RN Mariners v Army Masters
Following a good team performance against the RAF some 2 weeks before, coupled with a productive training camp and a full squad to select from, hopes and confidence was high prior to the annual fixture against the dominant force within veteran's rugby, the Army Masters.
A bright day following a welcome bout of rain the night before gave ideal conditions for both the players and some 4000 spectators, although creating a slippy pitch. Game on.
The opening 10 minutes was full of incident with the RN driving into the Army half, putting them under pressure and leading to the first of 4 sin bins throughout the game and allowing Lt (Paul) Clark (Fleet Education) to give the Mariners a 3-0 lead
The first Army foray into Mariner territory was handled well with good defence from a motivated and aggressive Mariner pack, and safe hands under the high ball from Lt (Jo) Ainsley (HMS Sultan). However, a speculative kick through from the Army stand off bounced cruelly for the Mariner defence and allowed a simple touch down to give the Army the lead 3 - 7.
The Mariners came back strong with a solid scrum performance and driving runs from Sgt (Lee) Norris (Chicksands) and the RN Mariner ‘Man of the Match' PO (Justin) Doney (820 NAS). Quick ball emerged from the back of a ruck and gave WO2 (Albert) Hall (HMS Chatham) the best scoring opportunity of the match but he was well tackled into touch by a robust Army defence. The Army, however were deemed to have been drawn offside allowing Clark to close the score to 6 - 7.
The game intensity raised several notches with both teams applying pressure but, again, a costly mistake by the Mariner defence allowed the simplest of run ins by the Army wing after a kick through and pick up giving the Army a 6 - 14 lead.
Although continuing with forward pressure and having the majority of possession with the Referee penalising the Masters freely, the Mariners failed to capitalise with the line out faltering and lack of authority with the ball in hand. The remainder of the half was played out with nether side able to add points.
The second half saw the Army Masters began to take advantage of momentum and belief, a facet the Mariners seemed to lack. The Army back row, as previous years began to dominate possession and make ground against an ever porous defence. The Mariners suffered their first sin bin of the game and this gave the Army enough of an advantage to place a defensive Navy scrum under pressure, leading to a dynamic back row move to put the Army Number 7 in out wide. 6 - 19.
With the game all but lost, the Mariners began to play with more confidence and freedom, drawing the Army offside and allowing Clark to close the point's gap with a 3 point penalty closing the score to 9 - 19. However, the Army drove to the RN Mariners line and, following an off the ball incident, the Navy found themselves down to 13 players with another sin bin and the resultant penalty widened the gap to 9 - 22.
This proved to be the last score of the game and sadly another lost opportunity by a strong Mariner squad to beat the Army. The Masters were awarded the Enterprise Cup and crowned Inter Service Veterans Champions 2011. Head Coach Mick Connolly praised his side's preparation and commitment, sadly acknowledging that this was a missed opportunity.
The RN Mariners are actively looking for new players to represent the team in the 2012 season.