Defenders of the Faith
Defenders of the Faith
For all but ten minutes of the Royal Navy Women’s match against the RAF the Navy team were at defence watches. With the RAF almost monopolising possession wave after wave of Air attacks were in bound but as with the Navy’s latest Type 45 destroyers, the Navy Women’s Air Defence capability was first class. Tackles were crunching, continuous and contagious. Following their captain, Sarah Jenkin’s lead the team followed are all were prepared to put body on the line time and time again. And for the other ten minutes? Maritime Strike Capability at its best, three visits to the RAF twenty-two, three tries, a 17-6 victory, job done!
With the weather having deteriorated from the morning’s match the women’s game kicked off in steady drizzle. The slippery ball led to a number of handling mistakes and it was from an early RAF turnover that Jenks kicked long for Navy right wing Feisha Greene to chase hard and get the bounce of the ball for the opening try. Less than three minutes gone and a 5-0 lead, hopes were high amongst the home support.
Hope faded to concern as the RAF took control of the ball. With a dominant scrummage they thrived off the weather induced errors and gradually looked to tighten the screw on the Navy team. Despite Jenks being able to relieve the pressure with her best kicking display in a Navy shirt it only seemed a matter of time before their heroic defence would fail. Matters were made worse when loosehead prop, Pam Williams-Wilson, was sent t the sin bin when the referee finally lost patience with the number of penalties being conceded. However despite this loss the Women simply redoubled their defencive efforts. As their tackle count rose, the clock ticked down and it looked as if the Navy would reach half time with a 5-0 lead.
How wrong we were. Having been shackled for most of the game it was Navy centre Loz Morton, playing alongside twin sister Francesca who, landed the most hurtful of succour punches. Her clean break was rapier like through the RAF defence and Sam Alderson was on hand to touch down the delicate kick through to extend the lead to 10-0. She will have been disappointed to miss the conversion but half time was reached with a surprising but welcomed lead.
After the break the RAF were soon again on the attack. Now playing in to the wind the Navy found that they could not so easily break out of the strangle hold. Gradually the pressure told and the Navy women conceded two penalties in front of the posts. Both were converted by the RAF scrumhalf, Sophie Gale and the lead was cut to 10-6. The sense of nervousness and unease was palpable and the time suddenly started to pass very slowly as the RAF were once more on the attack.
It is a sign as to how much progress the Navy team have made that it was the replacements that provided the release the team needed. Nikki Elvridge’s introduction at centre renewed the appetite in defence and her enthusiasm for the tackle proved effectiveness. With Paul Bennett-Smith also providing some excellent work on the ground the game gradually began to turn the Navy’s way in terms of possession. Again it was Jenks’ kicking game that made gained ground and then she switched from long touch finders to providing high balls for Fiesha to chase down. With the RAF’s back three looking uncertain with a swirling breeze and a wet ball the Navy found a tactic through which they had a degree of parity. With the game now being played further away from the Navy goal line it looked as if they would hold out for the 10-6 victory.
It was left to Navy player of the match to put the game beyond doubt. Amy Risker won turnover ball and the forwards retained possession, Critchley was for once on the front foot at scrum half and with a little more space Morton was able to once more cut through the defence. This time she finished what she started and went under the posts for the Navy’s third try. Sam Alderson provided the extra points and the Navy had won the match with the seemingly comfortable 17-6 score line.
Immediately after the match Peanut Park and Stacey Hargrave received their caps from Royal Navy Rugby Union president Vice Admiral Phil Jones becoming the 18 and 19 players respectively to have been awarded this honour. Then, once more, it was Air Commodore Kell who presented a winning Navy captain with the trophy, which just about survived Sarah Jenkins jubilant lifting aloft. Surrounded by her team, it was clear that they were going to enjoy their evening. They have levelled the series with the RAF 6-6, the first time in their history they have not been behind in the series. At times this season has been difficult for them, including a very tough trip to Toulon, but the squad has kept the faith and have grown together in to a tight knit unit. This afternoon they defended that faith as a team and tackled themselves to stand still. A team performance in the truest sense of the word and for their defence alone they deserved their win.
Royal Navy Women: P Williams-Wilson *, E Park, K Parkman, C Penrose *, S Hargrave, C Fredrickson *, E Bloor, H Stevenson, O Critchley, S Jenkins *(C), E Swinton *, L Morton *, F Morton, F Greene, S Alderson * Reps: A Risker *, V Percival *, N Williams, P Bennett-Smith *, M Landman, E Grant, N Elvridge
Royal Air Force Women: R Williamson, D willmore, N Knott, B Faulds, G Welch, L Racy, R Harper, H Reade, S Gale, J Braysher, A Newey, C Siczowa, K Barrell, C Willams, L Miller Reps: M Barber, R Skeldon, R Hackwell, K Fenner, J Stewart, N Hymes, C Welsh, R Watson
Images by Alligin Photography / © Geraint Ashton Jones & © Lee Crabb