Soper’s Soldiers Sink Navy’s Hope
Lee Soper, the Army U23’s forwards coach was a very good lineout forward for the Army in his day. Last night he would have been proud as the Army pack stole a number of critical Navy lineouts contributing to the starvation rations that the Navy half backs had to survive on. It was to the Navy’s immense credit that with five minutes remaining they were within one score of the Army team. However the final score of 25-14 to the Army was a fair reflection of the overall play.
The early exchanges did not look promising for the Navy. Facing a much bigger pack they struggled to get any possession and repeatedly conceded penalties and free kicks. It was therefore no surprise that they were under constant pressure and struggling to get any shape to their defence. First Spellman was able to break deep into the Navy half from an Army scrum and then following a penalty for not releasing in the tackle Army scrum half , Evans, tapped quickly for the opening score. Lowe was wide with the conversion but was able to further extend the lead shortly afterwards when another penalty conceded by the Navy at the tackle was kicked for a 8-0 lead.
The first quarter passed without the Navy getting any meaningful field position or possession. On many occasions the Army’s battle tanks of centres broke the first up tackles and seemed to have opened up the defence for a second Army try. That they didn’t says so much for the resolute defence that the Navy put up and if one man in blue made an error there was a team mate on hand to make amends. A brief foray in to the Army half gave the Navy supporters their voice but a penalty conceded for illegal use of the foot by the Navy’s Jack Brasher allowed the Army to clear their lines.
It wasn’t long though before a strong run by Navy scrum half, Jordan Shuttleworth, again got the Navy deep in to the Army’s half. A deft chip from flyhalf Josh Jones was eventually regained by centre Sam Davies for the Navy’s opening score. Josh Jones landed the conversion and with the half nearing its end the lead had been pegged back to a single point, 8-7. However the half was to end with two blows to Navy chances. First vice captain John Barnett was forced to leave the field with a shoulder injury and replaced by Jack Tindle. Then another needless penalty was conceded in kicking range and Lowe kicked his second penalty of the night for the Army to lead 11-7 at half time.
The Navy started the second half far more brightly and were able to exert some good pressure in the Army’s twenty-two. Unfortunately spilled ball allowed the Army to lift the siege and break down field. Navy prop Luke Davies committed yet another offence at the tackle and the referee despatched him to the sin bin. The Army once more had their tails up and also a man advantage.
Tristan Trehan made way so that specialist front row Dewi Pearce could replace Davies. To the dismay of all the Navy supporters penalties kept being conceded. Like a Chinese water torture, drip, drip, drip. Kick, kick, kick. Lowe added three more penalties to extend the Army’s lead to 20-7 with less than fifteen minutes to go.
With time ticking by, the Navy pack was freshened up with Ash Wakefield replacing Dylan Woods in the second row and Chris MacDonald replacing Jack Tindle in the backrow. Ben Clarke also gave way to Mo Andrews on the left wing. It was also now the Navy’s turn to have the man advantage as Hamilton, the Army’s replacement hooker was sin binned for foul play. At last the Navy were able to put together a period of play unpunctuated by conceding penalties. The forwards started to drive hard, Davies and Blackburn were forcing turnovers at the tackle and rather than kicking the ball away skipper Matt Horton began to bring his wings Andrews and the impressive Eldon Myers into the game.
Suddenly the Army didn’t look so self-assured and following a driving maul that was held a metre short the ball was moved right for Josh Blackburn to score in the corner. Josh Jones kicked the conversion from wide out and suddenly the Navy were back to within a single score.
As is so often the case, the Army’s kick off put the Navy back under pressure and they struggled to get out of their half has they chased the elusive score. Every time they gained ground another penalty conceded allowed the Army to kick long and then run down the watch with a number of pick and drives from the resultant lineout. Gradually the clock ticked towards eighty minutes without the Navy getting sight of the ball. When they eventually did it was deep in their own twenty two and no other option that to roll the dice and risk all. Josh Jones attempted a chip kick for Myers on the right wing. Unfortunately it was slightly under hit and Lewis, on the Army’s left wing, was able to collect and cross over for the Army’s second try and the final score of the match.
With the conversion missed the Army had a deserved victory 25-14. The Navy had matched them try for try, an impressive feat considering the disparity in the amount of possession. The Navy team can also reflect and be pleased on their terrier like tenacity that kept them in a game that in many ways they had no right to still be in contention of. However that period of reflection must also look with a critical eye at the discipline that led to far too many penalties being conceded. Also the game managers need to look at the amount of ball that was kicked away. When the pack is under as much pressure as it was, possession becomes a precious commodity and should not be squandered. A couple of harsh lessons to learn but if heeded then there are some very talented players in this young side that can develop and serve the Royal Navy well over the coming seasons.
Royal Navy U23 XV: Matt Horton (C), Eldon Myers *, Sam Davies 2, Josh Blackburn, Ben Clarke, Josh Jones, Jordan Shuttleworth *, Luke Davies *, Tom Hughes *, Chris Davies, Dylan Woods, Edd Pascoe *, John Barnett (VC), Jack Basher *, Tristan Trehan * Reps: Dewi Pearce *, Sam Potter *, Ash Wakefield *, Jack Tindle *, Chris MacDonald, Callum Cone, Greg Loydall, Mo Andrews
* were awarded their Royal Navy U23 XV colours
Army U23 XV: Lowe, Ashworth, Bulamaku, Gray (VC), Lewis, Dixon, Evans, Hunter, Austin, Lee, Smith, Bean, Binks, Burnell (C), Spellman Reps: Hamilton, Berry, Trippett, Lamont, Wilson, Turaganivalu, Stevenson
Images by Alligin Photography / © Geraint Ashton Jones