to the edge. DefenceBlacks flanker, Sergio Hollis was lucky to stay on when he rode up high on Dave Fairbrother with what was clearly a reckless challenge. The Navy were again edging the contest and once more, through their scrum dominance, were putting New Zealand under pressure. After yet another penalty conceded at their retreating scrum Jon Humphrey was able to reduce the deficit to single score.
When the Royal Navy needed to remain focussed and not get distracted they instead became seduced by the dogfight that the breakdown had become. With players flying off their feet everywhere and the odd skirmish happening off the ball the referee had to act. At times he chose to penalise New Zealand but similarly the Navy also found themselves on the wrong side of the decision. However, with the game losing its structure it was New Zealand who were benefitting more as they began to exert a modicum of control whilst defending their lead.
The crowd could sense that the next score was going to be key to the outcome of the match and unfortunately it went the way of New Zealand. Though their approach work was good it was a soft try to concede with Silvenusi Buinimasi missing a first up tackle on his opposite number Logan Broughton who crossed for the third try. The game was then secured moments later when New Zealand crossed for their fourth and bonus point try. Darren Bamford was penalised for a high tackle and from the resultant lineout the DefenceBlacks chose not to maul but produced quick ball. Their backs were sharp and their running lines held the cover defence before fullback, Greg Ballam, became the extra man to score in the right hand corner. Ben Wyness converted both tries from wide out and New Zealand had an unassailable lead 34-14.
The final fifteen minutes of the match showed what might have been. The Royal Navy lifted their game and finished the match the stronger of the two sides. Dave Fairbrother crossed from a rolling maul and Ben Chambers confirmed his growing talent with a well-taken try following a sweeping multiphase Navy attack. In between these tries the home side had lost their third players to the sin bin following a Nathan Huntley professional foul that saved an almost certain try. However, the clock was against them and the final whistle was met with delight by New Zealand who had secured their 34-24 win. But it was a game that turned on those two yellow cards in the second quarter.
Earlier in the day Fiji had beaten Japan 78-3 and now the two Southern Hemisphere teams will face each other to determine who tops the group. With results elsewhere in the competition not going their way the chances of the Royal Navy qualifying for the quarter finals as a best placed third team probably depend on Australia slipping up against Canada. With Australia riding high after a hard fought win over France it is unlikely that the Green and Golds will be in generous mood to do the Navy a favour. The Royal Navy’s final pool match is against Japan on Thursday when they have to get a maximum five-point haul to give themselves any chance to progress.
Royal Navy: Kyle Mason, Harry Collins, John Court, John Lamsin, Edd Pascoe, Ben Priddey (C), Jarrad Hayler, Dave Fairbrother, Johnny Stephen, Nathan Huntley, Ben Chambers, Matt Tichias, Silvenusi Buinimasi, Greg Welling, Jon Humphrey
Replacements: Tom Blackburn, Josh Terry, Ian Cooper, Seta Raumakita, Ben Fox, Richard Cadywould, Darren Bamford, Tom Davies
Karl Furey, Cam Wright, Angus White, Charlie Togia, Sonny Woodmass, Jimmy Berghan, Jimmy Berhan, Ben Achillies, Hamish Pyne, Ben Wyness, Tafa Tafa, Logan Vaughan (c), Logan Broughton, Jared Deal, Glen Ballam
Replacements: Sam Prosser, Nathaniel Cooper Danny Wanoa, John Bailey, Rawiri Broughton, Barney Te Kani, Matthew Abraham, Ben Gunn
Referee: Scott Galbraith (RAFRURS) Assistant Referees Mike Priestley (RAFRURS) Paul Mente (South Africa)
New Zealand v Fiji US Portsmouth, Thu 15 Oct KO 15:00
Royal Navy v Japan US Portsmouth, Thu 15 Oct KO 19:00
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Article by Geraint Ashton Jones
Images by Alligin Photography / © G Ashton Jones