RN Senior XV vs Marine Nationale
RN Senior XV
Though they knew what was coming there was little the Royal Navy could do to repel a Marine Nationale onslaught at the Stade Mayol tonight. La Marseillaise was the start, a raucous Pilou Pilou took the emotion to another level and then from the referee’s first whistle the Marine Nationale played with passion, emotion and no little skill. High tempo rugby, the rucks were fiercely cleared, the attack varied and the defence unyielding. It proved a match winning combination.
After the first quarter all they had to show for their dominance was two penalties kicked by their impressive fly half. He had missed a third and also missed an attempted drop goal. It looked as if the Royal Navy had ridden out the worst of the storm. However a second high tackle from Dave Fairbrother was met with a Yellow Card from the referee and the task became just that little bit harder. It was during this period that the Marine Nationale scored their first try. With the defence stretched following a number of strong attacks the Marine Nationale’s flyhalf put an inch perfect cross-field kick for their left wing to score. With the conversion missed it was 11- 0.
From the restart the Royal Navy exerted their first bit of pressure of the match. A strong counter attack from Jon Humphrey turned defence into attack and for once Dave Pascoe had some quick ball to feed Nathan Huntley. The move looked very promising but by the time the ball reached Sam Davies he was met by a three-man tackle, one of which looked suspiciously high. The referee waved play on and from the turn over ball Sam returned the favour but following an AR flag he became the second player to be shown a Yellow Card and the Royal Navy had six minutes to play with thirteen men.
It proved two much. First the Marine Nationale attacked with purpose down the right flank. The Royal Navy’s cover defence held but another delightful chip kick from the Marine Nationale’s fly half was collected by their outside centre who scored under the posts. With the conversion the lead had been extended to 18 points and to rub salt in the wounds a second drop goal attempt from the fly half was successful for a 21 – 0 half time lead.
Toots Vakalutukali replaced Sam Laird at half time and became the fifth new cap of the evening. The Royal Navy needed to start the half well if they were to get back in to the match. However they were soon having to defend their line and though they repelled the first two attacks they were under immense pressure. The scrum had been a good contest all night with dominance ebbing and flowing. The first scrum of the second half saw the Royal Navy with the put in 5m from their own line. Unfortunately the ball wasn’t struck cleanly and as the scrum wheeled, the ball was regained by Marine Nationale. It was an easy second score for their left wing as the turned scrum had taken the cover defence away. The difficult conversion was missed but a penalty for holding in the tackle shortly afterwards allowed the Marine Nationale to extend the score to a match winning lead.
The result was now certain but the game was far from over. With Kyle Wood replacing Jon Humphrey and Harry Collins replacing skipper Ben Priddey two more caps had been awarded. For much of this period the Royal Navy were able to get a degree of parity. However they were unable to effectively clear the tackle zone resulting in first Dave Pascoe and then Johnny Stephen having to deal with a lot of slow ball. This allowed the Marine Nationale’s rush defence to put the Royal Navy midfield under pressure and as a consequence too much of the game was being played behind the gain line.
The game was being played between the two twenty twos as both defences were on top of the respective attacks. However a second successful drop goal, this time from longer range, extended the lead to 32 – 0. The Marine Nationale’s mindset was clearly evident when they also tried to score a couple of long range penalties and a further drop goal. All were missed but the message was clear, give the Royal Navy nothing.
It may be small comfort but the Royal Navy finished the match still looking to get their own game going. First Kyle Wood made a clean break down the right wing, at last some quick recycling of the ball and the Marine Nationale’s defence was under pressure. They were unable to kill the move in midfield as they had done so often throughout the match and with quick hands Greg Welling was freed up for a score in the left corner. Tom Davies landed the touchline conversion for a final score line of 32 – 7. A first try from the Royal Navy in Toulon’s Stade Mayol.
The series is now 6-4 in the Royal Navy’s favour but this was an impressive Marine Nationale performance who fielded some exciting new players in their ranks. If they can regenerate their intensity of tonight when they travel, an away win is not beyond them. For the Royal Navy it was a huge learning curve to a number of players. They will have benefitted from the experience and are now fully aware of what rugby means in the South of France. The competition has come a long way in ten years. On the pitch it is certainly not for the faint hearted but afterwards at the post match dinner the Entente Cordial can be renewed as aching bodies start to recover. Seven new caps keeps the Royal Navy moving forward. The next key game is the Royal Air Force but before then Bath United at the Rec on 25th March. It doesn’t get an easier!
Royal Navy: Mason *, Priddey * ©, Terry *, Cowley, Cormack *, Harvey, Laird *, Fairbrother, Pascoe *, Huntley *, Welling *, Tichias *, Davies, Humphrey *, Davies * Reps: Collins, Owen *, Beazley *, Taylor *, Vakalutukali, Cooper *, Stephens *, Wood
* capped players
By Geraint Ashton Jones
Images by Alligin Photography / © Geraint Ashton Jones