Royal Navy at Sixes not Sevens
RN Senior XV
Oxford University RFC
Though they only managed six tries, and not the seven in the previous two games, this was in many ways the Royal Navy’s best performance of the 2016 Inter Service campaign, against a committed Oxford University team. A high tempo first half was rewarded with four well taken tries in the back line. However, as Oxford University rallied at the end of the half and controlled much of the second period, the Royal Navy showed that they had the resilience in defence to absorb pressure whilst still being alert for the counter punch. On the back foot for much of the half they still out scored the University by two tries to nil and will be well satisfied with their 34-5 victory.
Compared to last week it was perfect conditions for rugby, even if the USSG Portsmouth pitch remained heavy after so much rain over the winter. The Royal Navy were fast out of the blocks and despite an early disruption caused by an ankle injury to Number 8 Lewis Cooper, produced probably their most fluid rugby of their preparations so far.
As ever it was the forwards who set the platform with a display that produced solid set piece ball and control at the breakdown. This allowed Cory Moore, and the returning Nathan Huntley, to control the match from half back with some astute tactical kicking mixed with a decent variety of attacking plays; either through the strong running of John Lamsin and Ben Fox in the forwards, or through the use of the powerful centre duo of Matt Tichias and Sam Davies
It was only to be a matter of time before the score board reflected the Royal Navy’s superiority. Matt Bowden was the beneficiary through a well worked move from the set piece and this was quickly followed by a second for fly half Nathan Huntley. With Oxford University losing a little shape the Navy were able to capitalise with a third try when Rhys Dimmock-Williams found some space to exploit and crossed for a well taken score. Huntley added one out of three conversions and the Royal Navy were controlling the match 17-0.
The third score seemed to galvanise the students and they finished the half, in many ways, the stronger side. Their forwards started winning the collisions at the breakdown and, put under pressure, the Royal Navy conceded one too many penalties for the referee’s liking with the consequence that Nathan Huntley was dispatched to the sin bin. At first the home team were able to mask the number shortfall through tightening up their own game and kicking for field position. Having worked their way up to Oxford University’s 22m line, scrum half Cory Moore found some space on the blindside and crossed for the fourth try of the night, again unconverted. With only a couple of minutes to half time, the Navy will be disappointed that they couldn’t keep their line intact and unable to exit from the restart they had to yield to the students, as Oxford University pulled back a score to trail 22-5 at the break.
Both sides made a number of changes at half time or early in to the second half and it was Oxford University who started the better. For all of the third quarter they put the Royal Navy under pressure both with and without the ball. In attack they found some inventive angles that stretched but could not break the Royal Navy’s defence. In defence they put numbers in to the tackle and frequently stopped the Navy’s attacking game behind the gain line.
The loss of continuity caused some frustration in the Royal Navy ranks that will probably concern the coaching team and give them something to address going forward. However, they will have been pleased with the desire and work rate of the team when under pressure in defence. More often than not they were knocking Oxford University back in the tackle but when they did concede the line break the whole team were quick to track back and get numbers in to the scramble defence. It was a good third quarter for Oxford University and they would have hoped to have added to their solitary score but with the Navy’s defence having held firm it was the home side who were to finish the game the stronger.
No longer with the continuity of the first half, the Royal Navy adjusted their sights in the final quarter and played more of the match through their pack. The reward was a try by skipper Ben Priddey, following another successful Navy rolling maul and, with the last play of the match, a penalty try, awarded following a 5m scrum with the ball being illegally kicked out.
It had proved a testing half but the Navy had extended their half time lead to finish worthy winners 34-5 and to complete an unbeaten February. The month has been a good one for the Senior XV with twenty tries scored in the three matches. However, though titles have been lost in February, Inter Service Championships have never been won this early in the year. The Royal Navy team have laid some solid foundations and they adapted well when Oxford University rallied. March sees them travel to Richmond and then host Hampshire before the first capped game, away to the Marine Nationale in France. They can look forward with confidence but the hard work is only just beginning as they seek a first ever win in Toulon and continue their preparations for hosting the RAF on 20th April and facing the Army at Twickenham on 30th April.
With both the Women and the Mariners winning their matches on the same night, February has been an unbeaten month for Navy Rugby. Here’s looking forward to the Babcock International Challenge matches in March and the Babcock Inter Services in April. Before then the President’s XV will host the Anti Assassins at USSG Portsmouth on 1st March at 19:00 and the Senior XV’s next game is away to Richmond’s Athletic Ground, Wednesday 2nd March, 19:45 KO.
Royal Navy Starting XV v Oxford University:
Gareth Evans *, Ben Priddey * (Capt), Chris Warner, Edd Pascoe *, John Lamsin *, Ben Fox *, Jarrard Hayler *, Lewis Cooper, Cory Moore, Nathan Huntley *, Matt Bowden *, Matt Tichias *, Sam Davies *, Ben Chambers, Rhys Dimmock-WIlliams
Replacements: Harry Collins * for Chris Warner, Dom Taylor, Chris Robinson, Ben Watson for John Lamsin, Timo Kava for Lewis Cooper, Gareth John Rees for Cory Moore, James Griggs for Sam Davies, Greg Loydall for Matt Tichias
* Denotes capped player
Images by Alligin Photography / © Geraint Ashton Jones