Royal Navy Lose Battle of Toulon
RN Senior XV
The Marine Nationale levelled the Babcock International series for the first time since 2006 with a hard fought victory at Toulon’s Stade Mayol. Though the man of the match was awarded to their scrum half Thibault Dufau, it was fly half Damien Anon, who once more proved the Royal Navy’s undoing as his game management and tactical kicking controlled the game from start to finish. Regretably the match will be remembered for a brawl in which both teams lost their self control. This type of behaviour has no place in the game. Two red cards, one for each side, were awarded. From the restart Anon calmly went about extending the home side’s lead. Eventually three tries to nil told the true rugby story of the match as the Marine Nationale recorded a 28-6 victory, they have now won the last three matches to level the series at six a piece.
To win in France is not easy but does require some fundamental building blocks to be in place. The basics have to be executed well. A solid set piece. Clarity and composure in the ferocity of the battle. Having travelled to Toulon on the back of an excellent run of victories few Royal Navy supporters would have recognised some of the play in Toulon in the fist capped game of the season. Too many unforced errors prevented the Royal Navy from exerting any sustained pressure in the game.
That the Royal Navy were still in the game 6-6 after Humphrey and Anon had swapped penalties was due to some fine long range kicking but also a little good fortune. Marine Nationale crossed for what looked like the opening try, but the referee ruled ‘held up’. Similarly, twice their handling let them down after they had done the hard work and breeched the Royal Navy’s usually suffocating defence.
When it came the opening try, on 27 mins, was a simple one. A high kick should have been fielded by John Humphrey but wasn’t. With the ball spilled the Marine Nationale had a 10m scrum with a wide blindside. Quick ball allowed a simple pick up from Number Eight by Thomas Hoarau, who split the defence and offloaded for Dufau to scamper behind the posts for the try. An easy conversion and the score board reflected the advantage that the home team had enjoyed; 13-6.
It was after a collapsing scrum that the violence erupted. Once calm returned, the referee despatched a prop from each side from the field of play. Thereafter the lack of a specialist tight head on the bench denied the Royal Navy any platform at the scrum for the rest of the match. With the lineout strangely misfiring the Royal Navy lacked the basic components required to produce the victory, and a further yellow card for Ben Fox made the challenge even harder.
They needed the half time whistle to give them respite and time to regroup however before then, and with the last play of the half, they conceded a second try. It was the scrum that was their undoing. From another penalty scrum the play went right before being switched back to the left for the strong running Marine Nationale blindside flanker, Daniel Kornath, to cross for the try. Again a simple conversion and at half time the Marine Nationale had a commanding 20-6 lead.
The second half lacked the intensity of the first. The home team were content to play the percentages and keep the Royal Navy out of range. Largely the game was one of stalemate played in the middle part of the pitch. The Marine Nationale were still creating themselves space but on the whole the Royal Navy’s scramble defence was working. However, without a reliable lineout or scrum they could not maintain the ball for long enough to exert pressure and this led to many promising half opportunities petering out before they truly threatened. A third Marine Nationale penalty extended the lead to 23-6 requiring the Navy to engineer three scores, something they did not look like achieving before a final gloss was put on the score when the Marine Nationale crossed with the final play of the match for their third try. A final score, 28-6, reflected the home team’s superiority.
The match saw six players win their first caps. Cory Moore and Gareth John Rees shared the scrum half duties whilst Ben Watson at lock, Timoci Kava at Number Eight , Chris Warner at prop and Greg Loydall at centre will all have gained from their Toulon experience.
The Marine Nationale proved tough and challenging opponents. For the Royal Navy there was the natural disappointment of not reproducing the form they have delivered consistently this year. However, there were also signs that bode well for the Inter Service matches in April if the lessons of Toulon are quickly learned. The team has been in similar situations before and responded well but they will need to focus on what is important and what allows them to play their exciting and effective brand of high tempo rugby. And perhaps it is appropriate that given the circumstances of this loss that they look once more to Nelson. The two hundredth anniversary of his famous Battle of Trafalgar spawned the Babcock International Challenge, Le Crunch. Nelson was acutely aware that brute force would not prove the French undoing but the answer would be found in discipline, technical excellence of gunnery and superior tactics. As then so today.
The Royal Navy have a final run out against Devon at the Rectory on 13th April before they host the Royal Air Force in their opening Inter Service match at USSG, Portsmouth a week later.
Royal Navy Team: Gareth Evans *, Ben Priddey * (Capt), John Court *, Edd Pascoe *, John Lamsin *, Ben Fox *, Jarrard Hayler *, Dave Fairbrother *, Cory Moore, Nathan Huntley *, Matt Bowden *, Mat Tichias *, Sam Davies *, Seta Raumaita *, Jon Humphrey *
Reps: Harry Collins * for Ben Priddey, Kyle Mason * for Matt Bowden, Chris Warner for Gaz Evans, Ben Watson for John Lamsin, Timoci Kava for Dave Fairbrother, Gareth John Rees Cory Moore, Greg Loydall for Mat Tichias, Silvenusi Buinimasi * for Sam Davies
Images by Alligin Photography / © Geraint Ashton Jones