Royal Marines Band Service RFC on Tune for Memorials
The Royal Marines Band Service RFC have pitched in to get back to playing rugby once again and as a Service have resumed two annual rugby memorial events after the enforced Covid-19 suspension of play.
The first event was the Holland Bowl which is a competition played internally within the Royal Marine Band Service and that commemorates the passing of Musician Barry Holland in 1994.
The Second event was the Deal Memorial match played against Deal RFC as a memorial to the tragic bombing of the School of Music in Deal in 1989 where 11 members of the Band Service lost their lives.
For a comprehensive review of both these events by the Royal Marines Band Service RFC keep reading!
The sporting world has seen many things cancelled, postponed and abandoned due to the impact of the COVID-19 crisis over the last 18 months and this has of course been the case for military sport too.
The Holland Bowl, a rugby tournament commemorating the passing of Barry Holland, finally found its chance to be played for the first time since 2019 on the 22nd of September 2021 and it didn’t disappoint with sides featuring from the RMSoM, RM Band Portsmouth and RM Band Lympstone. A notable mention should be given to those who travelled from Collingwood Band and especially to Corin Dennehey and Matthew Wilson who travelled down from Scotland to get involved in the action. Three teams meant a round robin would be played with the winner of the day to be announced after each team had played each other twice.
After a small address, given by the Band Service rugby club chairman Captain Andy Gregory, and a subsequent minute silence to remember the horrific Plymouth Band coach crash which took Barry Holland’s life in 1994, the games got underway with Lympstone and Portsmouth.
Both teams were fielding some fantastic players who have been playing consistent rugby for civilian teams. For Portsmouth, LCpl Harrison Marsh and LCpl Matthew Fletcher (playing for Ventnor RFC) led the way with strong carrying which applied early pressure on to Lympstone band. They responded with great defence from Cpl Ed Pascoe (playing for Redruth RFC) and after Portsmouth led 10-0 they managed to convert a try to make the score 10-7 before time ran out and Portsmouth were crowned victors.
Portsmouth Band fell victim to the round robin and stayed on the pitch to face the team from RMSoM. This match was highly anticipated as some of the trainees playing for the school team have been playing at RN U23’s level, such as Musn George Prentice, son of referee and former WO1 Bandmaster, Dave Prentice. The school started lively and under the coaching of CSgt Nige Jones they played an expansive game that was running an already tired Portsmouth team left and right. Portsmouth’s Captain Cpl Jack Ballard rallied the team to return to their style of play which was certainly more similar to that of a full 15 a side like fixture and despite gallant efforts from Musn Prentice and Hogan to name but a few Portsmouth were too strong and ran out winners 15-7.
Lympstone, now rested, took the field to take on the RMSoM team in what became one of the most entertaining games of the afternoon. Cpl Dan Francis looked dangerous off the wing for Lympstone and the west country visitors soon gathered a 12-0 lead. RMSoM were not going to be put off however by a pointless first half and came out fighting. Backed by a large group of supporters from the school the team fought back to 12-12 and looked like scoring again when Dave Prentice blew for full-time.
This result meant that Portsmouth Band were going to be guaranteed the winners if they could win their next game against Lympstone. Despite a lack of clean possession, LCpl Rob Buist was able to take control, feeding LCpl Andy Steele who fed Bug Lynch and LCpl O'neill. Tries from Buist and LCpl Wilkes eventually meant that Portsmouth won 14-0.
The grand slam was not to be, however. RMSoM fired up by a lack of wins at that point in the day were finally able to release their expansive game plan and this time it was too much for the opposition. Despite a late comeback from Portsmouth the school held on for a 14-12 victory.
They were not able to back this up against Lympstone in their final game however and strong running from LCpl Mackenzie-Smith and Musn Bowden as well as Collingwood Stand in Captain Hairsine meant that the final game of the day ended with a 12-5 victory for Lympstone.
Once the teams had changed and reconviend in the Portsmouth Bandroom, Captain Gregory presented Portsmouth Band with the Holland Bowl and also the Thompson Memorial Plate for player of the tournament which was given to LCpl Rob Buist for a great display in having played in every minute of his side's games. Special mention must go to Cpl Jack Ballard who not only captained the winning team but also oversaw the organisation of the event.
It was a fantastic day of sport and rugby as well as a fantastic opportunity to see members of other bands in a time when this has been hard to achieve. The day also threw up questions about the future of the Band Service club and the Deal Memorial game which was coming up in the near future. If the mighty forwards of some of the teams could be matched with the backs and game style of RMSoM then surely great rugby would follow!
Deal Memorial Rugby
Despite many tragic losses of members of the Band Service of the years, many will agree that arguably the most tragic loss of all is that of the 11 killed at Deal on the 22nd of September 1989. It was Deal RFC President David Donachie who reminded the spectators of the 2021 Deal Memorial Match that perhaps the best sport for building the bridges and maintaining the ties after such a cowardly act is rugby. This year saw the match played in Portsmouth for the first time since 2017 and also on the Royal Navy Rugby Union home pitch at Burnaby Road.
The Deal Memorial game is always a fiery affair. The two teams are fired up on passion and a sense of duty to those that lost their lives on that day over 30 years ago. It was made more emotional for Deal who recently lost their club president, former Col David Storrie. A big supporter of this annual match, his presence on the sideline and in the bar will be missed. RIP sir. A last post and minutes silence reminded everybody that the game represented a lot more than 80 minutes of sport.
The game has also had a touch of rugby celebrity to it from year to year. Former band service member Spencer Brown went on to play for England and this year Newcastle Falcons Director of Rugby Dean Richards, whose son played for Deal, sat in the stands. Some wondered if he was scouting winter cover for the long season ahead.
On the back of the Holland Bowl a few weeks earlier the Band Service team had tried to create a team with real flair backed up by a strong forward pack. The team went out with intent and started with real conviction. LCpl Fletcher took a nasty kick off from Deal out of the sun and set off on a devastating run with help from Cpl Ballard and Bug Beverage. Unlike the Holland Bowl where ball presentation had been poor, the forwards gave a clean platform early on to scrum half George Gissing and fly half Musn George Prentice (this was not confusing at all to the forwards during training) and it was not long before centre LCpl Yarnell was able to score the opening try of the game. AB Tim Weale, son of club President John Weale, converted and the Band Service led 7-0.
Deal seemed unable to retain any early possession and any kicks in behind were easily dealt with by fullback Musn Bowden. The Band Service soon camped down in the Deal half and it wasn’t long before referee Dave Prentice awarded a penalty. In the not too distant past a band service penalty translated to a quick tap or a kick to touch but this was a new look team and under the cool leadership of Cpl Ballard, who had been carrying well, the team looked to the posts for 3 points. RM Band 10 Deal 0.
Bug Lynch took the restart and the team seemed to go straight back to their game plan of a few forward phases before quick back ball released backs into space. A penalty soon followed. 13-0
As half time approached, a comfortable lead had been achieved by the band. As a result the next penalty drew a change of tactics. Yarnell took quick taps and caught the Deal team offside and therefore a new penalty was awarded. This happened multiple times and before long Deal were once again back inside their own 22. Now the Band Service kicked to touch. The lineout had been explosive in training and the band were keen to put it to the test. LCpl Wilkes caught at the front and set up a maul which rolled on. And on….And on before LCpl Marsh was able to collapse over the line for a great forwards try. No conversion from Weale. RM Band 18- Deal 0.
Half time brought bad news for the band. LCpl Marsh had injured his leg early on and despite carrying on somehow for the entirety of the first half, he was unable to continue. Injury had taken Holland Bowl player of the tournament LCpl Buist out of contention prior to kickoff and the team didn’t need any more injuries.
Deal smelt blood early in the second half and came back strong, scoring within the first 5 minutes due to a couple of lovely breaks. 18-5.
The band needed to rally and rally quickly but the scrum started to buckle under big pressure from the Deal pack. In the open field, despite big tackles from Cpl Ali Ham and Musn Hogan, the band could not retain possession. Eventually a penalty for holding on was awarded, the band service was able to breathe. Musn Prentice found touch. This time Wilkes went up in the middle, setting a maul up further back. Bug Lynch, who had taken over throwing responsibilities, latched on and the pack drove over for another try. The conversion meant the score was now 25-5.
This was the boost that the team needed and great work from the substitutes started to back up the performance. Under pressure Deal kicked into the middle of the pitch where Cpl Beal caught a great ball on the run. Bug Lynch was able to break through and feed George Gissing who showed great pace and footwork to score in the corner. 30-5.
This felt like a killer blow to Deal and perhaps the Band Service team got complacent because for the last 10 minutes it was all Deal. The scrum collapse led to multiple penalties and soon the Band Service were camped on their own line. If it was not for some gallant defence which held up 2 tries, Deal would have closed the gap. Finally they broke through with a converted try to bring the score to 30-12.
Not long after the restart, however, time was up and the Band Service had won.
The game was enjoyed by all and many commented on the expansive rugby played by both sides compared to the last few years which had been much more “stick it up the jumper” rugby. It will be exciting to see the Band Service team grow over the next few years with a healthy player base coming through training and perhaps additional fixtures to be added to the calendar! Player of the match was awarded to both the Deal number 8 who had an outstanding game in both attack and defence as well as the our own Musn George Prentice. A young lad who took charge of many around him on the pitch who were older and experienced, George had a fantastic game and will surely be hard to move from the Band Service 10 shirt in the coming years.
Despite this we are still waiting on a call up from Dean Richards.
Match reports by LCpl Fraser Wilkes