New Decade, New Dawn? Hard Graft Ahead for Navy Senior XV

Kip Bridgen, Jon Humphrey and Ben Chambers enjoy the summer break at St Mellion.
The success of the U23 XV was based on a strong work ethic – hard work in defence.
The success of the U23 XV was based on a strong work ethic – hard work in attack.
With hard work can come great enjoyment – Navy U23 XV Inter Service Champions 2015,16,17,19.
Sam Matavesi’s work ethic brought international recognition for Fiji and a trip to Japan for World Cup 2019.

New Decade, New Dawn?  Maybe!  But it remains a truism that the basic requirements of building successful sides are unchanged from year to year, season to season.  And one of the foundation stones remains the ability to embrace hard work. 

Those lazy, hazy days of Summer will seem far away for the Senior XV who are now in the second week of camp, as an extended squad, to start preparations for the Centenary Inter Service tournament.  100 years after the Royal Air Force were admitted, and the Royal Navy took the inaugural title, the Royal Navy Senior XV will be chasing title number twenty-one when they take on the RAF at the Twickenham Stoop on 18th April and the Army at Twickenham a fortnight later.  Back in June Kip Bridgen was reflecting on his first cap for the Royal Navy Rugby Union, Ben Chambers had established himself as an exciting, explosive finisher, who was about to be called up by UK Armed Forces and score three tries in his first four appearances.  Whilst for Jon Humphrey, his experience remains valued and accessible albeit with his on-field availability on hold.

With the postponement of last week’s fixture, the team had an unexpectedly hard first week in camp and will be pleased to get their season underway when they travel to Cambridge on Wednesday.  The two games in February will give the opportunity for new hands and established players alike to convince the coaching staff that they deserve to be part of the trimmed squad come the first capped game of the season, in March, away to the Marine Nationale, and then in April and May the two Inter Service Championship matches.  Before then they will ride the rollercoaster of representative sport, the need for hard work and the ability to immerse themselves in the camaraderie that has long been the hallmark of all Navy Rugby’s successful teams.

As has often been the case recently, the squad is boosted by U23 players, still buoyant from their fourth Inter Service win in the last five years.  A side that understands the requirements of winning rugby.  Later in the season, some of these same players will have the opportunity to train and play alongside Sam Matavesi, the first Royal Navy player to play in a World Cup.  No doubt the U23 XV players understand the hard work ethic, as it was a hallmark of their Inter Service victories, but they will also get to understand how this translates to those who aspire to the highest levels that the Game has to offer.

What Sam and the U23s already have in common was that their achievements were made in wet, windy and heavy conditions of last Autumn and the weather has not improved.  So, it is time to knuckle down and overcome not only the challenge of Cambridge University, this season’s Varsity Match winners but also the challenge of putting together a brand of winning rugby designed for the fast paced pitches of the Stoop and Twickenham on a heavy Grange Road track that has endured a very wet Winter.

Cambridge University have already enjoyed wins over the Royal Air Force and an Army XV so they will be looking to make it a Services clean sweep.  The match against the Royal Air Force was a bruising encounter with the scores locked at 5-5 with half time approaching before the University side scored well into stoppage time to take a 12-5 lead into the break.  The second half was a little more comfortable for them as they extended their lead to 26-5 before the RAF scored a late consolation try.  The match against the Army’s A XV was an altogether more open affair with the first half producing 5 tries and 35 unanswered points for the University side.  The second period was closer with Cambridge only managing a solitary try before the Army scored a late try to get on the scoreboard.  However at the final whistle it was CURFC who enjoyed a comfortable 42-7 win.

For the Royal Navy, last season’s game, at Grange Road, was a close affair with the home team overcoming the Navy’s 19-0 early lead to edge the win 27-26.  Two tries from skipper, Ben Priddey, and a third from right wing Troy Gobey, gave the Navy the fast start they had hoped for with Greg Loydall successful with two conversions.  However, with 5 minutes of the half to go, the Navy conceded a try from the University’s rolling maul so had to be content with a 19-5 half-time lead.  Cambridge closed the gap further, early in the second half, before a Lewis Cooper try, converted by Matt Horton, extended the Navy’s lead to 26-10.  They held on to this lead until the last few minutes during which they conceded three tries, the first two from close range, before the final try, which was an all court attack, dashed the Navy’s hopes of an away win. 

For this first match of the Inter Service season an extended squad of thirty one has been selected with an intention of giving all the players some match time.  The team will be led from centre by the experienced Seta Raumakita (18 caps) and he will be able to call on the support of Declan Johnson and John Kirwan, the other two capped players in the starting XV.

The Royal Navy squad to face Cambridge University on Wednesday 12 February at Grange Road, Cambridge, KO:19:30 is:

Starting XV: ET(ME) Dom Cleverley, LA(AH) Ethan Barnaschone, AB(SEA) Kai Allton, AET Hayden Wilkinson, LS(HM) John Kirwan *, MNE Will Scott, MNE Rory Bonnick, S/Lt Declan Johnson RN *, MNE Alex Petersen, AET Dan Rutter, L/Cpl Troy Gobey, MNE Setareki Raumakita * (Capt) , MNE Kai Baker, MNE Henry Glidden, AET Jordan Gott

Replacements: PO(CIS) Kristian Norish, LET(ME) Liam Williams, OC David Scoot, S/Lt James Holt RN, AB(EW) Tam Lindsay, Lt Joe Martin RM, AB(UW) Adam White, AB(SC) Timoci Kava *, Bugler Nick Burgess, S/Lt Elliot Woodhead, AB (AWW) Jake Hanley, ET(ME) Gavin Duffy, AET Chris Mills, LAET(M) Sam Carter, LH(AWT) Ben Jeacock, Surg Lt Henry Hughes RN

* - -Denotes capped player

For those who are unable to travel to Cambridge to watch the Senior XV there is action closer to home at Burnaby Road, Portsmouth, where the President’s XV take on a Portsmouth University side as they continue their preparations before playing the Royal Air Force Hawks in mid March.

By line: Geraint Ashton Jones
Images credit © Alligin Photography