The relative calm before the storm…..
This year’s meeting between the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy Senior XVs carries a special imperative. For the second year running the RAF and their strong capable squad have put together a clever and dogged performance against the Army that has allowed them to match the opposition game plan and essentially generate a pressure that they have then been able to carry through to the final whistle. Clearly this year it was a close game and it all came down to a disallowed resurgent Army try, before having to come back for the original Army penalty wide out on edge of the 22M. The crowd fully played their part and with a tangible air of excitement falling across the Halton Down, you could have heard a pin drop as the Army kicker stepped up. The Army subsequently missed their kick and the RAF (the current Inter-Service Champions) duly carried the day with a well-deserved 13-12 victory. But let’s be clear – it is not unsurprising for the IS champions to win their opening fixture now is it? As such the RAF travel to Burnaby Rd with a clear intent and a performance in the bag to match – and it will be up to the Navy to deny them the chance of another Inter-Service Championship Title.
For the Navy squad – this Inter-Service scenario is probably as good as it gets. If they can maximise home advantage and are able to really turn the screw on the opposition, secure the victory and establish a healthy margin – then the pressure of Twickenham is suddenly very different. The squad is still very much in form, having put a further 2 good performances together against Richmond and Devon since their difficult trip to France, and the Air Force will undoubtedly need to be on their best game to gain the necessary traction for their ultimate Championship aim. The Navy predictably will be lead out and Captained by Cornishman, Ben Priddey, supported in the front row by the indefatigable Gaz Evans and veteran cornerstone, John Court. The three have demonstrated their clear technical expertise in the dark arts of the front row – their dominance in Toulon being the unsettling feature of the Marine Nationale’s feisty chagrin! Behind them, as has been routine during much of the season, Edd Pascoe and John Lamsin, an established Cornish combination that is well tested and carries a suitable blend of athleticism and grunt. Covering off the backrow outputs, the trusty and industrious combination of Ben Fox and Jarrard Hayler will be looking to slow and scavenge opposition ball, while supporting Dave Fairbrother’s expansive running lines from 8. All will be looking to exploit quick first phase possession and nullify the anticipated and very obvious Light Blue strengths. The Navy pack know this encounter is going to be a tough test, with a strong RAF pack looking to exert their anticipated heavyweight capability, there will clearly be some cunning and guile required, but Ben and his men have learned much over the course of this last intensive Rugby year. There is a greater patience within the side, a confidence in our ability and a defensive resilience that many good sides have not been able to overcome. This season the game plan has been simplified and allows the 9/10 combination greater freedom to act, and employ their obvious vision and maturity, while retaining an air of patience. Cory Moore will undoubtedly keep his pack moving forward in concert with Nath Huntley, who at Fly Half will orchestrate when the wider options are on. The midfield pairing is tried and tested at this level, both Mat Tichias and Sam Davies have demonstrated a depth of understanding that bodes as well for the defensive alignment as it does for the attacking opportunity. In support, the backfield three of Greg Welling, Matt Bowden and Jon Humphrey look to have an experience and maturity about them that reinforces the understanding and coherency required – in addition they too bring a real cutting edge that has genuine attacking potential wherever they are on the field.
If the RN can deliver their ‘A’ game on Wednesday evening this will be no pushover and there definitely is all to play for this year. The RAF are the current Inter-Service Rugby Champions and have already shown that they can absorb pressure and still put coherent rugby together against strong sides. The Navy are well versed in their own strengths and weaknesses and have worked hard to refine their overall output, essentially tidying up their game and seeking to remove the variables that might impact. Not many of the squad or support staff will have forgotten what happened last year at RAF HALTON; when with the clock seemingly marking time for the last ten minutes, the RAF were subsequently able to regain control of an apparent ‘lost game’ and fight back from 18-32 down in the dying moments to eventually achieve a 32-32 draw on the last kick of the game. That didn’t just happen, that was a clear demonstration of a highly competent, well led-side, confident in their own ability to control possession, a side who then took their chances very well. The fact that they put together a similarly mature winning performance against the Army the following week reaffirmed their quality and fully underlined their Inter-Service pedigree.
It’s definitely all to play for at Burnaby Rd this year, the Navy as ‘underdogs’ will be embarking on their opening salvos of this year’s Inter-Service, while the Air Force as the current Champions will be looking to wrap up their Air campaign as quickly as possible. It is of course a festival of Rugby with the Mariners playing the RAF Vultures at 1030 (3G) and the RN Women playing their RAF counterparts at 1430 (No1 Pitch) before the Senior XV KO at 1800. The weather will hopefully be kind and give us a dry track throughout the day such that we can all enjoy a thoroughly entertaining and enthralling occasion. We very much look forward to seeing you on Wednesday.
The Royal Navy Senior XV will be selected from Evans, Priddey, Court, Pascoe, Lamsin, Fox, Hayler, Fairbrother, Moore, Huntley, Bowden, Tichias, Davies, Welling, Humphrey, Collins, Mason, Robinson, Watson, Taylor, Rees, Buinimasi, Dimmock-Williams, Cooper and Loydall.
Article by Mark Deller
Images Alligin Photography / © Geraint Ashton Jones / © Lee Crabb