Sultan Edge Final
A cold, crisp evening, an expectant crowd and two teams that had produced good rugby in the earlier rounds set the scene for an eagerly anticipated Navy Cup Final, at Burnaby Rd. It didn’t disappoint and the crowd including Cdre Rob Thompson, Naval Base Commander, and Cdre Al Rymer, HMS Sultan were kept on the edge of their seats until the final whistle. Playing at ‘home’ and having knocked out the holders HMS Heron in the semi final, HMS Nelson were probably slight favourites before kick off. Most expected that with Dennis and Cadmore in the backrow and John at scrum half they would produce enough quick ball for Wagstaff, Evans, Veisugusugu and Smallbone to show their paces in the backs. However it was evident from the outset that the Sultan front five, superbly marshalled by veteran tight head, Moss, clearly had other ideas. The first half was a very close affair. Nelson dominated much of the territory but too frequently were forced into knock-ons and turnovers by the committed Sultan defence. The staccato nature of the game and the high numbers of ensuing scrummages suited the Sultan pack and with Cox and Pascoe forming a solid half back partnership they were able to gradually exert some structure on the game and keep Nelson pinned in to their own half. As half time approached the score board hadn’t been troubled, though the match had been enthralling. With turnover ball a well placed cross field kick established field position for Sultan in Nelson’s 22. Again Nelson were unable to clear their lines effectively and from the resultant scrummage Sultan set up good second phase ball. Cox gave Pascoe time and space to fix the defence for Vodnaivalu to cut the perfect angle to cut through Nelson’s mid-field defence. Desperate Nelson tackling held the ball just short of the line but only for the impressive Wise to take the pop ball and crash over under the posts. A simple conversion kicked by Pascoe established a 7 – 0 lead for Sultan. From the resultant kick-off, the game renewed its fierce contest at the tackle and around the ruck and it soon became apparent that the game was going to be a close affair. A Sultan indiscretion allowed Nelson, through Smallbone, to kick a penalty and pull the match back to a single score, 7 – 3 at half time. In line with the first half, Nelson started the second half dominating much of the possession. Again and again Dennis was getting first to the breakdown and was looking to secure the ball although Lamsin, in the Sultan second row, and Sultan No 8 Wise were proving to be equally adept at clearing out all in front of them. Their work rate was unfaltering as the game wore on. By now Nelson had also lost any semblance of a platform as their front five wilted under the continuous onslaught from the Sultan pack. However this only served to prompt John and Wagstaffe to show why they are so highly rated and capped at Union and League respectively. Working off increasingly scrappy possession they were still able to produce enough half chances to keep the Sultan side under pressure. A rare chip ahead, from Wagstaffe, turned the Sultan defence who were unable to secure the bobbling ball. With field position deep in the Sultan half, Nelson stretched the defence across the pitch first one way and then the other. Eventually the Sultan defence simply ran out of numbers and Smallbone was able to score, although he missed with the subsequent conversion. Entering in to the final ten minutes of the game Nelson were in front for the first time 8 – 7. It looked as if the cup was there for the taking by Nelson. Though only a point in front they again managed to turn Sultan and establish the game in the Sultan half. All that was needed was cool heads and good execution to run the clock down and Nelson would be Cup winners for the first time since 1992. With time running out and with the large contingent of trainees from Sultan, under the superb orchestration of ‘Santa’, redoubling their vociferous and at times harmonious support for their team, it was going to take a monumental effort from Sultan for them to regain the lead Nelson entered the final ten minutes pushing Sultan deep into their own half and it was perhaps fitting that the industrious Wise was responsible for the turnover at a Nelson maul that led to Cox putting Washer away. A kick ahead was poorly fielded by Nelson and suddenly they were back under pressure. It was now the turn of the Sultan pack to summon one last effort. Slowly they inched up the field with repeated short drives around the fringes of each tackle. Pascoe had dropped in to the pocket and was lining up the drop goal. Eventually he called for the ball from Cox. However Pascoe snatched at the kick and the miscue was charged down by the Nelson defence. However advantage was being played for an offside and from the resultant penalty Pascoe made amends with the place kick to regain the lead for Sultan, 10 – 8 final score. All that was left was for Mrs Fiona Thompson, wife of Navy Rugby’s Chairman and Naval Base Commander, Cdre Rob Thompson, to present the trophy to a jubilant HMS Sultan whose thirty three year wait to regain the Navy Cup was at an end.