B Road to Recovery

Lauren Morton leads a rejuvenated Women’s team after they gave their best performance of the season against MN(F)
Mariners captain, Jamie Phillips, is looking to make it back to back wins over the RAF Vultures
Silivenusi Buinimasi will be a forceful presence in the centre as he makes his first start in capped game having won seven caps from the bench
Two years ago a Nathan Huntley hat trick was the foundation for a good Royal Navy win at RAF Halton
Ben Priddey moves from hooker to his club position of openside flanker as he leads the team out for the first time in the Inter Service championship
Max Boyce, supported by Will Jerrold, have been at the heart of the Mariners play throughout the season
Stacey Hargrave made the hard yards when the RN Women took the game to the French at Burnaby Road

15th April 2013 was a Monday morning.  Silvenusi Buinimasi was in equal measure frustrated and relieved.  His frustration was that he was going to miss the Army Navy match.  His relief was that the operation on a broken leg sustained against the RAF the Wednesday before had been successful.  He said at the time that there was unfinished business and for those that know B he is man of honour and his word.  If 2014 was a muted season for ‘B’ then 2015 has seen him back to his tackle breaking best.  He made the bench against Mariner Nationale, to add to his six caps.  Then last week he captained the Royal Navy against Devon in the 57-10 victory.  His performance has been rewarded with a starting jersey against the Royal Air Force some eight years after his first cap and the first time he has started a capped game.  Two years ago he was forlorn walking off the pitch at RAF Halton with a leg he described as ‘sore’.  On Wednesday he can provide just the impact the Royal Navy require as they seek to put the Marine Nationale fixture behind them and start the 2015 Inter Services on the front foot.

The Royal Air Force is just the challenge that B Buinimasi thrives on.  Their season so far has seen them build quietly but purposefully towards the opening Inter Service match.  Last season they caught the Army cold and probably should have closed the game out.  Going forward their back line has the pace to cause problems and their pack is always well drilled.  However, as with many sides, when they are turned they can struggle to get the alignment right and are then vulnerable in defence.  Buinimasi brings a formidable and direct running threat right in to the heart of any defence but he also has a deftness to his play that allows others to exploit the holes and spaces he creates.  Whether he chooses to pick the lock of the door marked defence, with a subtle off load, or simply run straight through it, the Royal Navy should be looking to exploit the tempo and continuity he can create.

Nathan Huntley’s memories of the last visit to RAF Halton are in direct contrast to those of Buinmasi.  His hat trick that day was the foundation for the 55-26 victory, with fullback Jon Humphrey and hooker Ben Priddey also getting on the score sheet.  With Greg Welling, Jon Marlin, Matt Tichias and Tom Davies all being part of the back line that day the Royal Navy will travel with ample experience of the threat the RAF can be at home, but also with a strong belief in their own ability to create and take their scoring chances.  Whilst Tom Davies and Jon Marlin, along with Sam Davies, will have to make their impact from the bench it will be a memorable day for Matt Bowden who becomes the Royal Navy’s 719th capped player.

The six tries scored in 2013 provide stark contrast to the 10-0 victory at Burnaby Road last season.  In what can best be described as a tense arm wrestle, it was the Navy pack that finally provided enough grit and determination to forge the win in the sodden conditions.  Wednesday’s pack sees a couple of changes from the starting eight of last year.  Ben Priddey replaces Dom Taylor at openside flanker with Harry Collins taking Ben’s place at hooker.  The Royal Navy pack will be looking to reproduce the quality of performance they delivered at Worcester’s Sixways stadium where they achieved parity up front and produced a controlled performance that didn’t lack in passion or intensity.

Johnny Stephen will again be the lynch pin that joins the forwards and backs together.  He will be looking to his forwards to ensure that he doesn’t have to spend too much of his time digging the ball out which negates his natural strengths around the fringes of the tackle zone.  And if they can’t achieve it then perhaps Silvenusi Buinimasi will provide the impact that allows Johnny Stephen to control the tempo.

Before the Senior XV kick of at 15:00 the Royal Navy Mariners take on the RAF Vultures in a 10:30 Kick Off and the RN Women seek to take the lead in their series against the RAF Women for the first time when they meet at 12:30.

Last season the Vultures were unable to contain the early pace of a fired up Mariners team that enjoyed HMS Temeraire’s artificial surface.  Though the RAF Vultures were able to recover late in the game the damage had already been done as Jamie Phillips led his side to a deserved 27-15 victory.  This will be his last match against the RAF before he leaves the Service and will looking to back up last season’s victory.

A busy programme has restricted his appearances in the build up to this year’s Inter Service but in his absence the side has seen steady improvement as combinations have been tried and tested.  In what is sure to be a lively opening encounter, the opening salvos of a long day of RN v RAF rugby, it will be the Mariners who set the mood for the rest of the day.

The RN Women will follow the Mariners match and they should be buoyed from their performance against the Marine Nationale Feminines.  Though they lost, it was by far their best performance against the French and also of the season; where they have struggled hugely with player availability.  With the coaching staff at long last having some time with the same group of players they should travel to RAF Halton in a positive frame of mind.  Currently tied at 6 wins each against the RAF Women they have never been ahead in the series but have had the better of recent encounters.

At US Portsmouth they were a revelation in the first half against MN(F) compared to any of their matches this year.  With Stacey Hargrave, Pippa Hutchinson and Charlie Fredrickson proving to be an industrious backrow unit Ollie Critchley was able to, at long last get, some ball on the front foot to release a back line that started slowly but began to gel as the game wore on.

Matches against the RAF Women are usually close affairs with the margin of victory often by one score of less.  Last year tries from Feisha Greene, Sam Alderson and Lauren Morton powered the Women to their biggest ever victory in an Inter Service match.  Though fly half Sam Alderson does not have the powerful running of Feisha this year, the ever improving Melissa Landman could prove a handful, given the opportunity with a little bit of space.

So three captains will lead their side at the start of the 2015 Inter Services, all three were try scorers in their respective matches versus the Royal Air Force last season but for Lauren Morton and Ben Priddey captaining their team in an Inter Service match is a new experience so it will be for Jamie Phillips to lead by example and ensure the Mariners get the Royal Navy’s ball rolling when he leads his side out on Wednesday morning.

Royal Navy Team (v Royal Air Force): Kyle Mason *, Harry Collins *, Josh Terry *, Tom Cowley *, Marsh Cormack *, Matt Harvey *, Ben Priddey (Capt) *, Dave Fairbrother *, Johnny Stephen *, Nathan Huntley *, Greg Welling *, Matt Tichias *, Silivenusi Buinimasi *, Matt Bowden, Jon Humphrey *

Replacements: Kye Beasley *, Tom Blackburn *, Edd Pascoe *, Seta Raumakita *, Ratu Vakalutukali *, Sam Davies*, Tom Davies *, Jon Marlin *

Royal Navy Mariners (v RAF Vultures): Mark Lister, Josh Taubale, John Court *, Laisiasa Daku, Mark Pollard, Will Jerrold *, Will Rees, Guy Pallet, Glen Cuthbert, Paul Clark *, Sam Halofaki, Thomas Boyce, James Phillips (Capt) *, Nas Rawacce, Russell Sayer  Reps from: James Brown, Mariso Kursic, Bryan Milford, Aiden Riley, Dean Fentum, Tomasi Matanatabu, Wayen Dawson, Paul Clark, Chris Gore

Royal Navy Women (v RAF Women) to be selected from: Pam Williams-Wilson *, Victoria Percival *, Aimee Sadler, Anne-Marie McIntyre, Helen Stevenson *, Pippa Hutchinson, Charlotte Fredrickson *, Stacey Hargrave *, Olivia Critchley *, Sam Alderson *, Elizabeth Grant *, Lauren Morton (Capt) *, Emma Swinton *, Melissa Landman, Isabel Rawlinson, Sophia Dockerty, Alice Kightley *, Rhiann Dilmore, Nicola Williams, Andrea Marshall, Kirsty Marlor *, Goodwin, Imogen Brown

*- capped player

Royal Air Force v Royal Navy RAF Halton KO 15:00

Royal Air Force Women v Royal Navy Women RAF Halton KO 12:30

Royal Air Force Vultures v Royal Navy Mariners RAF Halton KO 10:30

Article by Geraint Ashton Jones
Images by Alligin Photography / © Geraint Ashton Jones & © Lee Crabb