RN President’s XV too strong for students


President's XV


Portsmouth University

Ben Clark, team captain going forward.
Richie Ives – hat trick man.
Josh Belcher converts a RN try.
Sam Mullane distributes.
The imposing Miteli Vakalaca takes contact.
Sam Powell drives under pressure.
Richie Ives and friends score.

In appalling conditions the students provided a strong, fit and enthusiastic opposition to a winning President’s XV weakened by many players being involved with the Senior team.  

With thirty plus players involved in the Royal Navy Rugby Union Senior XV game at Cambridge it was an opportunity for some players to gain valuable game time at a level which they may not have experienced previously. It also gave coaches an opportunity to assess players in a competitive environment. With heavy rain and strong winds forecast to arrive during the match and light drizzle prior to kick off, the Burnaby Road pitch although firm was wet on the surface and would prove a challenging environment throughout the game.

Kicking off at 1915, University of Portsmouth kicked deep into the Navy 22, it was collected by Lock forward (4) Luke Berry and taken into contact with Scrumhalf (9) Josh Belcher attempting to snipe round the edge and he was penalised for holding on. Penalty to Portsmouth, successfully taken. RN 0 – Portsmouth 3, two minutes played.

Restarted by Belcher kicking long into the students’ 22, the Navy forwards applied pressure, keeping the opposition within their 22 and turned the ball over.  Attacking through the backs, Belcher fed Fly-half (10) Sam Mullane.  With a short pass to Hooker (2) Sam Skinner who sought contact and support from the forwards to pick and drive into the 5 metre area.  The ball crossed the line for the first score, in the hands of Flanker (7) and captain Ben Clark. With the try converted by Belcher the score was RN 7 – Portsmouth 3. Five minutes played.

After the restart Portsmouth attacked via their forwards midway into the Navy half, and were awarded a scrum.  Seeking contact the scrumhalf moved quickly down the blindside before being tackled by the Navy who were offside. Opting to kick for goal the Portsmouth fly half narrowly missed – a let off for the Navy! 7 minutes played.

With both sides trying to move the wet and greasy ball quickly unforced handling errors and naïve tactical choices were going be an issue throughout the game.

Restarting the Navy dropped out from the 22.  It was taken by the University but knocked–on, snaffled by the Navy forwards who were rewarded with a penalty for offside.  Belcher kicked and found touch inside the students’ half, winning the lineout through Berry only for the ball to be knocked-on at the base. Scrum Portsmouth, but they were pushed off the ball by the dominant Navy forwards.  However, Portsmouth were still able to distribute the ball along the backs, until, with strong tackling, the Navy forced the students backwards to the Portsmouth 10.  Portsmouth tried to rescue the movement and kicked into the Navy dead ball area where it was touched down by Fullback (15) Luke Cooper.  Drop out Navy. With neither team able to string more than 3 or 4 phases together, despite the referee trying to allow the game to flow it was inevitable that the game would be a start and stop affair.

With the Navy forwards dominating and despite the students battling hard to contain them the game was being played predominantly in the Portsmouth half. On 15 minutes and after several uncompleted moves the Navy used their forward power and made their way inside the opposition’s 22.  Belcher released the ball to Mullane for Centre (12) Miteli Vakalaca to take the ball up on the crash ball before being tackled just short and the ball was driven over the line, only for it to be held up. The Navy scrum was picked up by No 8 (8) Shaun Walker off the back of the scrum and driven over, assisted by Flankers (6) Ed Holland and Ben Clark. The conversion attempt failed. RN 12 – Portsmouth 3. 15 minutes played.

After the restart the opposition forwards kept the ball tight, assisted by the Navy errors, and were able to keep the momentum going, seeking contact and recycling quickly to put the Navy defence on the back foot.  They attacked down the right wing to score a converted try. RN 12 – Portsmouth 10. Twenty three minutes on the clock.

At the restart Portsmouth were able collect the ball, consolidate their possession and attack at pace down the left wing, cleanly breeching the Navy defence and moving fast into the Navy 22.  However Navy Winger (14) Josh Coupland raced across the field from the other wing, tackling and forcing the attacker into touch – saving a certain try. Winning the lineout the Navy cleared to relieve the pressure. With both sides trying to assert themselves but any sustained possession was short lived due to the amount of errors. With the Navy securing the majority of territory and possession the students had to work hard to stem their attacks.

Portsmouth were penalised for a high tackle, Berry at the tail won the subsequent lineout on the opposition 10 metre line, Belcher fed Clark who was tackled, the ball was recovered by Belcher and passed to Walker, with the forwards and the backrow particularly making good yardage.  Belcher fed the fly-half Mullane who entered the students’ 22 at pace before being pulled down by the defence on the 5 metre line. Quickly the Navy forwards drove the ball towards the line but were rebuffed however under the sustained pressure the defence finally broke and Prop (1) Richie Ives crossed with an unconverted try. RN 17 – Portsmouth 10 after 31 minutes.

With 9 minutes to half time the students with renewed vigour attacked with pace and purpose but were let down by their own errors. Although the Navy were not faultless, they did enough to keep the opposition out. Just before half time Belcher was replaced by (20) Max Wilson.

Halftime – Royal Navy 17 – University of Portsmouth 10.

The Navy introduced from the bench (21) Kieran Manson at Fly-half and (22) Connor Moore into the back line. With no let-up in the wind or rain Manson restarted the game with a kick into the students’ half, where after taking contact the Navy was penalised for a high tackle.  The following lineout from deep in the Navy half was knocked on, relieving the Navy pressure. The students needed points – it was definitely not a lack of effort, courage or desire to succeed.  They worked hard to gain a few yards but were, much like in the first half, unable to avoid making basic errors and handed back possession to the Navy.

As the Navy dominated the forward battle, winning turnover ball at scrum, ruck and maul, the students were forced to defend, surviving on scraps of possession inside their own half. With conditions continuing to be challenging at best the Navy made hard work for themselves playing a tactically naïve, expansive game. Instead of kicking into the corners and putting pressure on the opposition at the set pieces, they kept trying to move the wet and greasy ball through very cold wet hands, and at every stoppage the students were able to regroup. With the students defending inside their 22, they won a scrum, only to be pushed off the ball by a concerted drive and turned over and resulting in a penalty to the Navy.  It was quickly taken and driven into the 5 metre zone and with a penalty advantage, the Navy drove again, over the line but they were held up. A penalty was awarded to the Navy and a yellow card to a student front row forward.  The Navy choose a scrum and the strong drive resulted in the student front row collapsing.  From the reset, the quick clean ball was distributed by Wilson to Manson and on to the huge Vakalaca who at pace on the crash ball, showed great hands unloading the ball in the tackle for Ives to score his second try, converted by (11) Jake Wells. RN 22 – Portsmouth 10. 62 minutes played.

Taken by (19) Sam Powell at the restart, who with support from fellow forwards drove into the Portsmouth half, releasing the ball to Wilson to attack before passing to Manson and on to replacement prop (17) Tom Bond who took the ball into contact and recycled the ball to keep the student defence going backwards.  To help them on their way the Navy kicked through into the 22 only for the Portsmouth fullback to return the kick. The Navy were still attacking and inside the Portsmouth 22 and recycled the ball quickly, advancing inside the 5 metre area and with one final push Ives, with support, was able to cross the line to score his third and the Navy’s final try, successfully converted by Manson. RN 31 – Portsmouth 10 with 65 minutes on the clock.

With fifteen minutes to play the students redoubled their efforts to score, exerting pressure via their forwards and backs. The Navy defended stoutly driving the attackers back time and time again, winning turnover ball at both the set pieces and in the loose, relieving the pressure with some well-aimed kicks which forced the students back into their own half to try again. With the weather conditions improving but the ball still wet and greasy the final minutes were still error strewn and neither side was able to score further.

Final score: Royal Navy President’s XV 31 v University of Portsmouth 10.

In what were very difficult conditions both sides should be proud of what they achieved. This was an old fashioned game of rugby, never pretty but with plenty of passion, determination, courage and mate ship, no quarter was asked and none was given. With plenty of one-eyed support from the students’ friends in the stand it was an entertaining evening and certainly worth the admission fee.  I for one hope that this fixture will be repeated, it should draw a crowd and contribute to the bar takings.

And a special mention goes to Sebastian Westwood, who operated the scoreboard without fault, ensuring that we all were kept up to date with the score.

After the game Acting Head Coach Nathan ‘Pony’ Moore said: “The game was a good opportunity for a large number of players to be given an opportunity to play at a higher level with the President XV, especially given a number of Presidents’ regulars were involved with the Senior side at Cambridge. As expected we were able to win the physical battle, it was good to see the team gel as a cohesive unit playing with freedom whilst also implementing the areas that we worked on during the short training period earlier in the day. While we may have been the physically dominant side the University lads certainly played their part and tested our defence on numerous occasions, which proved to be fairly strong in holding them out.”

Team: 1. Richie Ives, 2. Sam Skinner, 3. Scott Bentley, 4. Luke Berry, 5. Ollie Thomas, 6. Ed Holland, 7. Ben Clark (Capt), 8. Shaun Walker, 9. Josh Belcher, 10. Sam Mullane, 11. Jake Wells, 12. Miteli Vakalaca, 13.Tom Ridehalgh, 14. Josh Coupland, 15.Luke Cooper, 16. Thom Rees, 17. Tom Bond, 18. Callum Parsons, 19. Sam Powell, 20. Max Wilson, 21. Kieran Manson, 22. Connor Moore.

TSG: ADoR Surg Capt Paul Moore RN, Acting Head Coach LCIS Pony Moore, Coaches: AET John Clay, CPO Chatz Harris Team Manager: LPT Hannah Wiley

Match Officials: Kindly provided by the RNRURS,  Referee Simon Long, ARs Tim Bailey & Stu Collins
Scoreboard Technician: Sebastian Westwood

Words Tomy Atkins
Images credit Royal Navy Rugby Union /© Keith Woodland