Shared Experiences As Blues Go Head To Head
They say that time is a great healer but when the Navy team gather together in the changing room for the first match of the season against Oxford University the anticipation of the season ahead will not be able to fully erase the bitter feeling that a Twickenham defeat leaves. Their opponents tomorrow, Oxford University, have happier memories of their last Twickenham match, a well taken 33-15 in the 2013 Varsity match.
However Oxford will appreciate a small measure of what the Navy went through at the end of last year having already met the Army this season. On their famous Iffley Road pitch, that had held up well to this wettest of rugby seasons, the Blues were able to take an early lead against the Army. However two tries from Army winger, Bishop, eventually swung the game in favour of the away team who recorded a 15-7 win. Bishop who has already appeared in Bath colours in the Sevens game joins Rokodugni and Speight as potent attacking weapons in the Army’s armoury. Both sets of Blues supporters will have reason to curse the sight or Army wingers!
New Oxford University captain, fly half Jacob Taylor, was pleased overall with the performance of his side last month where, like the Navy tomorrow, the University used the opportunity of the first game after Christmas to blood some youngsters, to see if they have the requirements for a Twickenham encounter. Facing him will be Nathan Huntley, one of eight capped players selected for the opening match. Nathan will be forming an all Royal Marine half back pairing with Jack Fleckney, back in his preferred scrum half position in Dave Pascoe’s absence. Outside them they have experienced campaigners in Jon Humphrey at full back and Dale Sleeman in the centre. Sleeman forms a new partnership with Sam Davies who played against Bath last season and had a very good run out for the Combined Services U23s last weekend. On the wings, Navy Sharks pace man Kyle Woods is joined by a newcomer to the Senior shirt, Matt Bowden. The Royal Marine has a growing reputation as a strong finisher in a position that the Navy have struggled to fill in recent seasons.
The forwards include three players who are new to the Senior shirt. Again the recent resurgence of Royal Marine rugby is reflected with them providing Tom Cowley (lock) and Dave Fairbrother (Number 8) to the pack. Fairbrother has already caught the eye with strong performances in winning both the Navy Cup and the Inverdale Trophy. The third newcomer is promising flank forward Matt Harvey, the latest submariner to have surfaced and impressed the Navy Selector. The three newcomers are joined in the back five by the Navy’s most capped lock forward, Marsh Cormack, and last season’s Cossack Sword winner, Dom Taylor, at openside. Up front regulars Kyle Mason, at loose head, and team captain, Ben Priddey are joined by last season’s Combined Services U23 captain, Mark Jones, who starts at tight head.
The nature of the match allows a bigger replacements bench than normal. Like the starting XV the replacements are a blend of new players and some more familiar faces. Greg Welling, Matt Tichias, Tom Davies, Jonny Stephen and Sam Laird are the capped players held in reserve and they are joined by five who are new to senior Royal Navy rugby. Harry Collins, Ollie Dudmore, Edd Pascoe, Olly Mason and Caldywold are all new to this level of rugby and Wednesday should prove to be a perfect opportunity for them to impress. Replacement hooker, Harry Collins, will be looking to join his Maltese International colleague, Kyle Mason on the pitch as he makes his debut at senior level whilst for Edd Pascoe it is a step up after an impressive U23 season, where he won the Brian Weekes trophy. Caldywold gets his opportunity following a number of strong performances for the Royal Marines in their successful Inverdale Challenge campaign.
Traditionally the matches between the two sides have been hard fought and open affairs. They will be used to the heavy pitch and the forecast of rain as these have been the hallmark of their recent encounters. In the past this hasn’t stopped the two teams from producing some excellent rugby. For the two captains Taylor and Priddey, the aims are probably very similar, to produce a strong performance on the pitch and to see whether any of the promising newcomers have what it takes to be part of ‘Blues’ History. For those new to Royal Navy rugby that means Toulon, Burnaby Road and Twickenham as once more an Inter Service campaign starts.
The Royal Navy Senior XV’s first fixture is at USSG, Burnaby Road on Wednesday 12 February, KO 1915
A full list of the Senior XV fixtures is available here.
Images by Alligin Photography / © Geraint Ashton Jones & © John Walton