Students have plenty of lessons for U23s


Navy U23 XV


Bristol University RFC

Scrum half Callum Lewis makes his U23 debut
Paddy McGarth with a strong carry, supported by Keaton Leyland-Jones
Returning Kai Alton clears the attacker after Sam Powell’s tackle
Fly half Kieran Manson breaks the gain line

On the evening of Wednesday, 25th September 2019 the Royal Navy Rugby Union Under 23 squad travelled to the Coombe Dingle Sports Complex, Bristol, the home of Bristol University, expecting to play the University Development team. However the hosts decided to field their first team squad.

This was the Under 23s third game of the season as they continue on their journey towards the Inter Service competition to be played in November. The squad is still very much a work in progress, with a large turnover in players since last season. Many players were unavailable due to work commitments, deployment and injuries. The Royal Navy arrived with a squad of 28 players of which only13 had played in the previous game with one being capped at Under 23 level.

At exactly 1915 the game kicked off with the students attacking with precision and pace causing panic in the Navy defence. Following a scrum penalty and two penalties for a variety of offences the students crossed the line in the fifth minute for their first try which was converted. Bristol 7 – RN 0.

There followed a period of attack by the students camped in the RN 22. After a RN overthrow at the line out and several last ditch tackles by Tom Hall at full back had failed to stem the tide, Bristol scored their second try, which again was converted. Bristol 14 – RN 0.Ten minutes played.

The Bristol team, witnessed by several hundred spectators, were experienced both individually and as a team having played several warm up games. Obviously well coached and drilled efficiently the went through the phases with precision, purpose and speed. The forwards were winning at scrum, lineout and at the breakdown and frequently turning over the ball. The backs were equally good running very good lines and angles with the support runners being well positioned to receive a pass or support the player at any breakdown. The RN defended bravely almost with suicidal abandon, giving away penalties and scrums or sometimes just running out of defenders.

By 30 minutes played the students had increased their lead with two further converted tries. Bristol 28 – RN 0.

During the last ten minutes of the first half the Navy continued to be on the back foot, tackling hard in an attempt to curb the student advance and occasionally relieving the pressure with kicks to touch providing only a short respite to the pressure applied by the students who scored a further two converted tries to end the half leading 42 – 0.

From the second half kick off the Navy put pressure on the students with the back row of Sam Powell, Keaton Leyland-Jones and Paddy McGrath running hard at the students' defence and making inroads into the opposition's 22 for the first time in the game. For the next twenty minutes the RN stayed in and around the students 22. With Callum Lewis at Scrum Half pulling the strings with some superb snipping and passes from the rear of the breakdown kept the momentum going. With both forwards and backs driving continually towards the line the students were hard pressed to keep the Navy out. At this stage the Navy looked to be in a position to score but after a couple of forced errors by Navy players the students were able to relieve the pressure.

Despite short periods of domination in the students' half the RN were unable to cross the line and score. The student defence held out and they scored another three converted tries during the remaining twenty minutes. Match result Bristol 63 – RN 0.

It would be easy to criticise the performance of the RN team, however this would be grossly unfair. This group of players, some still in the training phase of their RN careers and aged between 18 and 23 are in the very early stages of assessment, coaching and selection to the final squad to take on the Army and RAF.

The Navy side played with commitment, courage and a high degree of what the Aussies call ‘mate ship’.  Combined with a degree of skill under extreme pressure no player shirked their responsibilities. The truth is that at this stage of their preparation the opposition were just far too strong. We will never know how a fixture against this side towards the end October would have panned out, without doubt it would have been a much closer result. The overriding thought for me is that this squad of players, coaches and other members of the TSG have the ability, enthusiasm and desire to succeed and to be the best they can be as individuals and as a team.

We look forward to seeing them progress on their journey towards the Inter Service Under 23 matches.

RNRU U23 Team: 1.Tam Lindsay 2.Connor Bick 3.Kai Alton 4. Matt Scott 5. Moshin Aziz 6. Sam Powell 7. Keaton Leyland-Jones (C) 8. Paddy McGrath 9. Callum Lewis 10. Kieran Manson 11. Charlie Penrose-Toms 12. Jake Hanley (VC) 13. Tom Ridehalgh 14 Sam Kretzchmar 15. Tom Hall. Replacements; 16. Dom Cleverley 17. Mitch Squibb 18. Callum Holbrook 19. David Scoot 20. Oliver Thomas 21. Christian Cunningham-Wood 22. Drew Kinsey 23. Adam White 24. Josh Belcher 25. Harry Johnson 27. Jake Wells 28. Ben Metcalfe.

RNRU U23 TSG: Head Coach John Court, Andy Vance (Backs), Loz Salisbury (Fwds), Pony Moore and Team Manager Rob Jones

Words: P. Pongo
Images: Royal Navy Rugby Union © John Walton