Mariners narrowly lose out to Prison Service
Fresh from a win over Havant and with the experienced faces of hooker Aggie Weston and scrum-half Ian 'Taff' Jenkins returning to their ranks, the RN Mariners approached the Prison Service match with confidence on a spring-like afternoon at Burnaby Road. A 1700 kick-off would be followed by a later match, which would pitch the RN Women against Trojans.
The first quarter went to the Mariners with the exception of one un-named back who had thought 5pm was the muster time not the kick-off time!! An early penalty was taken calmly by Joe Ainsley and this was followed by a good passage of handling with the ball moving from a breakdown on the left wing at the Prison Service 22 all the way across to the right wing where Albert Hall was loitering for the touch-down. (8-0)
The scrum was becoming the dominant feature of this match and early in the second quarter a replacement Navy prop was required, with RN U23 Team Manager and Mariners Forwards Coach Jim Hunter stepping up in the absence on operations of Euan Cowie and George Hillan. He was up against stiff opposition in the form of two Prison Service props who had both clearly modelled themselves on Chris Budgen. Significant pressure on the Mariners put-in resulted in scrum turnovers and two successive unconverted tries for the Prison Service. The Prison Service went into the half-time break narrowly ahead 10-8.
Head Coach Mick Connolly gave the team some choice thoughts during the interval and also used the break to bring on some of the bench. The result was immediate, with a crisp move from the back of an attacking scrum from No 8 to No 9 and then an inside pop to the right wing Gaz Ibbotson. This unconverted try put the Mariners ahead 13-10.
When the opposition lost their powerful No 5 with a neck injury, the Mariners were at last able to exert some influence at scrum-time but just at the end of the third quarter a quickly taken short penalty against ineffective tackling allowed the Prison Service to cross the line under the Mariners' posts. Another change of lead made the score 17-13 to the Prison Service.
The Mariners line-out was effective all evening with Aggie Weston finding jumpers Baz Stockton and skipper Dom O'Connor with relative ease and several balls were also stolen in the air. The same could not be said about the team's defence with basic errors made in body position and technique. With 10 minutes to play the two Prison Service props combined to drag several would-be tacklers with them towards the Mariners' try line and then off-load for another unconverted try. The game looked over at 22-13 to the visitors.
Undeterred, the Navy side dug deep and, firing a penalty kick deep into the opposition 22, won good line-out ball which created space in mid-field. Ben cartwright showed his own ability to break tackles and make valuable yards with the ball in hand before supplying ever-hungry Taff Arnold. His try under the posts was converted to put the game back in the balance at 22-20 to the Prison Service.
With only 5 minutes to play the Mariners were one penalty away from beating a team who themselves had narrowly beaten the Army XXXV team earlier in the season. The dream result was snatched away when further Prison Service scrum dominance resulted in a score out wide on the left wing.
The final result was a well-deserved win for the Prison Service 27-20. The disappointment in the post-match team huddle was deafening and Mick Connolly did not need to tell the team that the game had been theirs for the taking if only they had got the basics right.
As the Chairman departed to complete his journey back to Plymouth, he and rest of the TSG were left with several questions as they select the squad to take through the remaining matches before the Inter-Service games. Without doubt there is potential to succeed within this group of players, and the highs - when they deliver - are exquisite to watch. The challenge is to ensure consistency of delivery against the quality of opposition expected.