History is Made at Brickfields
The deteriorating weather conditions did not dampen the enthusiasm of a home crowd that witnessed the Royal Navy take on the French Navy (la Marine Nationale) at Plymouth Albion RFC on Thursday evening. This was the annual contest between the 2 naval sides, fittingly nicknamed ‘le crunch', battling it out to win the Babcock Trophy.
This would be the end of a day of firsts for Royal Navy Rugby. Earlier that day, the Royal Navy women faced a French Women's rugby team for the first time, playing at HMS Drake. This was a game of 10s, due to the French women not being able to play a full 15 a side game. However, making good use of their experienced 7s players and with superior pace across the width of the pitch, the match was a one-sided affair in favour of the visitors. The result was disappointing for the home side who went down by a score of 0 - 45.
The evening saw the prestigious fixture of the Royal Navy Senior XV facing a star-studded Marine Nationale team which was being played in the South West for the first time. Owing to the standard and nature of this fixture, it was to be the first time that the Royal Navy Rugby Union would be awarding ‘Caps' outside the Inter Service Championship Games.
The Royal Navy team was boosted by the return of England 7s International Cpl (Greg) Barden, fresh from Hong Kong, Cpl (Gaz) Evans (Plymouth Albion) and Logs (CS) (Josh) Drauniniu (London Welsh).
The game started with both teams testing each other's defence and resolve with some straight hard running from the French back row following several deft chips over the top of the Royal Navy defensive line from the French Navy (and Toulon) fly half. All of this was met by strong Royal Navy defence and counter attack. Navy Fly Half, POET (WE) (Wayne) John, continually caused the visitors problems, breaching the French defences several times. However, the partisan crowd, which included a significant number of Royal Navy personnel, had to wait until 25 minutes for the first score of the match. A Royal Navy scrum on the French 10 metres line provided a launch pad for an attack down the blind side, outnumbering the French defence to give SLt (Andy) Vance a glimpse of space. With only the full back to beat, the ever present Drauniniu was on hand to take an inside pass and cover the remaining 22m to score the first try of the night (5-0).
This try signalled a rise in tempo as the Royal Navy repeatedly broke through the French defence to put them under pressure in the tackle area. A high tackle on AB (Mark) Roberts by a French second row resulted in a yellow card and presented Navy Skipper (POAET (Dave) Pascoe with an easy shot at goal. This was soon followed by another penalty, putting the home side ahead 11 - 0.
The French were not going to be outdone and just before the end of the half, scored a converted try from a scrum on the Navy's 5m line, to go into the break at a respectable 11-7.
As the weather closed in, the 2nd half became a war of attrition, with the almost inevitable frustrations on both sides. Another penalty increased the Royal Navy's lead to 14 - 7. However, a momentary lack of discipline reduced the Navy to 14 men for 10 minutes and provided the French with an opportunity to reduce this margin by 3 pts (14-10). It was the Navy skipper Pascoe who was then to give the Navy a 2 score lead as he converted his 4th penalty of the night: 17-10.
Not giving an inch, the French kept up a naval barrage, taking all opportunities to put the Navy line under constant pressure. The dying minutes of the game saw a final gasp from the visitors who tried to use their powerful mauling technique from a lineout on the Navy's 5m line. But it was not to be, and a French player knocked the ball on as he crossed the line. The final play of the match was a 5m scrum to the Navy, with a clearance on the final whistle.
As in every year, this was a contest in which no quarter was given. Tough and uncompromising rugby resulted in a well-deserved victory for the Royal Navy who thus regained the Babcock Trophy.
POET(WE) D Smallbone (HMS Collingwood)(Rep Lt N Copeland RN (HMS Collingwood), SLt A Vance (BRNC)(Rep Capt T Evans-Jones RM (LWC Warminster)), Cpl C MaCrae (CTCRM), ET(Me) D Sleeman (HMS Cumberland)(Rep Cpl S Llewellyn (Cdo Logs RM)), Logs (Cs) J Drauniniu (HMNB Portsmouth), POET(WE) W John (HMS Liverpool), POAET D Pascoe (Capt) (771 NAS RNAS Culdrose), Et(We)(SM) I Cooper (HMS Ambush)(Rep Ma S Laird (HMS Collingwood)), Cpl G Barden (HMNB Portsmouth), Cpl G Evans (539 ASRM), Capt S Mclaren RM (JMOT Halton), AB W Cairns (CFPS), AB M Roberts (HMS Bulwark)(Rep POAET J Court (829 NAS RNAS Culdrose/HMS Westminster)), NA B Priddey (RNAS Culdrose), Na K Mason (845 NAS RNAS Yeovilton)