Would’a, Could’a, Should’a

Strong ball carrying from Mariner’s prop, John Court
Dom O’Connor was another who carried well and remains a secure source of possession at the lineout
Mark Fidock was lively with ball in hand, but ill discipline at the breakdown saw him sin binned just before half time
Justin Doney crosses for the opening try after some excellent Mariner’s play
Sam Halofaki proved to be an attacking threat whenever he had the ball

RN Mariners v HM Prison Services 23-26

The lyrics of Would’a, Could’a, Should’a by Seventies Christian rock band should be compulsory reading for the Royal Navy Mariner’s; as once again it was their own actions which made life difficult for them on the pitch and eventually cost them the match.  In this game, as earlier in the season, they demonstrated that they have the individual ability and teamwork to play some very effective rugby.  However, without addressing their penalty count at the tackle zone, these skills will not prove enough to be successful come the Inter Services.

“Life is filled with many chances; some you took and some you blew”.  The Mariners started their match, against HM Prison Services, playing a high tempo game well suited to HMS Temeraire’s artificial pitch.  Players coming on to the ball at pace, quick recycling of possession and the point of attack varied.  It was good rugby to watch and was rewarded with an early try to Mariner’s Number 8, Justin Doney, converted by Paddy Gore.  The omen’s looked good.  However, having seized the initiative through taking this early chance, the next ten minutes was one of wasted opportunity.  Good approach work undone by players becoming isolated at the tackle, and allowing HMP to turn over possession; erratic kicking, allowing HMP to easily counter attack, or the final pass proving to be wayward.

HMP grew in confidence on the back of these errors and was soon beginning to pose some questions of their own.  With Mariner’s now being forced to defend, the game took on a different slant.  Under pressure, the Mariner’s defence at the tackle zone creaked, and it wasn’t long before they were penalised within kicking range.  A sweetly struck kick from 40 metres gave HMP their opening points and within five minutes they had snuck in to the lead through a try from their outside centre.  Their lively fly half had proved the catalyst with a counter attack from another poor kick by Mariner’s.  Two missed tackles from the Mariners allowed him to make too much ground, and with possession retained, the centre was able to exploit a mis-match on the left for a well taken try.  Surprisingly the straight forward conversion was missed and the Mariner’s only trailed by 8-7.

“Your path in life can turn ever so quickly” . The two quick scores, along with another missed kick at goal, seemed to be the spur that the Mariners required.  They finished the half as they started it, back on the front foot.  Strong ball carrying from the forwards where Doney, O’Connor and Court were all prominent, allowed Fidock and Clark to dictate the pace of the game from half back.  At last Sam Halofaki, out on the right wing, was being given some decent possession and was posing the HMP defence some serious questions.  Despite some decent half chances it was the HMP defence that was to hold out and constrain the Mariner’s to just a penalty kick at goal from Gore to regain the lead, 10-8.  With everything looking back on track, the Mariners then suffered another self-inflicted set back.  Again it started with a poor kick to the waiting HMP fullback.  His counter attack beat the first man and put the Mariner’s defence under pressure.  Hands in the ruck from Mark Fidock proved to be one penalty too far for the referee and the ensuing yellow card reduced the home side to fourteen men for the last couple of minutes of the half and the start of the second period.  Fortunately the resultant kick was wayward and the Mariner’s held their 10-8 lead through to half time.

Like the start of the first half, it was the Mariner’s who started the second more positively.  Now playing in to the wind, they adjusted their play well and some strong driving play was rewarded with a second Paddy Gore penalty to extend the lead 13 – 8.  This time the Mariner’s backed up the score with some sustained play that showcased all that has been good about their season.  Despite a number of replacements there was good continuity and variety to keep HMP under pressure.  Making good use of the wind, HMP were able to relieve the pressure through long clearing kicks but the Mariner’s kept coming back.  A period of pressure within 5m of the HMP goal line probably deserved a score, which may well have killed the game off but the stubborn HMP defence could not be breached and then to make matters worse they were able to level the game through a well taken try by their inside centre.  The try was certainly against the run of play but once more the Mariner’s were fortunate that a simple kick was missed by the HM Prison Service’s kicker.  13-13 as the game entered it’s final stages.

The last quarter of the match probably summed up the Mariner’s season so far.  First Laniolo Lemeki scores a well-taken try to give the Mariner’s an 18-13 lead.  This is then eroded through more ill discipline at the breakdown and a simple penalty, 18 - 16.  Poor alignment in defence and a miss tackle then allow HMP to score from their own half and once again the Mariner’s, from a position of strength, are behind 21 – 18 only for their resilience to once more shine through when replacement centre Boyce crosses for a simply constructed but very well taken try.  23 – 21 with only two minutes to go.

“We dig our pit, we make our bed; That’s where we fall and where we lay; But we still have a shot to make things better”.  Two minutes to go.  From such a position the Mariner’s should have closed the game out.  Looking forward to the Inter Service matches that are just around the corner it is in just situations that trophies are either won or allowed to slip through the fingers.  What was required was a lifting of the intensity to see the game to the end and hear the referee’s final whistle with the lead intact.  Instead the Mariner’s dwelt on the tiredness in their bodies, they dropped of a couple of tackles and HMP were able to cross for their fourth try and take the spoils 26 – 23.  The Mariner’s had it within them to have won this match but they will also acknowledge it was  from within that they conspired to lose it.  But as with Petra’s lyrics, the Mariner’s are only now coming to the key part of their season and they ‘have a shot’ to put matter’s right, beginning with their match against Torbay Sharks on 9 April.  This is their final match before the Inter Services.

“Don’t wanna live life with another regret”.  The Torbay Sharks is a game where the Mariner’s need to bring all the good components of their game together and eradicate some of the ill discipline that has cost them dear throughout the season.  They know, through Inter Service disappointments of recent seasons, that the margins are small when they meet the RAF Vultures and Army Masters.  This is a team that is full of promise but also one that has to ensure they deliver on that promise if they are to round of the year with Inter Service victories.

Images by Alligin Photography / © Geraint Ashton Jones