Navy U23 XV Seeking Inter Service Title
You have to go back to 2010 for the last time the Royal Navy had a home tie to secure an Inter Service championship. That year after the match was delayed by 24 hours to enable the snow to clear from the USSG pitch and the Royal Navy secured the championship with a 6-3 win. It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t how it had been planned but in atrocious conditions the Navy team showed a resilience in defence and a maturity, not to be distracted when plan A wasn’t working, that in many ways echoed the victory the class of 2015 secured last week at RAF Halton. Let’s hope it is a good omen.
And whilst talking about omens the Army have enjoyed their recent trips to USSG and it seeking to put a stop to their winning run in Portsmouth, the Navy U23s have the opportunity to match the last home victory against the Army U23s, achieved by the Inter Service winning side of 2007. Both the championship sides of 2007 and 2010 went on to provide a number of Senor XV caps, surely an added incentive for the current talented group who won so convincingly in the end at RAF Halton.
The similarities to 2010 run quite deep. The current fullback, Rhys Dimmock-Williams, shares an ability to glide through gaps that has become the hallmark of Royal Navy and UK Armed Forces fullback, Jon Humphrey, a key player in the 2010 success. Rhys will be looking to emulate his dad, Russ, a compact winger from the late 90s who enjoyed a win over the Army on his Senior XV debut in 1996.
In Alex Cragg and Dan Mason the current U23 XV have an effective lineout presence and through Gavin Elsam, and Jarrard Hayler they have backrow players who are effective at the breakdown. The two Ben’s Watson and Roberts, along with the likes of Joe Burton and Lewis Cooper provide the ball carrying capability so important in the modern game. Whilst the current front row, be it Harrison Marsh or Sam Norton, Issac Salt of Mark Dowds along with Charlie Bennett and Chris Robinson have formed a useful and understated front row platform. It certainly compares well to 2010 when future Senior XV players, Dennis Scothorne, Will Cairns, Sam Laird, Kye Beasley, Ian Cooper and Josh Terry were making the headlines.
The similarities to the last two Inter Service winning sides go further. In both 2007 and 2010 victories were based on rock solid defence and skipper Greg Loydall has certainly led from the front in this area. The work rate of the back division, aided by the backrow, was most evident in the victory over the RAF last week. Gradually as the game wore on it was the effective defence that first won the counter attacking opportunities, which led to the opening Dimmock-Williams try, and then prevented the RAF building any form of platform as they sought to get back in to the game following Rory Penfold’s try that took the Royal Navy three scores ahead.
In 2010 it became a case of getting the job done. Having played so well against the Army at Aldershot to win 20-18 away from home, things did not go as planned against the RAF. With four inches of snow across the pitch on the Friday night, the game was moved to the Saturday afternoon. A massive overnight thaw removed the snow but a biting wind made the game one of attrition, played on an energy sapping pitch. The game plan that was so effective against the Army quickly had to be torn up as passes didn’t go to hand and ball was spilled. The Navy recognised that they had to tighten up and simplify their game plan, which they did so effectively. It was no different last Wednesday when with the wind on their backs the Navy’s A game did not initially fire. Gareth John Rees and Nick Burgess recognised this and the plan was altered as the Navy produced some excellent play in the third quarter playing into the wind. When the time was right Burgess then released his backline where Warrington, Bates, Griggs, Cooper along with try scorers Penfold and Dimmock-Williams all showed well in attack having earlier been rock solid in defence. Flexibility like this may well be required on Wednesday night.
With the Royal Navy being in the fortunate position of only making a couple of changes from last week, Greg Loydall’s team should certainly be able to build on the RAF performance. Ben Roberts inclusion in to the backrow gives a little more ballast in the pack and Gavin Elsam is sure to be a handful off the replacements bench. Like the pack, the backline only sees one change, with Luke Cooper starting on the wing instead of Harry Bates. On the replacements bench Rob McGregor moves out of the match day 23 with Wilson Curtis taking his place.
An Inter Service prize should never be under estimated. Last season the Army nearly came unstuck when they froze against the RAF in the final match at Halton. They came through because they reverted to a simple game plan that had served them so well earlier in the season. It is a lesson the Royal Navy would do well to heed. They are deservedly in the position to regain the U23 Inter Service Championship. This has been achieved through a squad of players doing a lot of simple things well and being prepared to work so hard for the shirt and for each other. Last Wednesday they had the maturity to adapt when things did not quite go their way and in the end secured a comfortable win. All season they have improved after each game and they will need to bring their A game to USSG on Wednesday night and thereafter just have trust and belief in what has served them so well throughout the season. And though they may well have to adapt to a forecast gusting wind at least the game will not be postponed because of snow.
Royal Navy U23 XV: Harrison Marsh, Mark Dowds, Chris Robinson, Ben Watson, Dan Mason, Ben Roberts, Jarrard Hayler, Luke Cooper, Gareth John Rees, Nick Burgess, Rory Penfold, Greg Loydall (C), Luke Warrington, Luke Cooper, Rhys Dimmock-Williams
Replacements: Sam Norton, Isaac Salt, Charlie Bennett, Alex Cragg, Gavin Elsam, Wilson Curtis, James Griggs, Harry Bates
Royal Navy U23 XV v Army U23, USSG Portsmouth RFC, Wed 18 Nov 15 KO 19:00
Images by Alligin Photography / © John Walton