Humphrey Returns for Twickenham Showdown
It will be a long time before Jon Humphrey forgets the opening quarter of the Navy’s match against the Royal Air Force last month. Three tries in twenty minutes seemed to have set the course for an away victory before injury forced his replacement. His understated influence on the Royal Navy’s backline became evident as in his absence the RAF fought back for a compelling draw. Having been forced to miss the next two games and with the RAF going on to defeat the Army at Aldershot, the Royal Navy will welcome the return of Humprey’s proven try scoring and goal kicking ability as they seek to first beat an Army side that is bound to be fired up for the match before worrying about the five point win that will deliver the Inter Service championship.
Jon will be joined in the Navy’s back three by Greg Welling and Jon Marlin. Though Humphrey may have scored the tries it was Welling that created the first two against the RAF and his loss, also through injury, was another blow to the Royal Navy’s attacking ambition. With Marlin equally adept on the wing and at fullback there is a balance to the back three that should provide security in defence but has the attacking intent, both from set play and counter attack, to pose the Army’s defence some questions.
Creating them the space will be the now settled midfield combination of Nathan Huntley at fly half supported by centres Matt Tichias and Silvenusi Buinimasi. The three have formed a formidable defensive unit but also a creative, attacking midfield that challenges both with ball in hand and through inventive running lines, particularly off first phase possession where their forwards have produced a regular supply of good front foot ball.
It is up front where the battle is likely to be won, particularly in and around the breakdown. With captain Ben Priddey returning to the front row he will be able to support openside Setareki Raumakita in the fight over the ball. This key battle area is also boosted by the recent form of Edd Pascoe at blindside flanker. His ability in the lineout and the loose has always been appreciated but last season’s Brian Weeks Young Player of the Year winner has developed to be a strong player over the ball, defying his height to win many important turnovers. Cementing Seta and Edd together will be Number 8 Dave Fairbrother. Fairbrother’s strong ball carrying from the base of the scrum has been a hallmark all season and his match up with the Army’s backrow will be well worth the price of the ticket alone.
The front five has an assured look about it where Kyle Mason and Josh Terry prop down either side of Ben Priddey and with Tom Cowley and Marsh Cormack providing the horsepower from lock. Whilst Marsh will be winning his 28th cap to add to his Royal Navy record for the most capped lock forward, Kyle Mason, will join Dan Parkes as the Navy’s most capped prop on 23 caps. In another little piece of history Josh Terry will become only the third player to have represented the RNRU whilst both serving as a Royal Marine and in the Royal Navy. The former Royal Marine has recently joined BRNC Dartmouth to undertake Aircrew Officer Training and follows Johnny Stephen who transferred from a Marine to become a Leading Physical Training Instructor and Jon Marlin who joined as a Marine Engineer Technician and transferred to the Royal Marines.
Stephen has held off the challenge from Dave Pascoe, who returned to Navy colours for the first time this season in the match against the South West Invitational XV. Johnny’s form and eye for a break means he keeps the starting shirt and for only the second time in his Representative career Dave Pascoe will start on the bench. However his experience in the match day squad and having a player of his calibre and proven leadership qualities available to add impetus to the game certainly adds a depth and strength to the bench that will no doubt be needed on Saturday.
Pascoe, who if he runs on will be playing for a Navy record 16th time in an Army Navy match, is joined on the bench by Harry Collins, Kye Beasley and Tom Blackburn as the replacement front row. Matt Harvey is on hand to provide a ball carrying boost whilst Jarrad Hayler is a typical openside scavenger who will win his first cap should he play. Sam Davies and Tom Davies provide the cover in the outside backs and ensure that the Navy has one of the most experienced benches it has had for many seasons.
For the Army the stakes are high. Not since 1987 have they failed to win one of their two matches in an Inter Service season. That day Chris Alcock led the Navy side coached by Mick Connolly and including the hard running wing play of Bob Penfold with the surety Andy Kellett in the midfield. The feisty qualities of Paul Livingstone at scrum half was protected by the formidable Royal Marine pair of Mark Hewitt and Micky Reece. Whilst Jim Martin and Barry Howarth were another pair of props that today’s skipper Priddey would have been proud to have played alongside. In truth as with many great traditions the Royal Navy team of today is honed with many of the qualities of the side of ‘87 and matching their 21-10 win on Saturday would be a rousing end to a long season for the Royal Navy team.
Royal Navy: Kyle Mason *, B Priddey (Capt) *, J Terry *, T Cowley *, M Cormack *, E Pascoe *, S Raumakita *, D Fairbrother *, J Stephen *, N Huntley *, J Marlin *, M Tichias *, S Buinimasi *, G Welling *, J Humphrey *
Reps: H Collins *, K Beasley *, T Blackburn *, M Harvey *, J Hayler, D Pascoe *, S Davies *, T Davies *
Royal Navy v British Army, Twickenham 9 May KO15:00
Article by Geraint Ashton Jones
Alligin Photography / © Geraint Ashton Jones & © Lee Crabb