High octane rugby returns to Burnaby Road
The last time the Navy team ran out at Burnaby Rd was against the RAF in last season's 73-3 thriller. On Weds evening the Navy played host to Cambridge University and both teams entertained the good sized crowd, which included the RNRU President Adm Sir Trevor Soar, to an equally exciting 12-12 draw. With honours even, both teams deserved to leave the field with heads held high but the exhaustion they felt ensured a more measured return to the changing rooms.
The Navy side was captained for the first time, by Kyle Mason (845 NAS), who stood in for injured regular skipper Dave Pascoe (771 NAS). With the side being literally led from the front, many may have expected a set piece orientated game! But clearly relishing the challenge of being in charge, the shackles came off and Mason's team was soon entertaining the crowd to a lovely brand of fluent rugby, with forwards and backs combining to move the ball at every opportunity. Indeed, a number of half chances went begging more due to the rustiness of a couple of players rather than anything else. When things did go slightly awry the calming influence of Andy Vance (BRNC/HMS Albion), released for the match from IST, ensured that position was not lost and composure was regained.
The Navy's ambition was rewarded midway through the first half when a flowing move down the right flank saw the ball repeatedly moved from contact in a narrow channel before U23 flanker Sam Laird (Keogh Barracks) took the inside ball a metre out to cross for the first try. Owen Glastonbury (CTCRM), fresh from exercise with his Troop in the Brecon Beacons, pushed the kick wide so the score stayed at 5 - 0 to the home team.
Conceding the try obviously ignited the competitive spirit within the Light Blues team who responded with some enterprising play and the Navy was forced to defend its line from some concerted attacks. The job was made even harder by replacement scrum half, Bobby Ranscome (RAF Shawbury), being sent to the sin bin for a repeated team offence. However, even with 14 men, the Navy's defence was sound and having ‘repelled all borders' they broke late on for another excellent try. Obviously the Navy front row had entered into a pact with skipper Mason as the try was originated by tight head prop Robbie Roberts (HMS Bulwark) standing up the Cambridge centre in the tackle. A subtle offload ensured continuity before man of the match, hooker Ben Priddey (RNAS Culdrose), again proved to be an excellent link man ensuring that centre, Calum MacRae (CTCRM), could run in unopposed under the posts. Glastonbury was successful with the conversion for a 12-0 halftime lead to the Royal Navy.
In rugby, excitement and entertainment come in many forms. If the first half it was about deft offloads, pace and movement and in the second half it was more about dogged defence. For 40 minutes the Cambridge University team relentlessly pounded the Navy attack, working the narrow channels to be repelled - and likewise, the wide channels The work rate of the young Navy team was an excellent example of what the Royal Navy has always stood for; ‘all of one company' was never such an apt saying. With only a single foray in to the Cambridge half, the repeated onslaught from the students who now showed their traditional pace in attack was a lovely mix of rapier and bludgeon. Finally and just when it looked as if the Navy team would hold on, despite having lost Sam Laird to the sin bin, Cambridge conjured up the cruellest of finishes.
First in the 8th minute of added time winger Ben Wilson crossed wide out for a well-worked try, which was converted from the touchline. This was then followed by the crippling blow of the match-levelling score in the eleventh minute of stoppage time. Cruel yes, but credit to the Cambridge University team who secured the Navy's restart and then patiently set about playing the ball back up the field before creating another overlap, around an exhausted defence, to score. With the easier kick missed the game ended as a fair 12-12 draw.
However this young Navy side can be very pleased with its performance. Second rows Gareth Cadmore (HMS Raleigh) and Will Cairns (CFPS), both playing out of position, worked tirelessly in defence but were always on hand to show their more natural attacking prowess. Similarly flanker Gareth Jones (RNAS Yeovilton) worked himself to a standstill and pushed Ben Priddey hard for the man of the match award. Finally Ian Cooper (HMS Ambush) and Jon Humphries (848 NAS) two more under 23s, were a total contrast. Coops again brought his powerful ball carrying to the Navy's young backrow whilst in the backfield Jon showed signs of the balanced running that was so difficult to contain in the U23 championship. All these young players bode well for the Navy squad as it continues to rebuild after last season's championship winning exploits. With eleven players having made their Senior XV debut in the first three games of the 2011 campaign, the Navy's rebuilding is well underway and the desire to entertain is clearly evident. With the next two home matches at Plymouth, the Portsmouth crowd will have to be patient before they get the opportunity to see another Burnaby Rd thriller.
The next 2 fixtures are:
Monday 21 February Royal Navy v Plymouth Albion Warriors @ Brickfields, Plymouth
Thursday 31 March Royal Navy v Marine Nationale @ Brickfields, Plymouth