Portsmouth – A Navy City ?
As the M275 takes you in to the city there can be no doubt. On your right HMS Excellent with its waterfront and prominent sign “Royal Navy” stands guard, in front the first views of the tower cranes. Despite the modern screen of retail units and containers the historic stone wall of the dockyard is regularly glimpsed. Trafalgar Gate, modern and functional with the ships alongside Fountain Lake Jetty beyond. Unicorn Gate first swung open on its great hinges in 1779 behind which BAE Systems builds the bow to bridge sections of the state of the art Type 45 frigates. The dockyard wall gives way to the red Victorian brick of the barracks and HMS Nelson. Whilst at the other end of Queen Street, Victory Gate, Semaphore Tower and HMS Victory are watched over by Diamond and Daring, Type 45’s already accepted into the Fleet. Surely there is no doubt Portsmouth is a Naval city.
But wait. As you walk on to the pitch at Burnaby Road and look around the signs of the new pretender are everywhere. Portsmouth University, vibrant and increasingly well respected has through refurbishment and new build galvanised the very heart of the city. A top five business school and a strong sports department; for many the city is now more Cap and Gown than Square Neck and Bell Bottoms.
Last week the University rugby side brought this youthful zest to US Portsmouth as they convincingly retained the Jack Segust Memorial Cup. On Sunday they return as the away team to face the Royal Navy U23s, themselves fresh with fond memories of their recent win at US, breaking the fifty point barrier against Chichester.
The Navy side welcome back Josh Jones at fly half allowing their captain, Matt Horton, to return to his favoured position of full back. Talented centre Sam Davies is unavailable but is replaced by Josh Blackburn, who ended last season as the starting CS U23 centre. Finally the back division will also see the first outing of Mo Andrews on the wing, another of last season’s CS players. It looks an exciting backline with real try scoring flair. And think of those not mentioned – Clark, Shuttleworth, McGregor, Benzies and Penfold. Attacking rugby must surely be on the menu after the Sunday roast.
Well that will depend, to a degree on the forwards where Jon Henty will leave a large hole to fill, as he returns to sea. John Barnett, last season’s Brian Weekes Memorial Trophy winner is still deployed on Exercise Cougar 13 but hopefully will re-join the squad later in the season. However there is good news up front with the welcome return of experienced prop, Chris Davies. Part of the 2012 Commonwealth Cup winning squad Chris is another with CS U23 experience and whilst perfectly adept at his primary duties will lose nothing in comparison to the backs if he is let loose in the open spaces.
So it’s all to play for. Two home teams. For the Navy a very important game, as they continue to steadily build for their two Inter Service matches; including their home game against the Army on 15 November. By the evening we will know whether Portsmouth remains a Navy city. Does the University not know the Navy had a college in the city in 1729!
Royal Navy U23 v Portsmouth University, US Portsmouth RFC, Burnaby Road,
Sunday 6 October.
Follow us on Twitter @RNRugby
Images by Alligin Photography/©Geraint Ashton Jones/©Lee Crabb (Chichester)/© John Walton (Ealing)