RNRU Beach Rugby the Lead Act at Weymouth

Battle of the Bases: Collingwood v Sultan
Inaugural women's tag exhibition match showed significant potential.
Hard tackling went in when the air stations took to the sand.
Most flamboyant try of the festival?
RNRU Beach Rugby Cup presented to HMS Heron team captain, Rich Hall, by Phil Metcalfe (QinetiQ).

Following on from the success of the previous tournaments, a gathering of 8 competitive teams, this time including the maiden attendance of 2 women’s teams, arrived on one of the hottest recorded days to ply their rugby skills in front of a delightful coastal town backdrop and a beach resort brimming with people.

Weymouth’s well-earned reputation for hosting sports events drew the Royal Navy back for the third iteration of the RNRU Beach Festival bringing thrills and very few spills (of the ball).

The matches took the form of 5 players a-side with four minutes a half, which will not seem much to the layman but due to the effort required of playing on sand the teams were grateful for the rolling subs rule. Scrums and lineouts were not in force with ‘tap and go’ the order of the day for any restarts. Emphasis was placed on fast, expansive, open rugby. Doing away with the traditional coin toss to decide halves the referees opted for ‘paper, scissors, stones’ with some suggesting the referees were keen not to lose their ice-cream money!

Played across 2 pitches, the teams were placed in two pools and once the results were in, the top two placed sides of each pool would vie for the Cup and the bottom two, the Plate.

Teams who had appeared at previous tournaments, like HMNB Portsmouth and HMS Heron, played the tactical game using players conservatively ensuring they could last the whole match and indeed the tournament. Teams less familiar with beach rugby played at 100 mph and soon suffered the consequences.

As play continued through the day the locals and tourist were updated over the PA by Dave ‘the Mike’ Wakefield, RNRU Community Officer (East); informing all of the participants and the scores. The public were enthused and took the time to speak to the exhausted players when they were resting in whatever shade they could find.

“It is a testament to Royal Navy rugby men and women and the co-ordinating staff that make this the centre piece of rugby’s summer grass-roots calendar,” Director of Community Rugby Chris Roberts said, “…though I am loath to call it grass-roots for too much longer as I am pleased to report that I noticed 7 senior capped players digging out on the sand as well as Ash Coates (RNRU Head Coach), clearly here to unearth new talent. I am already looking forward to next season.”

So to the teams: HMS Queen Elizabeth provided the only ship’s side, with establishments providing the largest number of teams. The Royal Marines were represented by 40 Commando and the students from the University Royal Navy Units also entered a squad (and their numbers were boosted by some apprentices from QinetiQ). The two women’s side represented the training establishments HMS Collingwood and HMS Sultan.

On the way to the Plate Final, HMNB Portsmouth beat the students 4 - 2 meeting HMS Sultan who had in turn defeated the sailors of HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH in emphatic style 5 - 0. In a gripping final the teams traded tries, then HMS Sultan found another gear to score to two unanswered tries to produce a final score of 4 – 2.

Sandwiched between the contact rugby of the men was the series of exhibition tag matches between the two women’s side. Producing some accurate passing and running lines, the women produced some exciting rugby. The Navy will continue to look to drive up the number of female participants and it is events like this that will help to do so.

The Cup Final saw the highly rated HMS Heron meet the robust 40Cdo in a bruising encounter. Both sides in the lead up came within a whisker of losing out in the semis, each edging a win by 1 try against HMS Seahawk and HMS Collingwood respectively. The final was played with passion and the competitive spirit of both sides was clearly on display but the sun was shining on the airmen who beat the Royal Marines with a flattering score line of 5 tries to 1.

RNRU Weymouth Beach Rugby Festival Winners 2016 – HMS Heron.

RNRU Vice President Cdre Nick Roberts said of the festival: “I was delighted to spend an excellent day in Weymouth experiencing the overwhelming sense of fun and camaraderie of the Navy Rugby community. The rugby was truly competitive and played with real passion and commitment. It was also good to see the women play their inaugural tournament with both the crowd and their male counterparts cheering them on – they showed real potential. My personal thanks go to the event coordinator, Ady Cherrington, for making it such an enjoyable occasion and of course my congratulations go to all participants, but particularly the winners, HMS Heron.”

The RNRU were delighted that QinetiQ agreed to reprise their role as sponsor for the event with Transformation Director (Land, Maritime, Weapons), Phil Metcalfe presenting the medals and cup alongside RNRU VP Commodore Nick Roberts. To the town and people of Weymouth, thank you for the warm welcome and we look forward to returning in 2017.

Article by J Campbell-Baldwin
Images by Alligin Photography ©J Campbell-Baldwin