The Daring Class of the Royal Navy

Friday night, Burnaby Road, Army v Navy.  The perfect start to the weekend as the U23’s kick off the 2013 Inter Service Championship at home to the defending champions.  Last season they counter punched their way to a deserved draw at Aldershot, this year they look for the win and to make home advantage count.

The Royal Navy’s U23 XV is as much about the future as it is about today.  Already this season, the team, under Matt Horton’s captaincy, has shown both individual and collective glimpses of an exciting future for Navy Rugby.  However, over the next three weeks, the future is the here and now as the team seek to deliver on their undoubted potential.  If they need any inspiration they should look no further than the Type 45s, the future Navy now delivering to the Fleet.

First of class was DARING; an attribute that the U23s have in plentiful supply.  How often this season has the back line opened up space from deep.  Horton is a natural counter attacking full back, who knows that whether it is new men Myers and Penfold, old boy Clarke or last season’s Combined Services winger Andrews, he has players around him who can finish and score tries.

DAUNTLESS, showing fearlessness and determination.  The Inter Services, at whatever level, is renown for it’s full on encounters, nothing less, nothing more.  The Military Stadium last season was silenced by those very characteristics, fearlessness and determination.  Every ruck hit, and hit hard, every tackle made and backed up, every kick chased down.  As is so often the case the battle on Friday night will start up front where both the Davies props need to meet fire with fire as will Hughes and Pearce.  Behind them the locks of Graham, Pascoe, Wakefield and Woods have to remember that set piece, and clearing rucks is as important as those galloping runs in the open space that they have regularly treated the watching faithful.  And if the front five want to see what determination looks like, then they need look no further than one of their own, Sam Potter.  This season he has transformed himself from the young player who pitched up back in August.  His hard work in the gym and on the pitch is reaping rewards.  His development has been noticed and he serves as an inspiration to others as to what can be achieved. 

HMS DRAGON, sails under the motto “We yield but to St George” and it is this spirit that the team must take out on to the pitch.  The Inter Services is not, and never has been, about the warm up matches or anything else that has gone before.  It is not looking at the quality players unavailable due to Operations; two full caps and two Combined Services players amongst them.  It is about looking into the character of those who are given the famous Navy jersey.  It is about two games of eighty minutes.  Often an arm wrestle, often claustrophobic, error strewn at times but enthralling always.  It is the preparedness to take the game to the opposition and not to buckle under the pressure they seek to exert.  It is often down to small margins and who blinks first.  On Friday, be daring - yes, be fearless – of course but look the opposition in the eye, square up to the Army rugby machine and do not yield.

‘By defence I conquer’, HMS DEFENDER – D36.  How true of rugby.  Defence is the hardest part of the game to get right when the team has so little time together.  However players like Sam Davies and Sam Benzie in midfield and the backrow talent of the returning Barnett and MacDonald, alongside newcomers Basher, Trehan and Tindle have both the mental and physical attributes to deliver.  A strong, and as importantly cohesive, performance in attacking through defence is sure to liven the Friday night crowd, and in turn, lift the whole team.  Defence wins matches, it is that simple.

And that leaves HMS DIAMOND.  So often a game will turn on one piece of brilliance, one eye for a gap, one last ditch tackle, one unexpected turnover.  However the game management is what will be key.  It is where Loydal and Jones, Cone and Shuttleworth have to shine.  The all-important half back link, simple things done well married with cool decision-making.  All four have performed well this season and all four will no doubt be called upon over the next three weeks.  If the Royal Navy are to repeat their last U23 success of 2010 then they will need to shine.

Burnaby Road has witnessed many great rugby matches over its illustrious history and Friday could well be another to add to the list.  The Army will come professionally prepared as ever and will no doubt start as favourites.  They have produced some excellent rugby already this season and are clearly showing talent in depth.  They march under the banner of ‘Soldiers First’ but will be met by the Navy Blue front line.  Eleven of the team are from Operational units, HMS OCEAN, SOMERSET and SUTHERLAND along with 848 NAS and 42, 43 and 45 Commando units.  Royal Navy Rugby Union President, VAdm Phil Jones CB, is, as Fleet Commander, responsible for providing ships, submarines and aircraft ready for operations.  He will watch his Navy U23s and afterwards present the colours to the new players who have won the right to wear them.  Whilst this match is the very important opening of an U23 Inter Service championship, for many of the players it is also their first step into the strong traditions of the Navy Rugby family.  We will see much more of some of them I’m sure.

And if the Army wish to know what awaits them, then they should look no further than Adm Cunningham, who at the Battle of Crete in 1941, said “the Navy must not let the Army down”.  His Naval force helped rescue 16,500 stranded Army troops with the generals extremely fearful that the grave danger of the ships exposed to the Luftwaffe’s dive bombers would see the Navy run for cover.  But as Cunningham said “It takes three years to build a ship; it takes three centuries to build a tradition”.  Head coach, Scott Ashley is in his third year with the U23s and has built a very good side of today and the future.  I am sure they will represent themselves and Navy Rugby with pride, passion and no little ability on Friday night and again at RAF Halton later in the month.

DARING?  DAUNTLESS?  DEFENDER?  DRAGON?  Or HMS DIAMOND who’s motto is “Honour is the brightest jewel”.

And finally come win or lose we must remember that rugby’s fiercest rivalries are for the pitch and the third half is a time where the binding Service camaraderie once more comes to the fore.  Perhaps, as the players celebrate or drown their sorrows, they will heed HMS DUNCAN’s motto: Secundis dubusque rectus  “Upright in prosperity and peril”!

Come and support the Navy U23s as they deliver a traditional Naval welcome to the Army at Burnaby Road.  Kick off 19:00.  Free entry.

By Geraint Ashton Jones
Images by Alligin Photography / © G Ashton Jones and © J Walton