One step closer to retaining the Under 23 Inter Service title.




Army U23

The Navy lineout was a key strength
Gareth Rees put his kicking to good effect
Forwards Bonnick and Makepeace put in the hard yards
The Royal Navy U23 team celebrate after their victory over the Army

The Royal Navy U23s started their Inter Service Championship off with a hard fought, narrow victory over the Army U23s away at Aldershot Stadium.  It was a truly exciting 80 minutes of rugby and sees the Navy youngsters one step closer to retaining their Inter Service title.

Experienced U23 player and Royal Navy Reservist, Rory Penfold led the team onto the pitch for the introductions and national anthem prior to the eagerly anticipated start.  It was the Navy who started more brightly.  After a long kick off by the Army, the Navy kicked deep and set up the first of what was to be many catch and drives.  Deep into the Army 22 the Navy threw to the middle of the line and transferred the ball to the rear of the driving maul.  The Army could not cope with the pressure, collapsing the maul, and the referee awarded a penalty to the visitors.  Sensing an Army weakness the Navy opted to kick to touch to maintain the pressure on the home side.  This tactic was to pay off; following another clean catch and drive the Army again collapsed the maul when the Navy were certain to score.  The referee signaled a penalty try.  Two minutes into the game, the Navy led by 7 points.

From the restart the Navy exerted pressure on the Army, forcing them to infringe at the break down, they again kicked deep into Army territory.  Another solid line out was claimed and the visitors were moving slowly toward the Army goal line.  Unfortunately for the Navy the maul was stopped short, legally this time, and the first of what seemed to be many scrums followed.  Where the Navy had been dominant in the line out, the Army showcased their ability in the scrum.  After 2 reset scrums for wheeling, the Navy conceded a penalty for collapsing the scrum.  This allowed the Army to clear their half and for the first time play some attacking rugby of their own.  Claiming the line out on the Navy 22, the Army demonstrated effective ball control and produced some good phases of play.  Slick handling from the backs, with some great offloads and supporting play saw the Army score an unconverted try in the far corner to close the scores.  Army 5 - Navy 7 after 13 minutes of play. 

From the restart both teams tried to exert their dominance.  The ball was kept in close with the forwards doing a lot of hard work.  The Navy were awarded a penalty on the Army 10 metre line for a high tackle and opted to take a shot at the goal.  Unfortunately Rees was unsuccessful and the Army were once again able to clear their lines.  The next score came the way of the Army.  Their dominance at the scrum continued and a penalty conceded by the Navy put the Army on the front foot inside the Navy 22.  The Army again showed their ability and set about some great passages of play.  The Navy were caught with their hands in the ruck and the Army opted for the posts, converting the penalty to take the lead for the first time in the match, 8-7. 

A pattern emerged with the Army dominating at the scrum, kicking to touch and the Navy dominating at the line out and clearing their lines.  Unfortunately, when clearing their lines the Navy kept finding the athletic back three players who were quickly able to return the ball and exert pressure on the Navy.  Since the opening score from the visitors the Army had dominated the possession and territory however it was the Navy who finished the half like they started it.  A great passage of play saw the Navy stretch the home side's defence and it was only a last ditch tackle by the Army winger which prevented the Navy scoring and taking a half time lead.  As it happened the Navy went into the break 8-7 down but with the strong belief that it was all to play for in the second half.

The Navy started the second half well with some good pressure which was rewarded by a penalty against the Army for straying offside.  Rees converted to retake the lead 8-10.  The Navy clearly had the belief that they could take this match away from the Army and, after a lovely little dink over the rushing Army defence, Penfold collected and the Navy were unfortunate not to come away with a score.  Setting up camp in the Army 22, the Navy were unable to break through the resolute Army defence and came away empty handed.  It was now the turn of the Army.  A few unforced errors began creeping in and it was the Army who benefitted from them, taking play into the Navy 22.  It was now the Navy's turn to show their strong defence, repelling wave after wave of Army probes into their 22.  The Army edged ever closer to the Navy try line but some strong defensive play saw the Army thwarted and bundled into touch on the 5 metre line.  The Army maintained the pressure and after some good work on the blindside they almost scored but the Navy defence again managed to push them into touch.  Eventually the Army pressure became too much for the Navy who conceded a penalty which the Army duly converted to retake the lead 11-10 with 20 minutes remaining.

Losing the lead certainly had a positive effect on the Navy.  They appeared to up their game, concentrating on their game plan, and slowly began to dominate possession and work their way back into Army territory.  The Army seemingly had no answer to the Navy dominance at the line out and after two further penalties from collapsed mauls the Navy saw their opportunity and a quick tap penalty eventually saw Rees cross the line to regain the lead 11-15.  More good work from the kick off, with the Navy securing possession and taking play back in to the Army half.  A great clearing kick by the Navy very nearly turned into points however the bounce of the ball did not quite work out and the Army were again able to clear their lines.  The respite for the Army was short lived.  The Navy found space behind the Army back three and pinned them down in their 22.  All the possession and pressure became too much for the Army and after repeated offences at the breakdown and line out the referee reduced the Army to fourteen men.  Whilst the Army were a player down the Navy took their opportunity, extending their lead with Papp bursting over to score.  The Navy led 11-20 with only five minutes remaining.  The Navy might have thought that they had done enough but the Army had different ideas.  They threw everything at the Navy and were awarded a penalty inside the 22.  A quick tap followed and after a number of phases the Army scrum half cut through to score under the posts which was converted.  The deficit was reduced to 2 points.  A tense last couple of minutes followed however the Navy managed to hold on to secure the win and lift the trophy. 

Over the first hurdle on their way to retaining the Under 23 Inter Service title, the Navy team will be watching the next clash, between the Army and the RAF on 23 November, before the RAF travel to Portsmouth for the deciding match at Burnaby Road on 30 November, kick off 1900, all supporters welcome.

Team List: Hughes, Bonnick, Burton, Mason, Makepeace, Basher, Papp, Roberts, Rees, Burgess, Gallagher, Jeacock, Bratton, Pulman, Penfold.
Replacements: Salt, Vernon, Wilkinson, Brierley, Cunningham, Williams, Mills, Power.

Words by Tom Westwood
Images by Royal Navy Rugby Union/© John Walton