Promising Start for New Look U23 XV
A match played in four quarters, at the request of the respective head coaches, served both sides well. From a Royal Navy perspective all the players were given a decent amount of game time and various combinations looked at. And whilst they eventually succumbed 27-19, in the second quarter the Navy U23 XV produced rugby which should serve as their blue print for the season.
It was Hampshire who started the game the more composed and assured. They starved the Royal Navy of possession and as the home team’s defence took a while to settle they were able to break the gain line and regularly threaten to cut loose and score. Aided by some needlessly conceded penalties they kept the RN U23’s pinned deep in their own half for long periods. That they didn’t score in the first twenty minutes was primarily due to the high number of unforced errors from the Hampshire side although the Royal Navy ‘s scramble defence was also responsible for thwarting a couple of promising attacks.
However after the mid half break the Royal Navy were transformed. An increased intensity particularly at the breakdown and in the tackle turned the momentum of the game on its head. Suddenly the forwards were clearing out rucks and half back Gareth John Rees found himself with quick ball and options to snipe around the fringes of the guard defence or release the back division. With good variation of play they kept the Hampshire defence guessing and it was the least they deserved when fullback Rhys Dimmock-Williams worked himself clear on the right to squeeze over for the try. Gareth John Rees landed the conversion from wide out and the Navy U23’s had an unlikely 7-0 lead.
So often teams relax immediately after a score but this was not the case this time. If anything the U23s lifted their game and the Navy side increased the tempo and intensity of their play. With the forwards punching holes around the edge of rucks with their driving play, Greg Loydall was able to have time on the ball to dictate the attack. For the first time in the match both Navy wings, Luke Warrington and Brendan Streather were being brought into the game. With first Warrington and then centre Rob McGregor making ground up the left touchline an attacking lineout, following Hampshire having conceded a penalty, provided the perfect platform for the Royal Navy to launch another attack. From the maul it was Gavin Elsam who first drove hard at the Hampshire defence before Nick Burgess gave the ball some width and though the initial attack was stopped, quick ruck ball kept the momentum and Elsam was again on hand to crash over for the second score. Gareth John Rees converted to extend the lead to 14-0.
The change in fortunes had caused a little disarray in the Hampshire ranks and the Royal Navy were quick to exploit this. Immediately back on the attack, the continuity of their play defied a team that was playing its first game together. After a couple of half chances it was a poor clear out by Hampshire that proved the away team’s downfall. First Streather made good ground before Dimmock-Williams spotted a chink in the defence. Hard running on a delightful arc allowed him to slip the tackle and then his leg drive carried him and the final defender over the line for the Navy’s third try. Though Gareth John Rees couldn’t land the kick, the referee brought the first half to a close with the Navy enjoying a 19-0 lead.
The half time break seemed to burst the Navy’s intensity bubble and following the resumption they were not the same side as before the break. Through both the third and final quarter they could not rekindle the intensity that had brought them such success. As fatigue then began to set in, following a hard weekend of training, Hampshire were able to turn the screw and were rewarded on the score board. By the final whistle they had crossed four times to take the lead and along with a long range penalty finally won the game 27-19.
Whilst always disappointing to lose, the game itself provided many positives for the U23 XV coaching staff. They would be the first to acknowledge that there are some key areas to work on but with the next match against Havant, on Wednesday night, they will not have to wait too long to see if skipper Mark Dowd’s side learn some of the lessons. With Dowd himself having a visit to the sin bin he knows that in this area he will have to lead from the front.
Royal Navy U23 XV v Hampshire U20s:
Mark Dowds(c), Isaac Salt, Harrison Marsh, Alex Cragg, Dan Mason, Gavin Elsam, Liam Williams, Joe Gatenby, Gareth John Rees, Nick Burgess, Luke Warrington, Craig Jones, Rob McGregor, Brendan Streather, Rhys Dimmock-Williams
All replacements were used: Joe Burton, Grant Hill, Luke Jones, Ben Borman, Lewis Cronin, George Gissing, Apenisa Daunibau, Greg Loydall, Mark Burnell
Royal Navy U23 XV v Havant @ US Portsmouth RFC, Wed 7 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
Images by Alligin Photography / © G Ashton Jones