Worcester Cavaliers 31-20 Royal Navy Senior XV
RN Senior XV
The Royal Navy Senior XV travelled to Worcester to take on the impressive Cavaliers, the Worcester RFC Academy side, on a cold but calm night that was just right for running rugby. This was a dogged battle and strong performance by the Royal Navy, but the Cavaliers came out on top with a well-earned 31-20 victory in front of a large, enthusiastic and appreciative Worcester crowd.
As predicted, the Worcester Cavaliers, which featured former Navy winger Josh Drauniniu, were the perfect test for the Royal Navy squad just back from their Malta Training Camp. With the first trophy match of the year against Marine Nationale in a week’s time, Worcester provided physicality and pace and the ideal preparation for ‘Le Crunch’.
Right from the kick-off the Royal Navy had good early pressure deep into the Worcester half that soon resulted in a home team infringement. With only 3 minutes on the clock, Jon Humphrey slotted the penalty to take a 0 – 3 lead. The Royal Navy continued to play well and had much of the early possession and territory, with the forwards dominating their opposite numbers. With the Senior XV gaining the upper hand, the young Worcester side were definitely on the back foot in the opening spell.
Following repeated Royal Navy attacks, Worcester secured a high kick and made an impressive counter attack against the run of play. The Worcester backs are an impressive unit – big and fast, they play ‘heads-up’ rugby. Having spotted the opportunity to counter they took their chance well, scoring a good try on the far left wing. With the conversion missed, Worcester took the lead, 5 – 3, with 9 minutes on the clock.
The Seniors kicked off and almost immediately the forwards’ hard work at the ruck secured another penalty just inside the Worcester 10m line. Jon Humphrey again stepped up and added another three points to give the Royal Navy the lead, 5 - 6.
Both teams now started to fire as units as they exchanged blows in the mid-field. The Royal Navy forwards were definitely on a par with the Worcester pack, and often on top, and as the game opened up they began to link well with the backs in attack. The Worcester defence was nonetheless tight, with good line speed, and the Royal Navy found few gaps to exploit. Eventually the Worcester right wing’s impressive pace and power had the edge and he scored on the far right wing to put Worcester back in the lead. 10 – 6.
The Caviliers now had their tails up and they began to raise their game, which in turn woke the home crowd up. Following a Worcester scrum on their own 10m line they unleashed their fast backs again, forcing the Royal Navy to defend deep in their own half. Following a Cavalier lineout on the Senior XV 5m line, quick hands through the backs resulted in another Worcester try on the right wing, which was converted. 28 minutes gone and Worcester were beginning to creep ahead. 17 – 6.
However, the Senior XV did not give in and they showed real grit and determination to strike back. The forwards worked hard as a unit and won a penalty on half way. Kicking deep into Worcester territory, the Cavaliers pinched the line out, but knocked the ball on. The Senior XV scrum secured the ball and again the Royal Navy kicked deep into Worcester territory. With the forwards competing well at all phases, they disrupted the Worcester line out, allowing the backs to press hard on the Cavalier 5m line. After an impressive Royal Navy forward drive Worcester pulled the maul down on the line leaving the referee no option but to award a penalty try. Converted by Jon Humphrey, the Royal Navy pulled the score back to 17 – 13 with 36 minutes of the half played.
The fixture was definitely coming alive, but the last word in the half belonged to Worcester. Worcester won the kick off and attacked at speed, which resulted in the Royal Navy being caught offside. Playing to the spirit of the game, and plenty of confidence, Worcester kicked for the corner, secured their lineout and set up a driving maul that was only going one way – for the Senior XV line. Scoring their fourth try of the half, which was converted, Worcester now had a convincing lead. 24 – 13.
As the clock approached half time the Senior XV won the kick off but couldn’t get over the half way line. A Worcester infringement at the ruck resulted in a penalty to the Royal Navy on half way, but Jon Humphrey’s long range kick fell short. After one last Worcester attack, again at speed by their backs, the Royal Navy repelled the invaders.
With the half time whistle both teams left the pitch to a great cheer from an engaged Worcester crowd. Half time score, 24 – 13. Despite the score line, this was a good first half from the Senior XV. The forwards were definitely the equal of the Worcester pack, but the Worcester backs were fast and powerful and quite a handful.
From the second half kick off Worcester won an early penalty on their own 10m line, but from the subsequent move the Royal Navy defence forced them out on the half way line. From the lineout the Navy scrum half, Johnny Stephen, found a gap for a sniping run to set up a sharp attack from the backs. Worcester were penalised on the line and the Referee gave the Cavalier offender a yellow card. From the penalty kick and lineout the Royal Navy pack set up a driving maul, allowing Dave Fairbrother to peel off for a try. Converted by Jon Humphrey, the Senior XV were back in contention with only 5 minutes of the half played. 24 - 20
The Royal Navy nearly went ahead soon after. Worcester pressed hard form the re-start, but the Navy defence was strong, not allowing the Cavaliers over the half way line. However, a high tackle resulted in a Worcester penalty, and got sections of the home crowd quite animated! Worcester kicked to touch and from the lineout the ball flew through Cavalier hands; however, the Worcester play was very lateral, due to much improved line speed form the Senior XV, and the Navy won a penalty for not releasing. The Royal Navy won the lineout and set up a driving maul for the line, but fumbled the ball just short. The Worcester kick to clear their lines was charged down on the 5m line, but the Navy couldn't gather it cleanly, knocking the ball on very close to the line.
Over the next 10 minutes both teams made numerous replacements, which not surprisingly disrupted the flow of play. Both sides continued to press in attack and put in an impressive defensive effort, which resulted in a pulsating period of play between the two 10m lines. Trading turnovers, knock-ons and penalties, the deadlock was finally broken when Navy Captain Ben Priddey was penalised for hands in the ruck and received a yellow card. From the ensuing catch and drive lineout the Worcester backs attacked with width and despite another impressive defensive effort from the Senior XV with a man down, the Cavaliers where able to strike on the far left. With the score converted, Worcester took an unassailable lead with 65 minutes played. 31 – 20.
With both sides continuing to use their replacements, there continued to be handling errors as the new players adapted to the fast pace of the game. The Royal Navy were penalised for a deliberate knock on, allowing Worcester to kick deep again. From an impressive catch and drive, the Royal Navy defence did a great job of holding the ball up during the Worcester advance to the line and despite the pleading of the Cavalier players and crowd the Referee didn’t award a try.
The Royal Navy defensive effort in the final period was most impressive. With much better line speed, they were often able to stop the Worcester attack dead in its tracks, or indeed drive them back, as on one occasion when they forced a Worcester attack back from the Navy 22m line to their own 22m line. As the sides continued to trade blows and try and find that now elusive gap, Worcester won a line out and the Royal Navy were penalised for offside – Yellow card. The Navy held firm in the dying seconds, despite being a man down, to see the game out 31 – 20.
The Royal Navy Senior XV played well against a well drilled and fast Worcester Cavalier side. Despite the score, fine margins were the difference between the sides. The Navy forwards were definitely the equal of the Cavaliers pack and often had dominance. While the Worcester backs proved a big handful in the first half, which made a significant difference to the score line, in the second half the Royal Navy defence was much sharper.
Worcester RFC are fine hosts and the crowd very appreciative of the quality of play from both sides…et maintenant pour Les Francais!
Report by Mark Walker
Images Alligin Photography / © John Walton