The Last Shall be First

Navy U23 XV fullback, so used to being the last line of defence, will be first out of the changing room as he is selected to lead the team in the next two matches and through the 2013 Inter Service U23 XV Championship.

As the short U23 season reaches its mid point Head Coach, Scott Ashley has started the difficult task of paring his squad down.  He has also announced that experienced fullback, AET Matt Horton (HMS Seahawk) will be the team’s captain for the Inter Services.

Matt has always been acknowledged as a very talented, and natural, rugby footballer.  Already this season he has played at both scrum half and fly half for the U23 side.  However he has also demonstrated that his widening experience of Service rugby is paying dividends in terms of his leadership skills.  This is hardly surprising when some of his achievements and experiences of last year are remembered.

Before Christmas Matt played in both of last season’s Inter Service matches.  The home game, under the lights at Burnaby Road, saw Matt demonstrate his strong running attacking skills as the Royal Navy edged the RAF, 17 – 13, in the opening round.  A week later his contribution at Aldershot was defined by an impressive defensive effort in the wet conditions.  A crucial penalty also helped in the 17-17 draw against eventual tournament winners, the Army.

The disappointment of missing out on the U23 tournament, by the narrowest of margins, was soon put behind him, as he returned to his unit’s colours for the Navy Cup Final.  Playing at fly half, outside Navy captain CPOAET Dave Pascoe, he steered Seahawk to a comfortable victory over HMNB Portsmouth.  His personal contribution of 4 conversions capped an all-round assured match.

However his next final at Burnaby Road was not so profitable.  Playing for Naval Air Command, again at fly half, he had to accept second best as the Royal Marines produced a strong performance to win the Inverdale Trophy 25-6.  Despite contributing all of the Air Command’s points it was a match where Matt was always on the back foot; a valuable lesson in terms of his wider development.

The season finished with the bittersweet U23 match in Combined Services colours.  Making the starting XV and having the opportunity to play at Twickenham was a deserved reward for his performances throughout the season.  However the opening quarter, where the combined Oxford Cambridge University side produced a ruthless performance were never going to be good experience for a full back.  However the later stages of the match did allow him to showcase some of his running skills and his kicking skills ensured his name was on the score board.

Though relatively new to Navy Rugby, Matt’s development goes back much further and he is another Royal Navy player to have benefitted from a traditional ‘Kernow’ rugby up bringing.  His career started as a seven year old winger at Falmouth RFC.  However it wasn’t long before they saw his versatility and he was ‘brought in from the cold’ to play at either full back or fly half.  Though Matt has recently moved to Penryn RFC, he still remains in close contact with the Falmouth club, where their Development Manager, Jeff Maddern, keeps a weather eye over his ongoing progress, along with his ‘mentor’ Neville Kernow.

Matt’s contribution this season has clearly benefitted from his experiences of last year and Cornwall’s passion for rugby.  He is a deserving captain who hopefully will not need to utilise his black belt in Taekwondo in his new role!  Next up for Matt and the U23s are the final two warm up matches, first against Gosport and Fareham RFC, at Burnaby Road on 20 October, and then away to Cambridge University a fortnight later.  However the focus and his energies will be on Friday 15 November when he will lead his team out of the famous pavilion at Burnaby Road and look to start the 2013 Inter Service campaign with a win against the Army.  Good luck and congratulations.

Images by Alligin Photography / © Geraint Ashton Jones © Lee Crabb [Chichester]