The Future’s Bright, The Future’s Orange
The young guns of Britannia Royal Navy College certainly stood out in their bright orange strip and by the end of a pulsating Navy Cup Final they backed up their sartorial elegance with a deserved 12-7 victory. The early play was all about HMS Seahawk’s forwards and their tight game, but BRNC always threatened on the counter attack and with time they exerted some control on the middle of the match. They had to with stand a torrid last ten minutes as Seahawk battled for the levelling score but the trophy will not be crossing the Tamar but stays in Devon as the College secure their second ever Navy Cup victory.
It was probably not a surprise that Seahawk started the match the stronger. With Matthews and Stewart having been in the Royal Navy for less than two weeks, BRNC were clearly still getting to know each other. An early scrum saw their lightweight pack rudely shunted back 10m, the vocal Dartmouth supporters fell silent and HMS Seahawk started to rumble forward through their close quarter play. A couple of penalties lifted the siege but the ball was always with HMS Seahawk and their scrum half, Ryan Cox, was having an easy game behind his dominant forwards.
However the future template of the game was soon to be revealed, spilled ball from Seahawk in the tackle, Stewart the BRNC lively scrum half feeds captain Dane Smallbone and his inventive play from fly half find space for his outside backs to exploit. Suddenly Seahawk seemed less self-assured and the Dartmouth voices could be heard again.
The College’s counter attacking game wasn’t enough to stop them conceding the first score. A couple of needless penalties allowed HMS Seahawk to set up position deep in the BRNC half. First from a lineout, then a scrum they gradually ramped up the pressure before they were able to set up a maul 5m from the BRNC line. The young BRNC players couldn’t find an answer to the power play and Grady was driven over for the opening try, which was converted. 7-0.
However the score was to be the turning point of the game. From the restart the BRNC forwards unleashed a fury at the breakdown that clearly rattled the more experienced Seahawk team. Possession was regained and the Seahawk defence was scrambling to keep the Dartmouth team from scoring. Eventually it was a cross-field kick that was to prove their undoing as right wing Alvy deftly took the ball in full flow, fed it inside to Daz Pounder and BRNC were back in the match. Smallbone landed the touchline conversion to level the scores.
The score only increased BRNC’s belief and they spent the rest of the half posing real questions of the Seahawk defence and moving their big pack around the pitch. Dane Smallbone was now demonstrating why he was capped at both Union and League. His range of kicks and passes were creating space which centres Joe Adams and Daz Pounder were exploiting. It was a rare Smallbone break that finally did for the Seahawk defence as he set Alvy away again on the right wing. This time it was Joe Adams who was on his inside shoulder and he crossed from 25m for the second try. On the stroke of half time the timing was perfect and despite Smallbone missing the kick it was Britannia who were happier as the half time whistle was blown.
The second half began with BRNC still in the ascendancy but unable to prize open the HMS Seahawk defence. As the time ticked on the pressure on Seahawk rose and they started to make too many unforced errors and also lost a little of their discipline. The penalties ensured that BRNC could keep Seahawk well clear of their goal line. Eventually referee, Duncan McClement, lost his patience with Seahawk and following one infringement at the tackle too many their fly half, Sutton, was sent to the Sin Bin. With only 15 minutes to play and one man short it seemed a tall order for the Fleet Air Arm side.
Whether it was tension, as the win became within touching distance, or fatigue but with less than ten minutes to go BRNC lost their ability to win the ball at the tackle. The Seahawk forwards sniffed a chance and started to maul and drive around the close quarters. Time and time again they pummelled the Dartmouth team back towards their own goal line and time and time again the youngsters found a way to hold on. Two 5m lineouts and driving mauls were repelled followed by a 5m scrum, which was stopped inches from the line. With time up HMS Seahawk were awarded a penalty 20m out. They had to run the ball, first down the centre, then Cox sniped to the right before moving the ball wide to the left, but the pass was slightly astray, it went forward and Duncan McClemnt blew for time and BRNC had held on for a famous victory. In 2001 it was a 31-22 victory over HMS Heron, in 2014, 12-7 against HMS Seahawk. Quite a couple of scalps for the college and certainly well deserved on the night.
Dane Smallbone orchestrated much of the college’s good play, their two lock forwards McNeil and Hobson worked their socks off and became very effective in the lineout but it was Joe Adams’ strong running in the centre that in the end was too much for HMS Seahawk to handle and was therefore deserving of the man of the match award.
All that was left was for Rear Admiral Keith Beckett, Vice President of the RNRU, to present Dane Smallbone with the cup and the Dartmouth celebrations could begin. Their supporters had certainly found their voices again and a couple of their players will be seen in future years at higher levels. The future on Navy Rugby is bright and tonight it was orange. BRNC are the 2014/15 Navy Cup winners having beaten HMS Seahawk 12-7
BRNC: Matthews, Salt, Hewitson, McNeil, Hobson, Hughes, Irvine, Murray, Stewart, Smallbone *, Carr, Adams, Pounder, Alvey, Willmott, Reps: Calvert, Hibbart, Panther, Leyshon, Jones, Grey
HMS Seahawk: Kirk, Lowe, Court *, Thompson, Lamsin, English, Grady, Pallett, Cox, Sutton, Conroy-Smith Lenderyou, Kava, Campbell, Saberton Reps: Warner, Mason *, Johnson, Nichol, Carter, Wilson, Best
* - capped player
Referee: McClement SRU & RNRURS Assistant Referees Prentice & Pizii (both RNRURS)
Images Alligin Photography © Geraint Ashton Jones