Royal Navy Mariners tested in Cardiff
The Royal Navy Mariners travelled to Cardiff Arms Park to play Her Majesty’s Prison Service for the first time. The weather was fine and the pitch was perfect with the 4G rubber crumb brushed and lines looking bright. Both teams were excited with the added bonus of playing at the home of the Cardiff Blues.
With the Royal Navy Rugby Union Mariners squad ever evolving and busy work schedules a few of the players returned for this fixture, Mark Pollard and Owen Salmon also returned from deployment to start their first game of the season. With only a few games remaining before the RAF match the team selection is going to be key and the coaching staff need to see how players interact on the field of play. It was going to be a tough away game, the Prison Service (PS) had a very large squad as this was their home fixture and with them being a national side they were in the same ‘boat’ as the Mariners, with players having travelled the morning of or night before wanting to perform well and grab their place in the future starting sides.
Before the kicked off a minute’s silence was held for a member of the Prison Service who had passed away the week before.
The game started with pace from both sides as they adjusted to playing on the 4G surface, but simple mistakes were being made by both sides with balls being knocked on, passes not making it to the right person, or players simply not listening to the referee’s instructions. The PS were keeping hold of the ball and making good breaks through the jinxy feet of the full back, but last man tackles from Andy Vance with his wingers in support ensured they never crossed the line. After 25 minutes of play the stalemate was broken; good attacking play allowed the PS to find a gap in the Mariners’ defence and score in the corner, the conversion was missed and the Prison Service took the lead 5 – 0. Following a good break from the Mariners’ forwards the PS were caught offside and a simple penalty from Paul Saberton closed the gap 5 - 3. With the wind at their backs the Mariners applied more pressure in the midfield but the PS flanker read the pass and was able to intercept and score under the posts extending their lead 12 – 3. Again Vance and his backs kept the PS from breaking the gain line but on too many occasions they found gaps to slip through but scramble defence worked and they were kept at bay. However just before half time the Mariners again fell short on defenders in the wide channel and the PS edged over to make the score 19 - 3. It had been an entertaining half of rugby with both teams starting to bond but the PS held the upper hand, plays and attitude would have to change if the Mariners were going to come back and beat the PS.
From the restart the Mariners moved the ball to the wing with a fluid set move up into the PS half but a mistimed pass was again intercepted and the PS winger raced away to score under the posts 26 – 3. Team captain Chris Thompson must have said some stern words to the players because they responded immediately. The ball was kept close and competition at the breakdown was minimal but effective which resulted in a Mariners’ penalty which they chose to kick to the corner. From the resulting maul Steve Hillman broke with the ball to score from 5 metres out, Saberton converted to keep the Mariners in the game 26 - 10. Both side started to make changes but it was the Mariners who adjusted best. Now playing against the wind they were forced to keep the ball in hand to make the best ground possible. When another penalty was awarded they again put it in the corner for a lineout. Gathered by Mark Pollard they mauled in field towards the post, after being stopped just short and told to use the ball Hillman raced away for his second try which again Saberton converted 26 - 17. The Mariners were now growing in confidence, but the PS held firm repelling attack after attack with some long kicks down field, then on the 73rd minute Paul Kewn pounced on a bouncing ball which confused the PS defence to score next to the post. Saberton’s conversion closed the gap to 26 – 24 and it was game on. However this was the last time the Mariners got close with the PS managing the game for the remaining minutes and the ball was shifted from danger at every occasion and the game finished 26 - 24. A good performance from all players involved, however they will have to bond as a team quickly and play for the full 80 minutes, little mistakes must be eradicated and game management needs a little polish but I’m sure it will with a more settled squad.
Team: Thompson (team captain), Dugmore, White, Moult, Pollard, Mortesen, Fuca, Salmon, Smallbone, Boyce, Lockey, James, Saberton, Vance, England, Lister, Kewn, Lockhead, Milford, Fenton, Peel, Jones.
Words: Guy Pallett
Images: Royal Navy Rugby Union © Guy Pallett