“With Heads Carried High, We Will Banish All Fear”
With Twickenham likely to be sold out and with Kneller Hall providing a bear pit environment, the 97th Army Navy match preceded by the Women and the Veterans promises to be another compelling day of rugby. Once more the Army will be favourites in all three games but then that is what makes sport so compelling. It is now four years since the Navy tasted success, but last season’s opening quarter at Twickenham showed that fortune favours the brave and the three Royal Navy sides must take the field with a determination to take the match to the Army, to be bold and to be fearless.
Dale Sleeman celebrates after opening the scoring last season and getting the Navy off to the best possible start.
For the Mariners they do not have to look far for their template for success. Their opening half hour against the Royal Air Force gave ample evidence to convince that they have the talent and skills to make it two from two. They have been in this position before, but stumbled; why should 2014 be any different? The key difference is probably that the side is more balanced with both the pack and backs providing their own threats in attack. They also have a strong defence, if only they are prepared to trust it.
Mariner’s captain, Jamie Phillips, knows his team have attacking options both through the forwards and the backs. After his two tries against the RAF he is sure to be closely marked.
Their four tries against the Air Force were split evenly between forwards and backs. Paul Laidler’s benefitted from a surging run by Lee Norris whilst Dom O’Connor’s try was a team effort where the appreciation of space meant the RAF were tackling shadows. Between these two tries their captain, Jamie Phillips, crossed for a brace when the Mariners backline challenged and breached the RAF defence through good angles and powerful running.
Not on the score sheet but Lee Norris’s powerful running created space for others.
However when they were without the ball, though their tackling was strong and the defence well organised, the adverse penalty count put them under real pressure. This must be banished if they are going to realise their undoubted potential on Saturday morning. To see what is achievable, they need look no further than the Royal Navy Women’s match against the RAF.
The RN Women, like the Mariners, opened their Inter Service account with a victory, but theirs was based on an excellent and very disciplined display of attacking defence. They regularly drove the RAF Women back but rarely conceded kickable penalties. They will travel to Kneller Hall knowing that even this will probably not be good enough against a team unbeaten in eleven years of Women’s Inter Service rugby.
The RN Women didn’t have much ball against the RAF but their defence was immense throughout the match. Centre Loz Morton stops another RAF attack in its tracks.
The RN Women will be buoyed by some happy memories from last year despite losing the match. In the early exchanges the Royal Navy pack tore into the Army forwards with a relish that the team in red couldn’t match. An early try for Pam Williams-Wilson was fair reward and though, as the Navy’s intensity waned, the Army took control of the match they were unable to prevent Helen Ing scoring late on and giving them another ‘bloody nose’ as they sought to prevent the ignominy of conceding a second try. Two tries in one match against the Army was a first and the team need to remember that they were earned not gifted. The first was through strong, direct running in to the heart of the Army’s defence and indeed through it. The second was having the confidence to keep possession through the phases and the desire, despite fatigue, to raise the tempo at the end of a very draining match. Their character shone through then as it did in defence against the RAF last week. They face the hardest task of the three sides but………………?
Helen Ing’s late score in last years match agains the Army Women was the very least that the team deserved for their willingness to keep taking the game to the Army.
With the Women and Mariners match consigned to the history books, the focus of attention will switch to Twickenham Stadium where 82,000 are expected, another record crowd. With the match live on television it will be the sporting fixture of the weekend eclipsing the home crowd at Old Trafford and also the Bath v Saints crunch Aviva Premiership match in terms of supporters’ fervour. With Bath having played both sides, it is tempting to look at the respective scores to get an insight into the match. However, if there is one thing that recurs through the 96 previous matches it is that the early season form is irrelevant. The Army Navy match is a one off. Both on and off the pitch.
Gaz Evans reaches over to score another r Navy try in the opening quarter. The intensity of the Royal Navy’s forward play kept the ball away from the Army’s dangerous runners.
Last season the Navy’s opening quarter rocked the Army back on their heels and the early three tries were a fair reflection of their play. The Army fight back was inspired by Semesa Rokodugni who has since won honours with England Saxons and is tipped to travel to New Zealand with the England squad in the Summer. He is a talented footballer who if given too much space can hurt any side, Premiership or Royal Navy. However he mustn’t become the focus of attention and like the Mariners, the Senior XV must trust in their systems in defence.
Nathan Huntley has a very important role directing the Navy’s attack.
Of course the best form of defence is attack. Last season gave the template and the desire to be bold must again spur the team to take the game to the Army. It will be up to the Royal Navy’s half back pairing of Dave Pascoe and Nathan Huntley to play a tactically astute game that looks to keep hold of possession, using the good blend of ball carriers that the team has within its ranks. This season the new members of the pack, Cowley, Fairbrother and Harvey, have all run strongly and have shown the work rate that will be required.
Dave Fairbrother with Matt Harvey (left) in support. Two players who have the temperament and skills set to make an impact on their Twickenham debut.
Last week, despite the conditions, the team on numerous occasions showed that they could lift the tempo of the match and cause real problems with the ball in hand. With a little more accuracy the game would not have been so close and the tension so palpable. It is this precision that will be needed if the Army supporters are once more to be silenced at Twickenham. In 2010, as the Navy’s fight back took hold, the stadium echoed to the matelot’s anthems of Rule Britannia and Heart of Oak
Come, cheer up, my lads, 'tis to glory we steer,
With heads carried high, we will banish all fear;
So aptly put. #GoNavy
Article by Geraint Ashton Jones
Images by Alligin Photography / © Geraint Ashton Jones, © Lee Crabb & © John Walton