Small Margins the Difference as Navy Women Narrowly Miss Out on Win


RN Women


Devon Ladies

Sam Alderson makes an early break.
Nic Elvidge taking contact as she again tidies up the play.
Anne-Marie McIntyre was always on hand as a strong ball carrier.
Ollie Critchely will look forward to firmer conditions.
Katie Ives made a good impact from the bench.
Gemma Flowers worked tirelessly from the side of the scrum all afternoon.

Small margins cost Royal Navy Women as they battled back from early set back against Devon Ladies.  There was much that was good in the performance, but unforced errors eventually cost them the win.  Final result Devon Ladies 7 Royal Navy Women’s XV 6.

I am not sure how many watching the match between Devon Ladies and the Royal Navy Women’s XV, hosted by Topsham RFC on International Women’s Day, would have been aware how appropriate the venue was.  Topsham was home to Countess Isabella de Fortibus one of the most impressive businesswomen of the 13th century.  She was famed for her calmness under pressure, her understanding of the politics of what was rightly hers, despite pressure from the King and other nobility to seize her lands.  She was also an astute tactician with an agility to keep herself one step ahead of her rivals.  With a very heavy pitch at Topsham, agility was never going to be the order of the day, but the Navy Women could well heed Isabella’s lessons on calmness under pressure if they are to make the next step in realising the growing potential being built within their squad.  That they were unable to overcome the hurdle of conceding an early try was not down to the remarkable defence of Devon, nor due to the lack of effort from the Navy, whose work rate over the full eighty minutes should be applauded.  No when they watch the game back it will be evident that unforced errors proved their downfall.  Should they be disheartened by this?  Well not if they take the lessons that the Men have already taken.  The Men’s performance against Cambridge University was very similar to the Women’s against Devon Ladies.  Yet only last Wednesday, a stone’s throw from Topsham RFC, at Sandy Park, they produced a performance that was accurate and successful as they scalped the Exeter Braves.  If the Women find the accuracy to add to their effective systems, then this may be a very special season for them in more ways than one. 

It is to the team’s credit that they did not let the early Devon try distract them from the job in hand.  With Devon dominating the early scrums the Navy team found a way to play effective rugby without this important platform in the heavy underfoot conditions.  And it bodes well for the future that as the game reached halftime the team had adjusted their scrum to achieve parity if not supremacy.  But even before then the work rate from the pack was allowing scrumhalf Rhiann Perry to have some good ball to work with as she looked to mix the play between forwards and backs.  With Sam Alderson showing a willingness to hit the line and Nic Elvidge making the hard yards when needed, the shape of things to come, on firmer pitches in April and May could be glimpsed.  Ollie Critchley is another who will be relishing having a little more purchase underfoot so that her elusive running game can be truly effective.  Likewise, Anne-Marie McIntyre, Yvonne Mealy, Gemma Flowers and Katie Ives offered themselves time and time again, as first up ball carriers, as the Navy looked to breakdown the impressive Devon defence. 

That they didn’t succeed was down to some streetwise play from Devon, content to concede penalties in the middle of the pitch, some needless penalties from themselves and the inability to maintain pressure and convert half chances into points.  The good news though is that the half chances were being created and with a couple of more experienced heads to come back into the side it must be hoped that with minor tuning on the training pitch some of these errors can be easily rectified.

7-0 down after a few minutes is never the best start to the game but the deficit was reduced on the quarter hour as Sam Alderson landed a penalty to reduce the lead to 4 points.  When the game is reviewed the Navy team will wonder how the next 55 minutes of the match remained scoreless before Louise Worsfold set up a nail biting last 10 minutes with a well taken penalty kick to bring the score to a single point, 7-6.  Worsfold was to be offered two more kicking chances and it is the lot of the kicker that you can so easily flip between hero and villain in a single match.  Her first miss, into a stiff breeze was understandable and she was courageous, and right, to take the kick on.  However, the second was more within her range and she will reflect that it is a kick she could well have landed.  However, the two late misses should not distract from what was a good all-round performance when she replaced Parnaby from the bench.  Her kicking out of hand, as with Alderson and Jenkins, proved an effective part of the Navy’s game plan whilst she also worked hard to get the ball in her hands, proving to be another in the Navy blue shirt who carried well.

The Royal Navy season though was never going to be defined at Topsham, or even under the banner of International Women’s Day.  No time is to limited for them to reflect too hard on the result but rather the focus, going forward, needs to be on the performance.  They know that when they take on the defending Inter Service champions, the Royal Air Force, at the Twickenham Stoop they will be playing on a firm, fast pitch and they will need to take those half chances when they come along.  A fortnight later they will cross the road and be part of an historic occasion as in the 100th year of Inter Service rugby they will take on the British Army in the first Service Women’s game played at Twickenham Stadium.  Before the dust on the Army Navy Match will have had chance to settle the Women will embark on a tour of South Africa. 

In overall terms the history of Navy Women’s rugby is comparatively short, and the road travelled has at times been bumpy.  International Women’s Day though is all about looking forward, not back, the aim to strive for an equal tomorrow.  In sport the goal is to celebrate women athletes and applaud when equality is achieved.  There was much to applaud in their performance against Devon Ladies and the double header matches at the Stoop and Twickenham shows that the Royal Navy Rugby Union is prepared to invest in their visibility as a rugby team.  The tour to South Africa has huge potential to develop the Navy Women’s team yet further.  But before then the focus has to be inward as the squad looks to build on what was good; the ball carrying, the structure and the work rate whilst looking to ensure that when they create the half chance in the future they are focussed and able to turn those chances in to points.  Final score Devon Ladies 7 Royal Navy Women’s XV 6.

Women's XV, 1) PO Emily Park *, 2) LDN Kiera Gavan *, 3) AET Lucy Honeybell *, 4) NA(AH) Yvonne Mealy *, 5) SLt RN Emily Howard *, 6) MA Hannah Cole *, 7) CPO Gemma Flowers *, 8) PO Anne-Marie McIntyre *, 9) Mid Rhian Perry, 10) PO Sarah Jenkins *, 11) MA Josie Parnaby, 12) MA Nicola Elvidge *, 13) SLt RN Emma Tegan Morley *, 14) Lt RN Olivia Critchley *, 15) PO Sam Alderson *

Replacements:, 16) PONN Alice Kightley * for Mealy, 17) Lt RN Katie Ives * for Park, 18) LAET Abigail Sondack *, 19) ET Elona Bythell * for Cole, 20) Lt Cdr RAN Gemma Casserly for Perry, 21) Lt RN Cheryl Goodwin *, 22) SLt RN Louise Worsfold * for Parnaby, 23) AB Becky Bowskill for Elvidge

* - denotes capped player

Next match for the Royal Navy Women’s XV is hopefully 18 March.  The team are looking to replace the postponed match in Toulon with a game in the Portsmouth Port area.  Details will be on the website.

Next match for the Royal Navy Rugby Union is Wednesday 11 March 2020 with the Senior XV v Richmond at the Richmond Athletic Ground., KO: 1930

Tickets are still available for both the Navy v RAF day at the Stoop and the Army v Navy Match at Twickenham, full details on the website.

By line: Geraint Ashton Jones
Images credit: © Alligin Photography