RN Mariners Continue There Winning Ways

On the back of the success at the Rectory 2 weeks previous the gathering of Mariners at Burnaby Road was upbeat and optimistic.  Team Manager Lt (Mickey) Flitcroft had clearly worked some magic on his contact list and the established players were swelled by a number of debutants.  The ‘Senior Side' had also asked the ‘Seniors' to accommodate a couple of squad players to give them invaluable experience at ‘veteran's' rugby!  Head Coach Lt (Mick) Connolly was joined for this fixture by Forwards Coach Lt Cdr (Doc) Cox a welcome addition to Backs Coach CPO (Dave) Sibson - a triumvirate to challenge any coaching staff. The opposition in Havant Mariners is always a testing challenge and their prowess, up front, at killing ball and competing in mauls always provides a stern test - the RN Mariners had not beaten this particular team in the preceding 2 seasons.

The old adage "Forwards win rugby matches and backs generally decide by how many points....", was clearly going to be testament to the players on show whilst training at Temeraire!  Whilst ‘Doc' Cox had at least 15 forwards, anxious to get into the starting line-up, Dave Sibson was resigned to running patterns with 4 backs - the promise of ex 1st Team regular CPO Wayne (Cowboy) John and a contingent from HMS Dragon to arrive before Kick Off did smooth his anxiety though.  The desire to mix it up front and continue with the strategy established in the preceding game - clean set piece ball, retention in the loose to exasperate the opposition and rolling mauls to establish tempo for a wide expansive game for the backs - was evident in the choice of the front 5: CPO (Moose) Bastow and WO (George) Hillan propping with Lt Cdr (Jack) Rickard hooking; WO2 (Jan) Watkins and debutant Lt (Liam) Pearson in the engine room.  The back row was no less powerful with CSgt (Lee) Norris at 8, Team Captain Sgt (Wilf) Rees at 7 with explosive blind side support from potential 1st team player, Mne (Scott) Pulson.

The team mustered for the game and the changing room swelled with even more luminaries than were visible at training, Lt (Kerry) Packer eager for pitch time after a long absence with injuries and Lt Cdr (Andy) Evans, always dependable in a three quarter line. Havant kicked off under the Burnaby lights on a pitch that looked magnificent and promised to support an enthralling game of rugby.

The first RN touch was poor with Pearson fumbling the Kick Off and presenting Havant with a scrum on the RN 10m line. The scrum was turned over by the heavy RN pack and from the resulting ball CPO (Taff) Gadd was impeded and the first penalty of the night was awarded to the RN. AB (Chris) Hughes failed to find touch and the clearance from Havant hit an RN leg to allow opposition Line Out on the half way line. The Line Out and resultant Maul was turned over and the Mariners cut loose with a decisive break - from a kick return scrum half LS (Jenks) Jenkins' box kick, fullback Sgt (Paddy) Gore dummied the Havant midfield to set up Std (Iffy) Ifereimi to kick towards the line - a scrambling defence managed to clear the ball from their own dead ball line. 

The RN Mariners then exerted a period of pressure that involved a number of rucks, turnovers, rushed clearances and steady line outs - the culmination of the forward intensity was a well deserved push over try claimed by Rees and converted out on the right wing by Gore - 7-0.

With their backs up, the Havant kick off was returned with a scything run by Bastow which ultimately released Gadd on the Right Wing, cutting inside 2 Havant players and opening the channel for the 2 man overlap he unfortunately took the ball into the tackle and the ball was spilled forward.  Luckily the Havant scrum was turned over and the resultant RN penalty was taken quickly to allow Cowboy to double dummy down the centre of the park and score under the posts, converted by Gore - 14-0.

Again, the kick was taken safely and run back to Havant but the forwards took it one phase too far and Hillan became isolated and lost the ball in contact, a series of loose passing between the pack and Jenkins followed until an outstanding pass between 9 and 10 allowed Cowboy to cross the whitewash in the far left corner for his second, Gore was unable to convert - 19-0.

At this point it looked as though the flood gates were about to open. But.......a loose play from the Kick Off allowed Havant to attack the RN line and the covering defence conceded a penalty (the first one in 30 mins) close to the line; a quick take and one missed tackle allowed Havant to cross the line and the extra points were added, 19-7.

The remainder of the half then became a predictable exchange of niggling penalties as the two packs became more tired with neither team exerting dominance.  There were some nice interchanges between the Norris and Jenkins at the base of the scrums but the incisive action never materialised and the kicking ping pong resulted in a number of Line Outs.  Neither team could distribute clean ball from this particular set piece - lineout ball was caught cleanly but the resulting maul or ruck disintegrated into a wrestling match.

Half time (19-7) came and it was the moment for the Coaching staff to ring the changes. LET (Rab) Seru replaced Pearson, ET (Ritchie) Metcalf (1st team squad) for Hillan, Lt Cdr (Beastie) Williams for Bastow and LPT (Paddy) Stevens for Ifereimi.

There was instant success as the RN Kick Off was fumbled and Seru drove through the Havant defence, a penalty resulted from the ruck but this was missed by Gore. 

The first turnover from the Havant Line Out was then taken by Rees but the RN failed to capitalise and a series of kicks that pushed Havant up field. The back row was then changed with Packer coming on at blindside and WO (Chris) Richards at No 8.

For all their endeavours and first up tackles the back row could not break down some defiant defending from Havant and the game began to stagnate - time for Evans to come into the RN Midfield. The change resulted in some fine interplay between Evans and Cowboy who unselfishly passed to Stevens for his debut try. Stevens worked his way under the post to make the conversion easier but Gore failed to capitalise - 24-7.

At this point Cowboy was replaced by ABCIS (Shinny) Shinny who goes to 15 with Gore at 10 for the remainder of the match. The pattern is now set for equal interchanges of play with Line Out turned over and the RN scrum coming under intense pressure from the Havant wheel.  It needed a dominant run from Packer to break a couple of challenges which releases Stevens for the try line, his kick through though is touched down by the Havant fullback for a 22m drop out. The quick drop out is not cleared by the RN and the resultant Line Out releases the Havant backs - reminiscent of the game at the Rectory, the RN miss 2 key tackles to allow the Havant centre to run unopposed under the post for a converted try - 24-14.

With 2 final changes, Sgt (Ron) Fellows on for Rees and PO (Taff) Howells for Williams the final 10 minutes became a rather dull affair with both packs resilient in their defence but lacking clarity in their ball retention and distribution. The only relief in the closing stages was the jinxing run and evasion of three tackles by prop Howells on the right wing.  The final whistle was blown for a winning result to the RN Mariners - 24-14.

Overall the performance was pleasing but, whilst primary possession was achieved without too much of a drama - it led to the age-old problem of what happens next? Whatever is supposed to happen next cannot yet be achieved consistently because at phase two or three the ball is not recycled quickly enough, it had been slowed down or support has not arrived rapidly enough.  The biggest success was the reduction in the penalty count from the preceding game.  There is lots to work on before the Prison Service are taken on as the next fixture, and as they have already bested the Army Masters this season the Mariners will have to be on the money for 80 minutes.

Head Coach Connelly credited a number of performances with merit, particularly Gore and Stevens but the Man of the Match was awarded to Watkins who was a consistent success in the RN line-out and a nuisance in the Havant set piece.

WO Hillan (HMS Excellent), Lt Cdr Rickard (HMS Raleigh), CPO Bastow (DES Abbeywood), WO Watkins (FOST), Lt Pearson (HMS Excellent), Mne Pulson (RN Training Camp), CSgt Rees (40 Cdo RM), Sgt Norris (Chicksands), LSea Jenkins (HMNB Clyde), CPO Johns, CPO Harding (HMS Sultan), Std Iferimry (HMS Ocean), AB Shinny (HMS Dragon), CPO Gadd (Chicksands), Sgt Gore (30 Cdo RM), Lt Cdr Williams (HMS Excellent), ET Metcalf (RN Training Camp), Sgt Fellows (Chicksands), LET Seru (HMS Ocean), PO Howells (HMS Torbay), Lt Packer (HMS Temeraire), Lt Cdr Evans (HMS York)