U23s Lose their Way in the Second Half against the Trailfinders




Ealing Trailfinders Academy

Nick Burgess providing quick ball before moving to outside-half
Jack Basher made strong tackles and hard yards throughout
Attacking from deep, Ben Watson’s leadership was missed in the second half
He leaps, he scores. Rory Penfold’s opportunistic try just before half time

The Under 23s produced an encouraging first half display taking a converted try advantage into the dressing room.  When both teams returned to the pitch it was a markedly different performance from the boys in blue who came perilously close to snatching defeat from the jaws of victory to record an appropriate draw against Ealing Trailfinders’ Academy.

Tries from Craig Jones, Tom Hughes and Rory Penfold helped the U23s to a 19-12 half-time lead with Gareth Rees adding the remaining points in the second half with a kick at goal. The Academy side fought back hard and had the upper hand for most of the second half, bringing the game level in the final moments of the game.

Ealing Trailfinders were always going to be a tough opposition beating the Army U23s by 3 points in a close game, trouncing the RAF 38-0 and perhaps most telling, defeating London Scottish 48-15.  As the U23s lost by 7 against Scottish the game against Ealing was destined to be challenging.

Lofting a high ball from the kick off, the Academy team highlighted their most potent attacker in the form of left wing, Andre Adeleke, a constant source of irritation and focus for the Navy defence throughout the game.  Showing composure during the initial exchanges, the U23s showed intent by kicking for touch instead going for the points.  Rolling the maul forward from the back of the lineout, Corey Pulman and Dan Mason combined but at the critical moment the attack was repulsed.  Still in the opposition 22 a speculative pass arrived with left wing Craig Jones who did well to hold onto the ball and with support on hand was driven over to get the scoreboard going. Converted from out wide by Nick Burgess, the RN held a short-lived lead of 7-0.

A period of confusion followed with the RN able to make sense of their patterns: box kick or run the ball back – the decision making was lacking in the key positions resulting Trailfinders' openside Alfie Hill getting hold of a lacklustre fly hack; breaking through a gaping hole while playing the penalty advantage the Academy side wrestled the ball across the line and under the posts for a simple conversion.

On the up, Ealing executed a training ground lineout.  A back of the line ball was quickly recycled to the blind side and against a back-peddling defence the ball was sent rapidly out to the wide open spaces.  Taking full advantage of the 2 on 1 the Trailfinders couldn’t help but score.  Missing the conversion Ealing took the lead 7-12.

Regaining some self-control and go-forward, Jack Basher delayed his pass to captain Ben Watson who was brought down heavily with options outside – a chance gone begging perhaps.  As the play continued the RN took the ball to the defence line but when tackled were found isolated and against a well-drilled side like Ealing the turnover was never in doubt.  At the next breakdown the referee blew for an injury.  Carried from the pitch the tackle that put Watson down was stronger than initially thought and that was the end of his game.

Seeing that changes were required the coaching staff brought on Gareth Rees and rearranged the backs with Burgess moving to 10 and Rory Penfold moving to fullback at the expense of Jack Power.  It brought dividends as the Navy put their best 5 phases together ending with a well-configured driving maul with Tom Hughes crossing the line right in front of the referee.  Converted by Gareth Rees, the U23s would have been happy going into the locker room leading by 2 points.  However following a long clearance kick from Burgess, with the team staying connected in defence, a something from nothing try was scored.  Mauling strongly again the ball arrived with Penfold in midfield. The defenders outnumbered the U23s and yet through miscommunication in the Trailfinders’ backline and a step and go from Penfold saw him break the line and bodily launch himself to the try.  The half time score was Navy U23s 19 Ealing Trailfinders 12.

The interval didn’t do either team any favours as both sides fell victim to a catalogue of errors with knock-ons and forward passes a-plenty at the start of the second half.  Given a get out of jail free card, the Navy defence had no answer when Ealing player Luca Townsend broke the line, not seeing the simple try scoring pass the centre was on the receiving end of Toby Papp’s crushing covering tackle.

Hooker Hughes having played his part was replaced by Rory Bonnick, keen to bring his basketball skills to the fore at the lineout and with only one wayward throw certainly proved this.  An extended period of play followed with the majority of possession belonging to Ealing.  An arcing run by Ealing captain and Number 8, Marcus Lowe looked promising but was thrown away with a loose forward pass.  Even in the kicking duel that followed the Trailfinders were still edging it though it was all becoming a bit rushed as Ealing looked to release Akele on the left.

Suffering a reversal of a penalty for an innocuous looking push while following up a kick, the Academy side richly deserved their next score.  After a tap and go from a penalty following the RN scrum being driven back, Ealing fullback, Josh Steadman, now playing at 9, made 30 yards. The phase was stopped by some desperate tackles, the ball was recycled cleanly but the clearance kick was recovered by Trailfinder outside centre Chris Hitchcock who ran the ball back from his own half to score a superb solo effort.  The added conversion scored the match was finely balanced at 19 apiece.

Into the final five minutes, the RN opted to kick a penalty again with Rees adding the points.  A tense final couple of minutes followed.  The Ealing restart didn’t clear the 10 with the RN opting for the scrum in the centre of the park.  Driven off the ball by a resurgent Academy pack, the Ealing side failed to capitalise by throwing another forward pass.

What followed was inexplicable though not unexpected. Ealing scrum, penalty, kick at goal, 3 points.  Match drawn RNRU U23s 22 - Ealing Trailfinders Academy 22.

A strong first half performance from the U23s should have brought dividends and set them up for the business end of the season.  That being said the Trailfinders were never going to be a push over and both sides will have thought they deserved to leave the pitch as the winner.

Next up for the Under 23s is the first match in the Inter Service competition.  They travel to Aldershot to take on the Army on Wednesday 16 November, keen to retain their Inter Service title.

Team List 1 Sam Vernon, 2 Tom Hughes, 3 Kai Allton, 4 Ben Watson, 5 Dan Mason, 6 Jack Basher, 7 Toby Papp, 8 Scott Makepeace, 9 Nick Burgess, 10 Rory Penfold, 11 Craig Jones, 12 Corey Pulman, 13 Adam Gallagher, 14 Chris Mills, 15 Jack Power Replacements Rory Bonnick, Campbell Cunningham, Joe Burton, Ben Roberts, Hayden Wilkinson, Gareth Rees, Gerran Smith, Liam Williams.

Words by J Campbell-Baldwin
Images by Royal Navy Rugby Union © John Walton