RN Ready for Anzac US Challenge
Two brief training camps at HMS Collingwood and HMS Sultan have enabled the Royal Navy Senior XV to hone their preparation for the inaugural Four Nations Maritime Cup and the seventh edition of the Commonwealth Navies Rugby Cup. It will be the first time that the Royal Navy have been back to New Zealand since the successful defence of the CNRC in 2003 but with two recent trips to Australia the challenges of playing in the Southern Hemisphere are not the unknowns they used to be.
Only one player remains from 2003, Dave Pascoe, who will be playing in his sixth Commonwealth Navies Rugby Cup, his fourth as captain. He will lead a squad that has a number of players who proved themselves in Sydney, in 2012, along with some of the youngsters who have earned their promotion through excellent performances at U23 level. Also he heads a team that travels in a very different frame of mind to that of 2003.
The tournament in ’03 was played in May. Just eleven days after a bruising and de-moralising defeat in the 2003 Army Navy match Nick Bartlett led thirteen of the squad out to face the Aussies in the second match of the tournament. The Breakers had played two days earlier in a hard fought encounter against the New Zealand Navy. That match probably contributed to the Royal Navy’s subsequent close win in the second game of the tournament. With the RAN monopolising possession for long periods it was evident that fatigue set in as the Royal Navy defence kept the Breakers at arms length in a fraught closing fifteen minutes that saw the RN hold on for an 18-15 victory. It was probably not a surprise that experienced players like Bob Armstrong and Navy man of the tournament Matt Parker stood up to be counted as the tension mounted. But also, as has become a bit of a RN tradition in the CNRC, less well known players also made telling contributions. Against the Breakers it was lock forward Glenn Cavannagh with some superb defensive lineout work, three days later Bill Parry and John Court gave stand out scrummaging displays whilst Richie Neve made a try saving tackle against New Zealand. One that England International Spencer Brown, playing alongside Richie, would have been proud of. However the success at the tournament was as much to do with the support given to the team off the pitch as that on it, where HMS Marlborough’s ships company were a vocal presence. Future RNRU Director of Rugby, Andy Kellett was cutting his representative coaching teeth and was very much part of producing the successful game plans. Possibly even more influential was team manager Soapy Watson. His role in restoring confidence and moral, after the Twickenham game, was conducted out of the public gaze but was vital to the success and a stark reminder what a sad and untimely loss he was to Navy Rugby.
Andy Kellett stood down from the DoR role following this year’s Army Navy game. With the competition now being in September rather than May, new Director of Rugby, Mark Deller, has had time to assemble a squad, which has a balance of tried and tested players along with some new and exciting talent. A couple of injuries have forced his hand with some selections; Ben Priddey (eye injury) will be missed in the front row as will Watisoni Vakaltukali’s (ankle injury) physicality. However those of us who have watched Sam Benzie in action for the U23’s will be looking forward with enthusiasm to see how he performs at the higher level with the Senior XV. Likewise Mark has given Sam Jones the opportunity to see whether he can take his Command level form to the next level. The two training camps will have allowed time for all the players, though particularly the newer members, to become accustomed to the standards required. It will also have proved very valuable time for the coaching staff to see all the players at close quarters.
In recent CNRC competitions the key battles have often been amongst the backrow. It is not by accident that both the ‘man of the tournament’ in the last two competitions played number eight. The Royal Navy will travel confident that they have the experience in this key part of the squad to impose their game on any of the three teams they play. Dom Taylor, Seti Raumakita and Jack Basher all have the skill set to win the battle on the ground whilst there is an abundance of ball carrying options through Ian Cooper, Dave Fairbrother, Edd Pascoe and Jack Tindle. At scrum half, Dave Pascoe and Johnny Stephen can both exploit front foot ball and though Richard Cadywould plays in quite a different style to the more familiar Nathan Huntley both fly halves are able to trouble defences with the variety of their game.
Up front all followers of Navy Rugby will be pleased to see Kye Beasley back to full fitness following his recent injury problems. He and Mark Owen will come under pressure from Tom Blackburn and Mark Jones at prop whilst Ed Gaught, at hooker, will appreciate the serious grunt provided from an engine room that can choose from Marsh Cormack, Tom Cowley and Chris Thompson. The pack will certainly not want for size.
Likewise the outside backs. Sam Benzie, Sam Davies and Tom Davies are all players who can bring a real physical presence to midfield and may well be joined by the versatile skills of Raumakita. They will all look to give space to Jon Humphrey to showcase his elusive running skills and the more direct running styles of Matt Bowden and Sam Jones.
It is an exciting twenty five man squad which leaves the UK on Tuesday and arrives at HMZS Philomel late on Wednesday evening. With Friday being partly taken up with the Opening Ceremony their preparation time and period of acclimatisation before Monday’s opening game is tight. Pascoe and his team will no doubt be looking to build on the positives of last season as well as laying down some solid foundations for this season’s campaign that culminates on 9 May at Twickenham’s show piece Army Navy game. However the team can not afford to get ahead of themselves as there is a week of intense maritime rugby that will need their full attention. This year there will be four teams that gather in New Zealand’s North Harbour with two trophies at stake. Not only will the Royal Navy be determined to retain the Commonwealth Navies Rugby Cup but they will also wish to double up and win the inaugural Four Nations Maritime Trophy.
Results and match reports will be posted on the website and the RNRU Facebook page.
22 Sep 2014 – Royal Navy v Royal Australian Navy Breakers
26 Sep 2014 – Royal New Zealand Navy v Royal Navy
30 Sep 2014 – Royal Navy v US Marine Corps
Article by Geraint Ashton Jones
2014 Images by Alligin Photography / © Geraint Ashton Jones
2003 Images courtesy of Owen Salmon / © NZ Defence Forces