Sleepy Sharks Take Time to Show their Teeth
The Sharks were forced in to a number of changes for the Harpenden Sevens and this was clearly evident in the opening match against Pink Socks. The Sharks were clearly the better side but will have been disappointed with much of their play as they allowed the match to become far too scrappy. However from the moment Tristan Trehan opened the scoring for the Sharks there was only going to be one winner. Further first half tries by Marika Tuinabunawa and two from Jordan Shuttleworth meant that the Sharks reached half time with a 24-0 lead. Scrappy play allowed the Pink Socks on the scoreboard before Calum Cone and Jordan’s hat trick try reaffirmed the Sharks superiority; along with an excellent try from Ifereima Kava. Kava’s try was one of the few occasions that the Sharks gave a glimpse of the quality of play they are capable of. It was a team try where space was attacked, good support and perfect timing of the pass left the Pink Socks tackling shadows and allowed the Sharks to move the length of the pitch before putting Kava away for the try. A consolidation try just before the final whistle gave the score a little more respectability, 38-12.
The lacklustre performance of the first match continued into the second. However in Sticky Mitt Psychos the Sharks were playing a team who understood sevens. Whereas in the first game the Sharks were able to take contact and recover their mistakes in the second they couldn’t. A poor decision by Marika Tuinabunawa to kick when deep in defence caused the first turnover and the Psychos opened the scoring. They secured their own kick off and quickly doubled their score to 14-0. A brief rally from the Sharks gave a glimmer of hope but they could not get out of their own half and a missed tackle meant it was 21-0 at half time. The Sharks needed to start well but again running into contact without support caused the turnover and at 28-0 the game was over. Despite a couple of half chances the Sharks never really threatened to score nor could they impose themselves on the match. Two further scores left the Sharks to reflect on a heavy 42-0 loss before they looked to regroup for the knock out stages of the Barrel competition where they were drawn to play the Maltese Falcons who included two Navy players, Harry Collins and Jack Basher.
With the prospect of sudden death, the Sharks finally produced some decent sevens rugby as they took the game to the Falcons. Far more bite at the breakdown and some intensity in defence kept the Maltese under pressure and eventually led to the turnover from which Jordan Shuttleworth opened the scoring. From the restart the Sharks regained possession and seeing no sweeper in place Shuttleworth was able to chase his own kick for the second score and his fifth try of the tournament. The Sharks were looking comfortable and were disappointed to concede a soft try on the stroke of half time which was compounded by a well crafted Falcons try early in the second period. Under pressure once more it is to the Sharks credit that they raised their game and eased away in the last couple of minutes through tries by Simon Tulakepa and Lewis Cooper. The return of Jordan Shuttleworth, who missed the second game due to a muscle spasm made a huge difference to the Sharks performance. However the coaching staff will have been pleased that all the players lifted their performance and finally produced some sevens rugby more in keeping with their ability.
Next up was Oxfam Crusaders in the Barrel quarterfinal. The Sharks started well and took a deserved lead through a well-taken Simon Tulakepa try. However they made an error at the restart and from the free kick Crusaders crossed to level the game 7-7. For the next couple of minutes the Sharks produced their best rugby of the day with stand in skipper Marcus ‘Cat’ Stevens aggressive at the breakdown and Tristan Trehan winning the aerial battles. The ball was moved wide and Tulakepa stretched the defence before finding Calum Cone on the inside line. Cone managed to hold off the cover defence and went under the posts to extend the lead to 14-7. Another restart error allowed Oxfam Crusaders to finish the half with a try wide out which they were unable to convert. Unusually for sevens rugby the second half was scoreless. The Sharks generated a couple of half chances but were unable to make the final pass. However in defence they were faultless and prevented the Crusaders from making any half breaks. The half turned on a scrambling turnover by Stevens. It wasn’t the most elegant play of the day but at times it is the scrapping on the floor that wins the reward. From the regained possession the Sharks showed maturity, lacking earlier in the day, to keep possession and run down the clock. Eventually Cone was able to kick for touch and the Sharks were through to the semi finals 14-12.
With a number of injuries the Sharks were down to ‘the last men’ standing for their semi final against Silver Cup Panthers. They conceded an early soft score when kicking away possession deep in their own half. This was then compounded when Panthers were able to score a second with Viliame Tarogi lying prostate on the ground. The match was held up as the paramedics stabilised him and he was then helped from the pitch. This seemed to spur the Sharks on and they finished the half strongly and eventually created the opening for Tristan Trehan to score and peg the Panthers back 12-5. The Sharks needed to start the half strongly and they had good intensity in defence. However a tip tackle from Lewis Cooper reduced them to six men for two minutes. The Sharks did well to hold on but as Cooper returned they allowed the Panthers to break down the narrow side for the decisive score. A fourth try at the very end made the score look more one sided than the semi final was but overall the Panthers deserved their win if not quite by 22-5.
Overall the tournament was a mixed one for the Sharks. As he has done all season, Jordan Shuttleworth confirmed himself as a key player for the Sharks and one to watch out for in the XV-a-side game. Harpenden was an opportunity for a number of newcomers to step up to the plate. At times they did but they also learned that as the standard of game goes up rugby can be unforgiving. The application and concentration have to be spot on at all times. Too often some of the Sharks were unable to maintain the accuracy and intensity required. No doubt some good lessons learned and a number of players have been introduced to the requirements of Navy Rugby. Next up the Senior XV travel to New Zealand to defend their Commonwealth Navies Cup and meet the challenge of the US Marine Corps. The requirements will be the same, loss of concentration will be punished but if the Navy play to their strengths then they can and should be successful.
RN Sharks squad @ Harpenden National Pub Sevens: Manoa Satala, Jordan Shuttleworth, Tristan Trehan, Ifereime Kava, Viliame Tarogi, Marika Tuinabunawa, Nasoni Rawace, Simon Tulakepa, Lewis Cooper, Tony Pitts, Marcus Stevens, Calum Cone
Images by Alligin Photography / © G Ashton Jones