The sun shines on the Light Blues
RN Senior XV
RAF Senior XV
The sun was shining at RAF Halton when the RAF and RN Senior XV teams stepped out onto the pitch for the opening match in their 2017 Inter Service competition. The next 80 minutes passed in a frenzy of fantastic rugby, both teams evenly matched, as with each quarter the scoreboard kept creeping up. But when the final whistle sounded it was the RAF Senior XV who were smiling; they could put behind them the 2016 one point defeat at Burnaby Road, going one better by beating the Royal Navy by two points with a 16 - 14 win.
The match started at an extremely high pace, both sides wanted to make an early impression and get some points on the board. However an infringement by the RAF after 2 minutes gave Navy full back John Humphrey the opportunity to kick his first penalty conversion of the day for the Royal Navy to take the lead 0 - 3. A second opportunity for points came 3 minutes later but the kick narrowly missed, going wide. Then it was the turn of the RAF who were driven off the ball at the scrum resulting in a penalty for the Light Blues which was kicked successfully by fly half, Byrne to level the scores, 3 - 3 after eleven minutes played.
Then the teams began to settle down and the pace evened out. The RAF had an extended period of possession, which the Navy defended resolutely, but the pressure eventually told and they were penalised, allowing the RAF to kick their second penalty conversion to take the lead 6 - 3 as the first quarter ended.
Possession was alternating between the sides, with some good clearance kicks from both teams. One such clearance from Navy scrum half, Cory Moore, sent the ball deep into RAF territory, and it came down into the hands of prop, Mark Owen, who found himself in some space and showed an unusual turn of speed for a front row player! Support came in the form of Huntley and Buinimasi but was disappointingly dropped 10 yards from the try line.
The tackles were going in hard and fast; the RAF lost one player to injury in the first ten minutes and the Navy sustained a casualty, prop Gareth Evans, who had won his 26th cap, to be replaced by Kyle Mason, coming on for his 28th cap!
With six minutes to play in the first half, the RAF missed the chance to extend their lead when a penalty kick went wide of the posts but Byrne soon made amends with a perfectly timed drop goal. The Royal Navy responded, not wanting to let the gap widen, and following some good scrumaging, found themselves in a good position. A penalty was awarded for a high tackle by the RAF and as the half time buzzer sounded, Humphrey kicked for another 3 points, to make the half time score RAF 9 - RN 6.
During the break, Chris Robinson replaced Mark Owen. As the teams returned to the pitch there was all to play for. A series of scrums and lineouts dominated the first 5 minutes of the second half and much to the consternation of Navy supporters, team captain Ben Priddey was shown a yellow card. With the Dark Blues down to fourteen men, the home side looked to capitalise on the overlap. As Moore and Fox were replaced by Rees and Matavesi, the RAF were awarded a penalty which they opted to kick but missed. But the reprieve was short lived and from a line out, a driving maul followed which gained territory and in the 49th minute, RAF team captain, Philpott scored the first try of the match, which was duly converted, to put the RAF ten points ahead 16 – 6.
With Priddey still in the sin bin, Harry Collins had to be brought on, replacing flanker Dom Taylor, for a scrum. The crowd were watching the clock, counting down the minutes until the Navy would be back up to full strength. They were fortunate not to concede any more points and Priddey and Taylor returned to the pitch, and Collins went off.
The Royal Navy knew that with 24 minutes left to play they needed to increase their work rate if they were going to be in with a chance of winning the match, and this they did. Working through the phases they gained territory and put the RAF on the back foot. A penalty was awarded against the RAF which Humphrey kicked to close the gap to seven points 16 – 9.
On came more fresh legs, Cadywould, Makepeace and Raumakita ran on to the pitch, keen to make their mark, replacing Huntley, Harvey and Buinimasi. Then Collins replaced Priddey. As the team settled down, newcomer Matavesi was able to prove his capability, with a strong run down the wing, a last minute offload allowed No 8 David Fairbrother to touch down into the corner for the Royal Navy’s first try of the game. The challenging kick narrowly missed and the scoreboard showed 16 – 14 with twelve minutes remaining.
With the scoreline so close the tension was palpable. The Navy were looking for every opportunity to unsettle the home side but could not break through their defence. Similarly the RAF were still pressurising keen for another try to seal a victory. At 75 minutes the Navy attack was deliberately stalled and the referee had to show a yellow card to the RAF lock. An exciting few minutes followed and the match slowed with a series of scrums which were very unbalanced following the yellow card. The Navy wanted to get the ball on the move but understandably the RAF were keen to keep it in the scrum. As the seconds ticked by, the Royal Navy saw their chance of victory ebbing away. The full time score was RAF Senior XV 16 – RN Senior XV 14. Congratulations to Sam Matavesi and Scott Makepeace for winning their first caps for the Royal Navy Senior XV.
It was an outstanding display of rugby, with one try apiece for the two teams. The RAF had definitely done their homework, Navy No 8 Fairbrother, was never given the opportunity to work his magic as he had done against the French Navy two weeks before, and the partnership between replacements Gareth Rees and Rich Cadywould didn’t have time to flourish. Looking ahead, both sides will be keen to tighten up their discipline to avoid giving away points to the Army in the future rounds of the IS championship.
Next up for the Royal Navy is their final preparation match of the season against Richmond RFC on Wednesday 19 April KO 1930 at Richmond Athletic Ground. Spectators welcome.
Team List: Gareth Evans, Ben Priddey (c), Mark Owen, Edd Pascoe, Matt Harvey, Ben Fox, Dom Taylor, David Fairbrother, Cory Moore, Nathan Huntley, Matt Bowden, Sili Buinimasi, Eldon Myers, Greg Welling, John Humphrey. Replacements (all used): Harry Collins, Kyle Mason, Chris Robinson, Scott Makepeace, Sam Matavesi, Gareth Rees, Rich Cadywould, Seta Raumakita.
Images by Royal Navy Rugby Union © John Walton