Victory for Dark Blues in Inter Service opener
RN U23 XV
Royal Navy Rugby Union Under 23s began the defence of their Inter-Service Championship with a tense, narrow win against a well-drilled Royal Air Force Under 23 team.
The Royal Navy hosted the RAF at Burnaby Road on Wednesday. A mild, dry evening promised a free-flowing game of competitive rugby and we were not disappointed. The RAF U23s, kicking off, started brightly, showing their desire with some solid running from the forward pack and some quick handling from the backline. They put together several phases and initially had the RN U23 on the back foot. Their set play was solid, demonstrated by an early steal from a RN U23 line out. Despite this impressive start it was the RN U23s that put the first points on the board and what an impressive try it was. The forward pack made the initial yards before some delightful handling skills from Rutter, playing at fly half, delivered the pass to the quick footed AET Janes who made the initial outside break before delivering an inside pass to AET Williams to score in the corner. Equally impressive was the conversion from out wide by AB Hanley which put the reigning Champions into the lead 7 - 0.
The RAF U23 came back immediately. Playing sensible rugby they kept the ball close, drawing in the RN defence before sending it wide bringing the exciting RAF back three into the game. The RN U23s defence was well drilled and repelled all that the RAF could throw at them including a thunderous tackle by Mne Scott. The RN's eagerness in defence led to an offside infringement enabling the RAF to kick deep into the RNs 22. An attacking line out, won by the RAF U23s, resulted in the RAF bundling over the line to bring the scores level, 7 - 7.
Another penalty, arguably harsh, saw the RAF kick a penalty to take the lead 7 - 10 before the RN U23s re-established the lead in fortuitous circumstances. The RAF, attempting to clear their lines, saw the kick charged down and the RN U23s were the quickest to pounce, touching down to take the score. A successful conversion by Hanley saw the RN regain the lead 14 - 10. This lead, which was never lost, was increased just prior to the half time whistle when Bugler Burgess spotted a blindside gap and Janes again managed to break the line before passing to AET Williams to score in the corner. Another fantastic wide conversion took the score to 21 - 10 at the break.
The second half kicked off and it was clear the RAF U23s had something to prove. They attacked well, ran hard and had the RN U23s on the back foot. It was fortunate for the home side that a handling error enabled the RN U23s to clear their lines and ease the pressure they were under. The RN were not letting the RAF off easily and extended their lead, when the RAF U23 momentarily lost their concentration and AET Rudder picked up a ball from the back of a ruck and ran straight through the middle to touch down unopposed. A poacher's try saw the RN U23s lead 28 - 10. The RN maintained their grip on the game with clever game management, putting the ball behind the RAF and making them play from deep inside their own half. The RAF, getting frustrated by the RN U23 dominance began to stray offside and were penalised numerous times, resulting in the RN U23s increasing the score line to 34 - 10 with a couple of penalty kicks converted by Hanley. The referee showed a yellow card and the RAF U23 were reduced to 14 men.
Being a player down was the catalyst for a complete turnaround by the RAF. Moments after losing their player, impressive SAC Crowley broke through the RN U23 defences to score a fantastic individual try under the posts, to close the gap to 34 - 17. This score lifted the RAF who began to take the game to the RN. The RN by this time had emptied the bench, utilising their reserves to gain some important game time. The RAF kept coming and their Number 8, SAC Raqio became more and more influential. Frustratingly for the visitors the RN kept repelling them and forcing some handling errors from the breakdown area. 17 points up with 5 minutes to play the RN must have thought they had the win, however the RAF had other ideas. Again, using their strong forward pack they managed to drive the well drilled RN pack over to score, closing the gap to 34 - 24 and after yet another great individual score by SAC Crowley the gap was suddenly down to 3 points. Fortunately for the RN U23s there was no time for a restart and they held on to a narrow but important victory, 34 - 31.
It was a thoroughly enjoyable game of rugby played by two closely matched sides. The Royal Navy Training Support Group will be rightly proud of the performance of their team, knowing that there is still another challenging match ahead before they can properly celebrate. They travel to Aldershot on Wednesday 21 November with the aim to win and secure the Inter-Service Championship trophy for an unprecedented 4th consecutive time.
Team list: 1. AET Vernon. 2. NA Skinner. 3. AB Alton . 4. Mne R McLean. 5. AET Wilkinson. 6. Mne B McLean. 7. Mne W Scott. 8. Mne Papp. 9. Bug Burgess. 10. AET Rutter. 11. AET Williams. 12. Mne Guilfoyle. 13. AET Janes. 14. AET Rudder. 15. AB Hanley
Replacements: 16. AB Bramwell. 17. AB Illsley. 18. AB Frogley. 19. AET Mills. 20. AB Holland. 21. AB Shires. 22. Mid Mikarenda. 23. LH Jeacocķ
Match report: Tom Westwood
Images: Royal Navy Rugby Union © John Walton