Army Navy – A Match To Relish Whatever Your Age

All of one company – Chris McDonald carries the ball with all the Navy pack in support
Vice captain Jack Basher will have a vital role in the all important contest over the tackle
The battle ‘up front’ will be another key area for Dewi Pearce and his front row colleagues
RN U23 coaches Scott Ashley and Billy May sat through the 17-17 draw in 2012 and will want to go one better on Friday
Jon Henty in the thick of the action against the Army in 2012
Meeting fire with fire, Tom Blackburn carriers the ball in to the heart of the Army defence in 2010
Dennis Scotthorne and the team celebrate in 2010 having achieved a first win at Aldershot and the Inter Service title

The Royal Navy U23XV’s season reaches its defining moment at Aldershot on Friday night where a win will regain the Inter Services Championship, last held in 2010.  In wait, the Army U23s who are looking for their fourth consecutive title but have struggled at home to the Royal Navy in recent matches.  For the Navy a welcomed first of the season, where an unchanged squad from the RAF game will look to translate the extra time together with another step forward in performance.

Two years ago the Royal Navy were in the same position.  Having won at home against the Royal Air Force they travelled with high hopes to Aldershot.  In a tense encounter they came away with a hard earned draw and left their Inter Service hopes hanging on the outcome of the RAF’s home fixture against the Army.  At half time the RAF were holding the Army and the Navy were top of the podium.  However a strong second half gave the Army the scores they needed to win the title on points difference.   It was a harsh lesson in how small margins can make a big difference.  In 2012 a dip in intensity either side of half time allowed the Army to get in front on the scoreboard and the Navy did well to get back in to the game and give themselves a match winning chance with a long-range penalty.

In 2010 it had been a very different story.  The Army started the game, as firm favourites but were unable to penetrate a watertight Royal Navy defence.  Despite having very little possession the Navy were inventive with ball in hand and were always prepared to run hard at the Army, to meet fire with fire.  In the end it was the Army who blinked first and Dennis Scotthorne led the Navy side to a first victory in the Army’s backyard of Aldershot.

Edd Pascoe and his team have shown glimpses of the quality of play that will be required on Friday night.  Against the Royal Air Force, in particular, they were able to increase the tempo of the match and bring a style of rugby that the away team could not match.  Strong in the tackle, adventurous on the counter attack and powerful running with ball in hand.  However too often they allowed themselves to ease back and sit on their lead, allowing the RAF to come back in to the game.  This allowed the end of the game to be closer than it should have been.  However it is to the team’s credit that they showed great composure to close the game out and take the first step to a title.

With nine debutants and a very disrupted build up, the minor fault lines in the team’s performance last Friday were not unexpected and were far out weighed by the positives of their play.  However the lessons of 2012 need to be held close and when they travel on Friday, Edd and his other senior players, will have to ensure that every member of the squad is at the top of their game and prepared to bring the level of controlled intensity that is required to subdue what is sure to be a big, powerful and fired up home team.

So Friday night will answer all the questions.  The Royal Navy travels in the knowledge that a victory will make the last game in the Inter Services irrelevant.  To achieve that they also know that they have to produce a clinical performance, to be prepared to hold together and weather the Army onslaught, which is sure to come, and the ambition to play the game that enfolds in front of them. 

British Army U23XV v Royal Navy U23XV, Aldershot, Friday 21 November KO 19:00.  Free entry.

RN U23XV team to be selected from: Adam Birkett, Harrison Marsh, Sam Potter, Jake Reynolds, Dewi Pearce, Edd Pascoe (Capt), Ben Roberts, Joe Burton, Chris McDonald, Tristan Trehan, Jack Basher, Jordan Pullinger, Jon Henty, Jordan Shuttleworth, Dave Coleman, Greg Loydall, Sam Carter, Sam Benzie, Sam Davies, James Shaw, Lewis Cooper, Luke Cooper, Sam Tyrer, Rory Penfold

Article by Geraint Ashton Jones
Images by Alligin Photography / © Geraint Ashton Jones