RN President’s XV Fall Prey to RAF Hawks
RN Presidents XV
Having not played since the emphatic defeat of Devonport Services way back in January, it was no wonder the President’s XV were a little rusty. A side with just five hours together and only three of the successful Estonia tourists gracing the field, the President’s team had to swell their numbers from the now game-less Mariners XV (Mortensen and Fentum) due to player unavailability. The opposition, the RAF Hawks, were looking to improve upon their 24 all draw against Middlesex earlier in the year.
On a bitter night at HMS Collingwood the RN kicked off into the RAF 22 where the Hawks showed their desire to run from deep, a theme for the rest of the match. At the six minute mark from a lineout on the RN 22, having built up a pattern of play the Hawks went through a couple of phases for fullback Arnell to score out wide. The inauspicious start required a command huddle under the posts.
A messy period followed with neither side really asserting dominance. Both sides committed a multitude of handling errors due to a desire to play open, running rugby. Showing a need to control the set piece, the first scrum worryingly saw the President’s pack back-peddling fast. Fortunately this was a one off occurrence as the front row of Fowler, Barnachone and Hill lorded it over their opposite numbers for the rest of the game.
Following some spoiling work at the break down from President’s No. 7, Murray, against an equally competent Hawks’ Openside, a penalty was won in the centre of the park. A long clearance from Benzie led to a well taken lineout with the maul falling short of the line with the ball in Harmer’s hands. The team, now familiar with the try line, would revisit it soon.
Using dummy runners and quick feet, the ball arrived with Sutton to score for the RN. The score stood at five all. A quick reversal of fortune followed due to a failure in communication. At the RN lineout on the 22, the defenders were penalised for sealing off, creating an easy opportunity for the Hawks to take a three point lead thanks to the boot of Arnell.
At the scrum the President’s began to exert pressure on the Hawks' Loosehead causing the scrum to wheel, back track and basically cause general mayhem; this led to a kickable penalty for Benzie who again converted to level the score at eight each.
In the closing minutes of the half, dogged work at the breakdown saw Kennedy hold up the ball leading to a penalty on the 40 minute mark, which Benzie duly converted.
Half Time: President’s 11 Hawks 8.
Deciding to remain on the pitch for half time it was the RAF who kept warmest. A blistering run from the left saw winger Gilbert cut inside some despairing tackles. Following quick work at the tackle area and lightning hands, right wing Arminger had a couple of hectares of space, scoring out wide on the right; the Hawks were back in it.
Mistakes were still creeping in with both standoffs trying to play flat forcing the passes which did not go to hand. And with the penalty count mounting for both sides it was not long until the referee lost his patience. Benzie had another go at the posts, converting it while the RAF missed their kick: President’s 14 Hawks 13.
The next period of the game was owned by the RN. A high tackle on the Hawks' 22 while scrabbling back in defence followed some smooth interplay between Penfold and Sutton. The result was a kick to touch from the penalty. Opting for the full lineout, a strong driving maul was brought down by the opposition. The referee ran straight for the posts awarding the penalty try, again converted by Benzie. The RN increased their lead to eight points.
At the seventy minute mark, the Hawks were awarded their own penalty try under the same conditions as the RN’s penalty try. Again converted by Arnell, the score brought the teams to within 1 point of each other. The high tempo was always going to tell at some stage with bodies littering the turf and the physios running on to relieve cramp.
Now with just 1 point separating the teams the Hawks coped better with the pressure with passes going to hand more easily, the momentum had shifted, Arminger bagged his second of the evening scoring in the corner. The conversion hit the posts and the score remained Hawks 25 President’s 21 for the remaining 6 minutes when, from a penalty, the Hawks' standoff booted it to touch, to the cacophonous cheering of the RAF players and supporters.
The President’s XV will rue a lack of lethality and precision in the final minutes as they had built a strong attack to challenge the Hawks’ line. As a group of individuals they will need to refine team cohesion as the game plan faltered at inopportune moments. The Hawks were worthy winners but the President’s have a lot of positives to draw from the match with encouraging signs at the set-piece.
The next fixture for the President's XV is against Middlesex at Staines RFC on the 6 Apr 16, KO 1930.
Royal Navy President’s XV: Fowler, Barnachone, Hill; Harmer, Mortensen; Bartlett, Murray, Kennedy; Cox, Fentum; Penfold, Benzie, Sutton, Hayes, Warrington. Replacements: Lowe, Sproston, Burns, Butterworth, Malone.
Officials: Referee: Tim Bailey; Assistant Referees; Bruno Brunning and Steve Woolley.
Article by J Campbell-Baldwin
Images by Alligin Photography / © Keith Woodland