“Le Crunch” – Seven Hundred Years of Rivalry and Respect
Launched as part of the two hundred year anniversary celebrations of Trafalgar, established in the fiery, passion of Toulon, a pitched battle for eighty minutes, entente cordial après le match; the Babcock International Challenge returns to Portsmouth with the Royal Navy looking to regain the trophy and the Marine Nationale seeking a first win on British soil whilst the Marine Nationale Feminines look to extend their unbeaten run.
From the first battle between the two Navies in 1340 until the most recent armed conflict in 1940, with bayonets drawn on board a submarine in Devonport, the relationship between the Royal Navy and the French Navy has been complex and at times bloody. History shows that European military commanders could not rest comfortably and progress their campaigns without control of the vital sea routes in the Atlantic and Mediterranean. The result was a cycle of famous naval battles the results of which are still retold throughout the respective Fleets, albeit different battles tend to be chosen at Dartmouth and Brest.
For the last ten years the rugby field has allowed the deep-rooted rivalry to continue. With hostilities constrained to the pitch, the underlying respect that has always existed between these traditional adversaries has been reaffirmed and celebrated in rugby’s traditional post match third half. And by way of recompense the Marine Nationale can always be relied on to match their hostile home fixtures with a post match meal that would satisfy the most passionate bon viveur.
Last season it was no different. In the build up to Le Crunch their Women’s side had recorded some impressive results. Their men were not so fortunate and were enduring a poor season that reached its nadir at Grenoble where the coach driver was made man of the match! However, it was a different matter when Julien Magnani led his side out in the cauldron that is the Stade Mayol. Passions raised by the Pilou, Pilou, and a vociferous home support, was matched by astute tactical kicking from fly half and man of the match, Damien Anon. Up front a huge effort from their veteran openside Samul Somnica harried the breakdown and once more the Royal Navy could not establish a foothold in the game. With a 32-7 victory the Babcock International Challenge Trophy once more changed hands and the historic naval quarter of Toulon celebrated until late into the night.
So the Marine Nationale will cross the channel with both trophies. Their women know what it is like to win at US Portsmouth but the historic Services ground has proved as intimating for their men as Toulon has been to the RN. This will be the fourth match hosted at Burnaby Road and all have seen home wins. Two years ago tries from Ben Priddey and Jon Humphrey secured the victory 21-10, with skipper Dave Pascoe landing one conversion and three penalties. This year will be the first capped game since April 2000 that inspirational captain, and record cap holder, Pascoe will have missed a capped game though his return from injury is hopefully not far away.
For the Royal Navy their preparations have been on a steady upward curve. On return from their successful Malta training camp they produced the best performance of the season at Worcester where they matched the professional outfit for long periods. Up front those forwards who won their first cap last year in Toulon – Matt Harvey, Tom Cowley, Dave Fairbrother and Harry Collins – showed how much they have become established players in an effective Royal Navy pack. Whilst the backline, marshalled by livewire Johnny Stephen at scrum half and the ever-improving Nathan Huntley at fly half were resolute in defence and creative in attack.
However before the men’s match at 18:00, the Royal Navy Women will once more meet the challenge of the Marine Nationale Feminines. For the home side the season has been a challenge as many of their experienced players have been deployed. However, though they have been short of numbers their indomitable spirit has been as resolute as ever. New players have been found with a couple showing real potential. Whilst the return of many established names has only lifted spirits. With their game now given capped status the Women’s team will be looking to put the earlier troubled part of their season behind them and seek a performance to set them up for the Inter Services. Perhaps they too will learn the lesson from the Marine Nationale’s return trip after Grenoble. It is never too late to turn a season around.
Wednesday is sure to be another great day of rugby between the two Navies. For Marine Nationale they have two trophies to defend; for their women an unbeaten run to extend; for their men they still seek that elusive away win. It all adds to their pressure. For the Royal Navy Senior XV, as they look to extend their lead in the series to 7-4, the game is the perfect match to ensure they focus on the present and do not get seduced by the Sold Out signs appearing on the Twickenham posters. Malta and Worcester have given them the foundation to build a successful end of season campaign. For the Women a challenge that is tailored made to the traditions of the Service.
Respect and rivalry defined since 1340. For every Trafalgar there is a La Rochelle and for every trip to Toulon there is a return to Portsmouth. The eleventh edition of Le Crunch promises to be another excellent day of rugby at Burnaby Road as once more the Babcock International Challenge is met with the fiercest intensity on the pitch and the warmest of friendships afterwards. At least this year the Marine Nationale will not have to attend a post match dinner on board HMS Nelson, although the choice of HMS Collingwood may not have been by accident! Rivalry always, but with under lying respect. Bon match.
Royal Navy Team v Marine Nationale: Kyle Mason *, Ben Priddey (Capt) *, Josh Terry *, Matt Harvey *, Marsh Cormack *, Scott Puleston, Setareki Raumakita *, Dave Fairbrother *, Johnny Stephen *, Nathan Huntley *, Greg Welling *, Matt Tichias *, Sam Davies *, Jon Marlin *, Jon Humphrey *
Replacements: Harry Collins *, Kye Beasley *, Tom Blackburn *, Tom Cowley *, Edd Pascoe, Josh Jones, Silvenusi Buinimasi *, Tom Davies *
Royal Navy Women v Marine Nationale Feminine: Pam Williams-Wilson *, Victoria Percival *, Aimee Sadler, Anne-Marie McIntyre, Helen Stevenson *, Pippa Hutchinson, Charlotte Fredrickson *, Stacey Hargrave *, Olivia Critchley *, Sam Alderson *, Elizabeth Grant, Lauren Morton (Capt) *, Emma Swinton *, Melissa Landman, Isabel Rawlinson
Replacements: Sophia Dockerty, Alice Kightley, Rhiann Dilmore, Nicola Williams, Andrea Marshall, Kirsty Marlor, Cheryl Goodwin, Imogen Brown
*- capped player
Royal Navy Women v Marine Nationale Feminines, HMS Temeraire KO 13:45
Royal Navy v Marine Nationale, US Portsmouth RFC KO 18:00
Article by Geraint Ashton Jones
Images Alligin Photography / © Geraint Ashton Jones, © K Woodland © Mark Andrews & © J Walton