Navy Referees’ Oversee An Eclectic Opening Day of Inter Service Rugby
With ten minutes to go the Royal Air Force crossed for their third try and were within two points of their first win over the Army for twenty years. Earlier the Army Women had posted a record score against the RAF, 93 -3, which is also a record Inter Service score for all games. And the third match, well lets say it took the veterans a little while to get their limbs going in a match that was a slow burner before bursting to life in the last fifteen minutes. The Army ended up with three wins from three on a day when RAF Halton was bathed in April sunshine and the Royal Navy Referees provided the match officials for an excellent day of rugby.
The Women’s game and the Veterans match both kicked off at 11:00. Navy Referee’s training officer, Gaz Fairbairn was in the middle for the Women whilst Geoff Howells took charge of the Veterans; literally as early over exuberance from the Over 40s resulted in the RAF openside flanker being given the opportunity to take a ten minute rest early in the first half.
The two games posed very different problems. In the Women’s game the score kept racking up and though they remained committed in their defence the RAF Women had nothing in their armoury to hurt the dominant Army Women’s team. Gaz was supported by Assistant Referees, Stu Collins and Martyn Chapman. Between them they managed to keep the score and provide some sympathetic officating. For Martyn it was a first Inter Service experience as a Royal Navy Referee.
Another debutant was Nigel Scott who, along with Tim Bailey, was Geoff’s assistants. The early stages of this game had a little more edge to them as did the start of the second half when the RAF Vultures put the Army Masters under some considerable pressure. A couple of early Easter Cards, daffodil yellow from Welshman Geoff, kept matters in hand and the last quarter saw some good rugby played with the Army deserved winners.
With the morning games completed all that was left was the Senior XV match. Originally Duncan McClement was appointed to referee the game. Unfortunately though, the Royal Navy’s number one rugby referee, was required beneath the waves in his professional capacity on the staff of Flag Officer Sea Training. The RFU provided Tom Foley, one of their rising stars, to referee the game and he was supported by Paul Burton, one of two Navy Referees who operate in the Aviva Premiership and Ian Seaton.
The game was by far the best of the three matches and will no doubt have given the RAF great confidence before they travel to Portsmouth next week. An early score gave the home team a 5 – 0 lead and the Army realised that they were in for a very competitive match. The game remained close in the first quarter before the Army pulled away to lead 21-11 at half time. This was quickly extended to 28-11 at the start of the second half and most of the spectators probably expected the Army to cruise to another IS victory. Credit to the RAF who rallied and took the game back to the Army, taking them on up front and also cutting open their defence. With 10 minutes to go they were back to within two points with the conversion to come. The kick was pushed wide and the Army, from the restart, were able to seal their win with a try from Nacavamutu.
It was a compelling game of rugby well managed by Tom in the middle, with good support from Ian and Paul. The experienced team of three provided a template for the younger members of the Royal Navy Rugby Union Society to learn from and aspire to. Overall a good day’s rugby provided by the Royal Air Force, which was contributed to by the Navy Referees.
The 2014 Inter Services is underway and next Wednesday sees US Portsmouth host round two. The Vultures showed that they could play some good rugby whilst the RAF Women will want to bounce back from their Army mauling. However their Senior XV will travel full of confidence and perhaps a little expectation. No doubt the Senior Service will be in for a tough day of rugby and the traditional passionate home support will be most welcome.
Images by Alligin Photography / © Geraint Ashton Jones