Slow Start, Strong Finish for Navy U23s
A bright finish to the week as the Royal Navy U23 XV salvaged some worthwhile game time that on Friday looked a distant hope. With Brighton University pulling out of the fixture at the last minute, the whole RN U23 XV squad, plus some extras from the local area came together to ensure that a match went ahead and to allow the coaching team to make a meaningful selection for the upcoming Inter Services. It was not surprising therefore that the game took a while to get going, with a number of unforced errors leading to a very stop start opening quarter. However by the end both teams produced some entertaining rugby and a couple of players have caused the selection team a few headaches. On the day that Camp Bastion was finally handed over to the Afghanistan Armed Forces, a minute silence, as a mark of respect for the 453 British Service personnel who lost their lives, put everything into perspective.
It was the Solent Invitational XV that started the more brightly and in the first quarter scored two well taken tries through Navy players Jordan Pullinger and Conor O’Connell. The scores were just reward for their pack that settled the more quickly and took the game to the Royal Navy side. With the ball on the front foot, Jordan Shuttleworth bossed the battle of the Navy half backs and his backline were able to run their plays from the front foot. With some good continuity they were able to stretch the Navy defence and deserved their two tries.
The break after twenty minutes gave both sides time to reorganise. The coaching staff changed some players over and the next quarter saw more composed rugby from both teams. The Navy side certainly benefited from the break. Their forwards started to win more first phase possession and with the reduction in the error count they were able to exert some pressure of their own. Macdonald, Trehan and Basher in the backrow were beginning to make in roads with their strong running, as were Benzie and Shaw in the centre. It was James Shaw that opened the scoring, taking a simple switch to cut across the grain and breach the covering defence. Almost from the restart the Navy U23s were back on the attack and when Apenisa Daunibau spotted that Solent weren’t defending the back of the ruck, he broke clear to score a soft try from forty metres.
There were more changes at half time as the coaches sought to look at different combinations. Again it was the Navy side that had the more fluency in attack and also a little more bite in defence. With a willingness to use the full width of the pitch and keep the ball alive it was now time for the Solent defence to come under sustained pressure. Eventually the Navy were able to work the ball to right with Blake Smith in space to cross for a simple score.
Another break followed, but the final quarter continued where the third left off. Blake Smith quickly scored a second try followed shortly after by Tristan Trehan, just reward for the hard work from all of the Navy backrow. Though the game was now won, it is to the Solent’s side credit that they kept working hard for each other, tackling for all their worth and looking to be positive when they did get their hands on the ball. A couple of penalties conceded by the Royal Navy gave the Solent side field position and from a ruck close on the Navy goal line. It was Dave Coleman, who had crossed sides earlier in the game, who scored a deserved try for the Invitational XV.
However, there was still enough time for one more score and it was James Shaw who capped a solid display in the centre with his second score. It was a break from Calum Patterson then created the half opening and then Shaw’s strong running that finished the move for the Royal Navy’s sixth and final try. The final score was 38 – 19, with all nine tries being scored by Navy players. Next week the Royal Navy U23s face Cambridge University in their final match before they play the Royal Air Force on 14 November. Both matches are at Burnaby Road and are sure to be entertaining games.
Images by Alligin Photography / © Geraint Ashton Jones