Royal Navy v United States Marine Corps CNRC 2014
Royal Navy Senior XV
United States Marine Corps
A small crowd, but noisy, gathered for this game, on a gorgeous spring afternoon with the sunshine blazing down and a moderate breeze blowing diagonally across the pitch. Both sides had a great deal to play for. The RN needed to post a good win: to re-confirm their place as the best team in the tournament, as well as to be sure of an overall tournament victory should the Aussies turn the Kiwis over later in the afternoon. The USMC team had their pride to play for – which always makes for a dangerous opponent.
The RN kicked off, into the wind, and there were early scrums and lineouts to settle the forwards from both sides into their contest. Then, after 3 minutes, Mne Dom Taylor stole a US lineout ball on halfway and charged towards the goal-line, but the RN lost possession, allowing the US to clear downfield. At a subsequent US scrum, the RN forwards posted their intent, driving forwards and forcing a knock-on by the scrum-half. Two minutes later and another US scrum saw the RN drive over the ball for Cpl Dave Fairbrother to pick-up at No8 and set LET(WE) Ian Cooper on his way towards the try-line. With the ball going forward, the US had a 5 metre scrum, but again, the RN stole the ball, this time with Taylor making no mistake and scoring just to the left of the posts. Mne Richard Cadywould kicked; everyone in the stand thought it missed left; but the points were awarded. 7-0 after 9 minutes.
The next 6 minutes followed a similar pattern. Both sides held possession, but neither could retain it indefinitely, leading to a handful of scrums, lineouts and penalties. The US surged forwards; the RN repulsed them and moved back upfield. A super catch from RN skipper POAET Marsh Cormack in the middle of the RN line set up a driving maul and only a careless forward pass prevented another try. That said, a scrum 10 metres out in front of their posts offered little respite for the USMC and they conceded a penalty from which the RN elected another scrum. Fairbrother picked up, linked with scrum-half LPT Johnny Stephen before Taylor went over again for his second try. Another conversion from Cadywould. 14-0.
The USMC were not for rolling over however, and they continued to contest fiercely. Their tackling was aggressive and powerful; their retention of the ball was sound and they passed and interchanged well. They threatened the RN line on 20 minutes but AET Jon Humphrey at full-back kicked downfield to clear. Back came the USMC however, until the RN scrum once again took the ball against the head. Humphrey broke the US line, fed to Lt Matt Bowden and further phases of possession saw – you guessed it – Taylor score his third try, with another Cadywould conversion. 21-0 for the RN after 27 minutes.
But an RN mistake from the kick-off (no call from the back?) gifted possession to the USMC. They surged forward with repeated phases of possession, forcing the RN to concede a penalty 15 metres out, from which the US forwards drove over for a well-executed, and wildly-celebrated try – their first of the tournament. With a successful conversion kick, it was now 21-7. Game on!
With half-time approaching, the RN upped their game once more. The RN kicked a penalty into the USMC corner and Musician Ed Pascoe soared to catch cleanly at the lineout. Quick ball and quick hands released Cooper for a try under the posts, converted by Cadywould again: 28-7 at half-time.
At half-time, the messages in the RN camp would have been about keeping it simple, being patient, and remembering to execute the basics well. Tactical substitutions made were: Lt Ed Gaught for AB Mark Jones; Mne Seti Raumakita for Taylor; AB Sam Benzie for AB Tom Davies.
The US kicked off the second-half with the RN now playing with the wind behind them. However, the RN defensive effort failed to start with the referee’s whistle, giving away the ball from the restart and allowing the USMC to score under the posts after only a minute had elapsed. An easy conversion and the score was now 28-14.
Awake now, the RN defended well against repeated US phases of possession until the US conceded a penalty on half-way. The RN kicked downfield, won the lineout on the 22, and AB Sam Benzie burst through the US line to score a fine try. Another successful conversion in challenging conditions (but what else did you expect?) and the score after 45 minutes was 35-14.
On 50 minutes AB Jack Basher replaced Raumakita who was suffering a recurrence of his foot injury from earlier in the tour, but had, at least “tasted contact”….. The game was now opening up in a most attractive and enjoyable manner, with both sides running hard, handling well, and defending fiercely. On 52 minutes, a rolling maul from the RN forwards released Basher for a dream start to his game: a try which was converted by Cadywould. 42-14 for the RN.
Two minutes later, and the RN scored again. Stephen made a superb break down the left and Bowden should have capped a fine tournament with a try, but he juggled the ball: once; twice; three times, before finally dropping it. No matter; with the RN taking the ball against the head in the subsequent scrum, Fairbrother picke-up and drove over. Converted by Cadywould. 49-14 and now, surely, the RN would ease home comfortably.
But remember that comment about USMC pride? This team has grown in stature, and learned so much, over the past 2 weeks; they do not know how to take a backward step. And forwards again they came. Quick hands, fast recycling of the ball, and the US scored a fine try under the RN posts. 49-21 and the game still being played at a tremendous pace and intensity.
But now the game opened too much for the US. A US lineout on their own 5 metre line misfired badly, the balling falling for Basher. He collected and threw himself over the line to score from 2 metres. Another conversion from Cadywould and the score was now 56-21.
With the RN forwards dominating the set-piece and open play, as the Americans tired and their bench struggled to deliver the same impact as that of the RN, it was increasingly just a matter of time before the next score. The RN brought on Lt Jack Tindle for Cooper after 60 minutes; Cpl Tom Cowley for Pascoe on 62 (and what a revelation Pascoe has been this tour); and AB Josh Jones for Mne Nathan Huntley on 65. And then the tries started flowing. Stephen sprinted clear on the half-way line to score a fine solo try on 67 minutes, converted by Cadywould. 63-21. Tindle then capped a successful debut tour with a try on 67 minutes, again converted by Cadywould. 70-21.
Stephen then scored again after breaking the US line from a scrum, converted by Cadywould: 77-21.
And, as the final whistle beckoned to release the USMC players from their misery, a Fairbrother pick-and-go released Humphrey for one final score, again converted by Cadywould. Final score: 84-21.
At the end of the day, a comfortable victory for the RN according to the scoreboard but one that each and every player knows they had to fight hard for against a courageous and determined – and hugely improved - USMC side. The RN squad must now watch and await the result of the RNZN v RAN game kicking-off in 30 minutes. But whatever the outcome, this is a squad that has come together well in a short period of time, played some good rugby, built their understanding, and identified some real challenges for places ahead of the build-up to the Inter-Services in 2015.