Navy men put paid to Kiwi challenge

The changing room was ready to go trigger words placed upon the walls, individual kit laid out and the White Ensign adorning the far wall.  All we needed now was the squad! It is never a good sign when the driver stops just outside of the main gate and opens a map. (I am sure that is why we have Sat Nav!).

At the ground Lt (Chris) Roberts (RNAS Culdrose) was hopping around like an expectant father. This would be his last full duty before he and the Chairman Capt (Chris) Alcock return to blighty.

Team photo taken and warm-up commenced under the guidance of Capt (Tom) Glover (CAF), with the watchful eyes of Head Coach CPO (Ash) Coates (HMNB Portsmouth) and forwards Coach Lt (Mick) Connelly RN (DNR). 

As POAET (Dave) Pascoe (RNAS Culdrose) led the squad out for his 5th Commonwealth Cup and for some in the squad their first taste of this level of rugby. The Anthems were sung by an Australian Naval rating who sang them perfectly and set the tone for the day's events.

The lads moved towards the centre of the pitch, gripped shirts as one received the Haka. 

The Haka had certainly stirred the fire in the Kiwis as they continued in the same vein as they had done against the Royal Australian Navy (RAN). This kept the Royal Navy pinned down in its own half; playing against a strong wind meant that the Navy kicking game was not as effective as it is normally.

Mne (Seta) Raumakita (42 Cdo RM) at Open-side did a stirling job at chopping down the Kiwis with some brave tackles that put both his body and more importantly his head, on the line.

It would be the Kiwis that would eventually turn this pressure into points as the referee caught the Navy back line off-side. The trusted boot of ODR (Dane) Edge placed the ball between the uprights (3-0).

It was always going to be a lively affair and CPO (Ewan) Cowie found himself discussing life with one of the Kiwi forwards. Both touch judges came into discuss with the Referee who dispatched the offending player to the Sin Bin for 10 mins.  

The extra man allowed the Navy backs to exploit the gaps in the Kiwi defence. This saw new outside centre AB (WS) (Tom) Davies (HMS Illustrious) run a great line to open the Kiwi defence, allowing quick recycled ball so that Mne (Greg) Wellings (RMASC) was able to power his way towards the Kiwi line. Only the combined tackles of winger ASCS (Sione) Tonga and AMT (Damien) Shelford kept him out.

This was really the start of Navy pressure that was to remain in force for the rest of the half. First the Navy was awarded a penalty on the Kiwis' 22m. The ball hit the posts and bounced back into play only for ET (ME) (Dale) Sleeman (HMS Ocean) to do what every coach expects, and follow up the kick to wrestle it from a Kiwi before going over for the first try of the game. Just to show that his kick was not a fluke, Pascoe hits the same post on the conversion attempt: score 3-5 at 11mins.

Sgt (Gaz) Evans (HMS President) was at the end of a move that showed how the Navy has improved since they last visited these shores. Accurate passing, quick recycling or passing out of the tackle found Evans in a gap between 2 defenders; spinning as if to off-load the ball, he confused the defence to leave him in space and 5m from the line. Pascoe converted: 3-12 at 29 mins.

The coaching team wanted Cowie to do 20 mins, well he put his body on the line and cracked 29 mins, and even Mick Connelly was impressed! He was replaced by AET (Kye) Beasley (RNAS Culdrose).  

The Kiwis ventured into the Navy half and managed to pull Wellings off his wing which allowed LHST (Greg) Carter to score a try, converted by Edge: 10-12 at 34 mins.

Pascoe responded with a penalty making the half time score 10-15.

Listening to the half time talk by Ash Coates and Mick Connelly there didn't seem to be anything not going to plan.  The lineout was working, the scrum was solid and allowing Pascoe and the back line to feed off of it, and the back line was finding gaps in the Kiwis defensive line.

The 2nd half started with Sgt (Loz) Blackburn (RM Poole) making in-roads into the Kiwi line; he was matched on the left wing by Wellings. The only way the Kiwis could stop them was to gang tackle them.

During this period of Navy pressure, the Kiwis conceded a penalty to give Pascoe another 3 points: 10-18 at 47 mins.

Following a concerted attack by the Kiwis down the left wing, a Navy infringement left the team down to 14 men for 10 mins. This allowed the Kiwis to pick up the pace and their off-loading game caused significant problems to the Navy. This allowed Carter to go over for his 2nd try of the game which was unconverted: 15-18 at 55 mins.

It was time for the Navy to make some changes, some forced due to injury and others for tactical reasons. Lt (Ed) Gaught (HMS Somerset), Sleeman and Mne (Scott) Puleston (30 Cdo RM) had all done a great job. They were replaced by Capt Chris McArdle (HMS Ocean), Mne (Josh) Blackburn (CTCRM and Cpl (Tom) Holliday (6 Ops Sqn RM).

The last 10 mins was to be as ‘nail biting' as ever. First Edge levelled the score with a penalty and to the spectators it seemed certain that extra time was looming. The Navy was under pressure when from a Kiwi lineout, Capt (Stu) McClaren (RAF Halton) assisted by Mne (Josh) Terry (RM Poole) stole a Kiwi ball, tapped it down to Evans who passed it out to Mne (Nathan) Huntley to clear the Navy lines.

From the subsequent lineout the Kiwis were penalised and with less than 2 mins to go up stepped not the normal kicker Pascoe but AET (Jon) Humphreys (RNAS Yeovilton).

From 5m inside the Kiwis half, Humphreys drilled the ball over the cross-bar to make the score 18-21. It was a tense final couple of minutes that saw the Navy give up a penalty which was out of range. The Kiwis closing driving game was being met by strong defence which eventually won not only the scrum but the game.

Head Coach CPO (Ash) Coates said of the game:

"We had a good first half but allowed the Kiwis back into the game due to some ill-discipline" he went on to say about the forthcoming game "the competition is still not over and we cannot be complacent, in order to be certain of retaining the trophy we must beat the home team who gave the Kiwis a good opening game".

Man of the Match was awarded to Sgt (Gaz) Evans (HMS President). 

The RNRU now goes on to meet the RAN on Thu 11 Oct in the deciding game.

Results so far:

RAN 13 v 41 RNZN

RNZN 18 v 21 RNRU

On behalf of the Royal Navy Squad in Australia I would like to thank you all for your support
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