RNRU U23s prepare to defend their Inter-Service title

2015 U23 Team Captain, Greg Loydall, at RAF Halton
Rhys Dimmock-Williams looks on as Nick Burgess kicks in the U23 RAF v Royal Navy match

The Royal Navy Rugby Union representative season is about to get underway and the first team to take to the pitch are the Under 23s. As reigning Inter-Service champions, the Team are keen to defend their title and Lieutenant Commander Rob O'Kane, the U23 Assistant Director of Rugby (ADoR), took time out from his busy schedule to talk to us about the team philosophy and their aims for the season.

Who could forget the excitement of the 2015 U23 campaign? Having defeated the RAF at Halton and then triumphing over the Army in a thrilling encounter at Burnaby Road, the RN were crowned IS Champions for the first time in 5 years. The ability of the players on the pitch was recognised when, five months later, the RNRU Senior XV included 5 of the youngsters in their winning IS team and a further 5 players represented the United Kingdom Armed Forces (UKAF) U23 side who played against Oxbridge on the same day!

For the Under 23 side, this was the culmination of a season of hard work by a small team of coaches and support staff. However ADoR Rob insists that the player development pathway must be improved if the Royal Navy side are to dominate Service rugby on a regular basis.

“The Under 23 season is very short and we therefore have to use our time wisely to ensure that the players develop over the course of the 3 month period. But the players who don’t quite make the grade for inclusion in the Senior squad return to their units and their development slows”.

“The challenge is how we continue to develop the players throughout the year so that they return the following year as better rugby players who are stronger and fitter than when they left at the end of the previous season.”

With a number of players, including last season’s captain Greg Lloydall, now over age, the Training Support Group (TSG) held a trial weekend for the second successive year. Whilst a number of seasoned heads remain, Rob acknowledges the benefit of an open-trial weekend.

“We have traditionally relied on word of mouth to identify talented youngsters but that system has weaknesses as it is very much reliant on a proactive rugby man being embedded at the unit. Our open-trial weekend is exactly that; any player of any ability can attend to see if they have the requisite skills. All who attend benefit from specialist coaching, and if it is not their year, all players will go home with a clear indication of what it is they need to improve upon and how to go about doing so”.

The U23s have a new head coach in WO2 Elvet Williams who steps up having been the forwards coach last season. CPO Neil Evans remains as backs coach and CSgt Trev Naughton is the Team Manager. The small but cohesive TSG know exactly what they want from their first match against Hampshire U20 at Havant on Sunday.

“Our focus last season was on performance rather than results. We made small, marginal gains during each fixture and by the time the Inter-Service games were played, we had a cohesive team who understood each other well.”

The other aspect of their work that the U23 coaching team are proud of is that the players returning to their units have developed equally off the pitch as on it.

“We focus on the importance of the Navy’s core values both on the pitch and off it. As I keep saying to the players, ‘A good Navy rugby player makes a good Matelot or Marine’. I hope the units recognise the changed individual returning at the end of our short season; that way the Naval community can benefit from our success.”

The RNRU U23s begin their season at Havant RFC on Sunday 2 October KO 1400 against the Hampshire U20s and will be in action again at Burnaby Road on Wednesday 5 October playing Havant RFC U20s KO 1930. Supporters are welcome.

To view this seasons U23's fixtures click here.  You can also follow us on facebook or Twitter @RNRugby

Images Royal Navy Rugby Union / © John Walton