RN MARINERS v NAC - PAUL DUNN MEMORIAL TROPHY
The RN Mariners season began in earnest at Ivel Barbarians pitch against an extremely youthful Naval Air Command team who had been assembled to play in what has now become a significant fixture in the RNRU calendar ‘The Paul Dunn Memorial Trophy'.
Paul, known, loved and still very much missed by many, was present in spirit as both teams gave an outstanding display of passionate, open and running rugby, officiated exceptionally well by Commander Stewart Kilby.
Committed from the off, the NAC, building on their strong Inter Command performances, utilised their speed, fitness, teamwork and inherent awareness of support to beat the Mariners out wide as both wingers and the full back making significant inroads into Mariner territory. The Mariners, in a bid to keep the ball and use their guile, experience and wise old heads, kept the ball in the tight, dominating the scrum and gaining useful yards around the fringes of the mauls and at breakdowns.
The first breakthrough came against the initial run of play, a Mariners error 20m from the NAC try line. A spilled pass was quickly picked and passed wide with the NAC running 70m unopposed to score. (5-0 12 min). This gave the NAC confidence and a converted try were (12-0) following an outstanding 50m run by the winger who dodged, swerved and outran the floundering Mariners back 3 to score under the posts.
Impressively led by returning Capt Dom O Connor and backed up by the ever present Vice Chris Richards, the Mariners took it back to basics and began to build good passages of play watched by Head Coach Lt Mick Connolly and his Coaching Team of PO Neil Evans and CPO Jim Hunter. The lack of a final pass or a missed opportunity to utilise developing space was all that was missing in the Mariners as they broke through a NAC defensive line. The NAC consistently used both the sloping pitch and wind in their favour to gain good field position and punish the Mariners for any mistakes. Squandering 2 scoring opportunities, the Mariners paid the price before the half was out with another blistering run by the NAC backs, linking superbly well with an energetic back row which led to the final score of the half (19-0).
Half time words from Mick and an influx of new players who were keen to make an impression within Mariners Rugby, the 2nd half was a revelation and, short of a few mistakes at the beginning of the final quarter, was one of the best halves of Mariners rugby seen over the past few seasons. Within 5 mins, outstanding forwards play and awareness saw No 8 Lee Norris score the Mariners opening try with ex Senior XV player Rob O Kane converting (19-7). Seizing the advantage from the off and taking the NAC by surprise, Haseltine finished of an outstanding passage of play, built from the kickoff return and a structured march down the pitch to put Danny under the posts (19-14). Not content with this comeback, the Mariners did it again with Norris scoring his 2nd try, placing the NAC under pressure with structured driving, a discipline rarely seen at this level, great communication and linking play by all players. The match was tied at 19-19 with 20 mins to play. The Mariners, amazed at the score line, and then nearly blew the match by letting in 2 very soft tries in quick succession that saw the NAC returning to what they did best in the opening half with some outstanding running from their 10 and backs (29-19).
The belief, that was lacking last season, then showed itself. Seasoned former Senior XV players such as Justin Doney, Rob O Kane, Ewan Cowie, Chris and Dom leading from the front, with newcomers Speedy Harding and Fido Fiddock making a huge impression, the Mariners clawed their way back into the game with 2 outstanding tries levelled the game again (29-29). The last 5 mins were fraught, open and committed but neither side could make the crucial breakthrough. A drawn football game and a fitting result for a great open game of rugby.
Mrs Sheila Dunn, Paul's widow and their daughter Emma, presented the trophy to both captains after the game. Head Coach Mick Connolly, a compatriot and huge friend of Pauls from his playing days, was humble in his praise of the performance by both teams and the game. He singled out Mariners Jase Wallace-Sims, who was a revelation at Hooker, and newcomer Speedy for particular praise but noted the NAC 10 & 14 for their skill and ability. Mick, recognising the influence the ex-Senior and CS XV players brought to the squad acknowledged there was some way to go before he was content but it was, he said, a promising start.
The next fixtures sees the Mariners play Torpoint at The Rectory, Devonport Services, on Wed 16 Feb 11 KO 1900.