I Believe I Can Fly, Mariners Step in to the Unknown

Sumo Thompson returns to the Mariner squad and will again look to reek havoc in the Vultures close in defence
Sam Halofaki remains a dangerous runner when the game loses a little of its structure
The start of the journey. The 2015 Mariners squad before the RAF match, 2 games and 2 wins from being crowned champions for the first time since 1996
Despite a yellow card, Max Boyce had an impressive match last year against the Vultures
Mark Pollard will again be looking to take the game to the RAF at close quarters
Keith Lister was loaned earlier in the season to the Senior XV but returns to the heart of the Mariners pack

It was a very different world the last time the Mariners looked to retain an Inter Services trophy.  Tony Blair had yet to become Prime Minister, Channel 5 was in its first month of broadcasting and 'I Believe I Can Fly' was in its final week at number one in the charts.  Quite appropriate as the Mariners prepare to face the RAF Vultures in their first game as defending champions.  It was their comprehensive win against the Vultures last year that in hindsight probably gave the squad the belief that they could close out a championship they had been close to winning on a few occasions in recent seasons.  A closer, and at times scrappy, win at Kneller Hall completed the formalities and the title was the Mariners for the first time since 1996.

The Mariners have not rested on their laurels and have proudly provided players to the Senior XV this season.  Keith Lister returns to the fold but John Court’s form allows him to have a lie in and miss the early start as the Mariners open a day of rugby against the Royal Air Force.  Even without Court, the Mariners squad retains nine players who started against the Army last May and in youngster, Andy Vance, they have recruited a player with Senior XV Inter Service winning experience.

The Vultures will not be pleased to see Chris ‘Sumo’ Thompson return to the Mariners squad.  Last year, at RAF Halton, it was his man of the match performance that did so much to lay the foundations for the comfortable 39-15 victory, including scoring the opening try.  His powerful running created havoc in the RAF Vultures defence and the likes of Fentum, Boyle, Halofaki and Laliano will be relishing the thought of running the ball off second and third phases at broken field defences.

An area of the match that will be intriguing is the kicking strategy.  With Paul ‘Stan’ Mortensen replacing Aidan Riley the Mariners have lost nothing in terms of their lineout presence if the RAF wish to kick the ball off the field.  Whilst Russ Sayer remains one of the most effective counter attacking players in the tournament if the Air Force look to keep the ball in play and though Andy Vance may not have the full range of tactical kicking options that Paul Clark brought to the Mariners' game last season he still retains a howitzer of a right boot if there is a need to clear long.

Back in 1997 the World was a very different place.  R Kelly’s ‘I Believe…’ contrasts remarkably with Posner’s current UK Number 1.  But in his hit single, ‘I Took a Pill in Ibiza’ Mike Posner talks about not getting off the roller coaster, it is not advice the Mariners should heed.  Last season they accomplished a deserved and hard earned Championship after a number of years on a roller coaster of hard fought wins and anguished losses.  In the defence of their crown they have the ability to stay at the top of the pile by simply remembering the all encompassing team play that brought them success last year.  Or in the words of Kelly “If I just believe it, there’s nothing to it.”

Royal Navy Mariners will be selected from the following squad: Guy Pallett (Capt), Thomas Boyce, Dermot Buckley, Robert Cozens, Shayne Clarke, Wayne Dawson, Jason Deane, Dean Fentum, Chris Gore *, Sam Halofaki *, Max Laliano, Keith Lister, Bryan Milford, Paul Mortensen, Mark Pollard, Wilf Rees *, Russ Sayer, Joshua Taubale, Chris Thompson, Andy Vance, Gareth Vallender

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