Navy U23s prepare to defend their Inter Service title

MoTM for the Army game, Tom Hughes will provide the solid base at the set-piece and in the loose
Rory Penfold will sport the captain’s arm band again
Makepeace and Mason have formed a strong second row partnership this season
The victorious Royal Navy Under 23s and their Team Support Group after their match against the Army

November - a month of extraordinary results; Trump in the Whitehouse, Ireland beat the All Blacks, Chicago Cubs win the World Series, Italy turned over the Springboks and Murray topped the end of year ATP ranking beating Đoković.

Can we expect theatrics at Burnaby Road on Wednesday?  Well we will certainly see dynamism on the field but if we look forensically at both sides’ results in the lead up to the final game of the season and compare them, then perhaps it will not be such a big surprise if the RN U23s retain the Inter Service title, the young Navy side will not be taking anything for granted though.

A bit optimistic, a bit premature? Maybe but the U23s have played a good brand of open rugby with the coaching oversight provided by George Hillan (forwards), Neil Evans (backs) and of course Taff Williams (Head Coach).  All of whom went to watch the second round of the competition where the RAF hosted the Army in an 18 - 18 draw – a sense of if you know your enemy and know yourself you need not fear the results of a long season (paraphrase) comes to mind. But what conclusions can be drawn from that game?

“The Army didn’t really get going against the RAF,” said Neil Evans “and looked a million miles from the side that played us. The RAF played on that, and were aggressive in defence, winning the majority of the front foot battles.”

It is difficult to ascertain what the RAF U23s coaches and players have thought of their season to date. Meeting the Ealing Trailfinders at the start and losing without getting a point on the board may have caused some initial consternation.  Experiencing a significant humbling in the Midlands against the former giant of English rugby, Moseley Academy RFC, may have alerted them to some key failings but at least this time they got on the score sheet.

Two close matches followed firstly against the students of Cambridge University (undergraduate side) and secondly Dorset and Wilts U20s.  Both were tight games but again they didn’t come away with a ‘W’.  So a steady improvement with the draw against the Army indicating they may be due a win next?  The RN U23s will clearly have different ideas, keen to deny the RAF even a sniff of the line as they have defended aggressively all season and fought hard to score their points.  As a famous strategist, wisely once wrote: ‘Invincibility lies in the defence; the possibility of victory in the attack.’

Asked how, if required, they would adapt their game plan, Neil Evans replied “The result won’t affect our game plan whatsoever. We will endeavour to play ‘Navy Style’ and stick to the processes we have been building on throughout the season. The players are comfortable with the structure in attack and defence and understand the direction we as a TSG have tried to develop."

Capable of putting out an unchanged team sheet from the Army game, the TSG is confident they have produced a competitive team.  Eldon Myers is back in contention at centre after coming back from deployment in HMS Ocean.  He brings with him, as Neil Evans says, “…Senior XV experience into a back line which has struggled with a number of injuries throughout the season.”

Head Coach Taff Williams is an experienced coach within the Navy Rugby set up and is looking forward to the challenge the RAF will bring, when questioned on his preparation this was his response. “I’m not one that looks at the oppositions latest results because I know that the RAF are a great team and they will definitely be coming to play hard and aggressive rugby right up to the final whistle, and this game will definitely be the 2016 Battle of Britain. We can only work on our game plan and make sure all of the team members understand what is required up until the final whistle, in order to stay in the fight and be able to walk off the pitch with our heads held high.”

Joe Maddon, Coach of the Chicago Cubs, said: “For me, it’s really about staying in the moment and not worrying about the outcome of the game or managing toward the outcome. It doesn't do anybody any good.”  It’s the same for the U23s: they will need to play heads-up rugby, play what they see and show some creativity in attack and defence.  They have the beating of the RAF, they just need to continue to believe in their coaches, their structures and themselves and remember, again in the words of Maddon, “Never let the pressure exceed the pleasure.”  The match and title is theirs for the taking!

Royal Navy U23 XV v RAF U23 XV, USSG Portsmouth RFC, Wed 30 Nov 16 KO 1900. All are welcome.

Words by J Campbell-Baldwin
Images by RNRU © John Walton