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A Twickenham debut hat trick from Spr Cameron McDonald (RE) was not enough to help the Army retain the Inter Service Championship title, as the Royal Navy took the crown with a 39-22 victory.

Even the most dedicated red shirt supporter will concede that the Navy deserved the spoils, as they dominated both halves and made the Army pay for their mistakes with a pair of tries either side of half-time that swung the contest in their favour.

The tone was set in the opening exchanges. SSgt Nathaneal Titchard-Jones (REME) had collected a loose ball at the kick off to charge forward with purpose. But when the Army conceded a penalty deep in Navy territory, and then a second midway inside their own half, they had not just taken the opportunity away from themselves but also given the opposition the lead, Jordon Gott landing the opening three points.

A couple of snatched passes took some momentum out of a subsequent attack, there was a fumble from 2Lt Al Gliksten (RA) at a lineout, and a forced fumble in the red shirts’ 22 after the hard work has been done to win a turnover.

All of which meant that the Army was on the back foot for much of the opening 10 minutes, and while Maj Will Reeve (R Gurka Rifles) and Sgt Connor O’Reilly (RA) nullified poor kicks from the Navy there was no stopping Gott landing his second penalty to make it a deserved 6-0 lead.

Back came the Army, Rfn Vereimi Qorowale (Rifles) taking out several defenders with a trademark offload, and Gnr Senitiki Nayalo (RA) looking for action down the middle of the field.

But the Navy scrambled to get in the faces of the red shirts, who were unable to make the final metre over the line, instead opting for Bdr Owain Davies (RA) to get their first points with 15 minutes on the clock.

Gott replied in kind at the end of the quarter, and then showed the Navy’s intent to force the Army to play by pointing the posts from a much trickier position. This time the ball went wide, and when Maj Reeve’s clearance stayed infield it led to the opening try.

The Navy had had most of the possession and pressure, and from the kick looked to set up another dangerous attack. It was laudable, but Setareki Raumakita’s pass was too ambitious and was gratefully snapped up by Spr McDonald, who raced in from 50 metres.

If this sucker punch had the Navy reeling, Maj Reeve and Spr McDonald combined to land a flooring blow just before the half-hour.

Maj Reeve’s delightful 50-22 gave the Army a lineout, and Spr McDonald came off his wing to bounce through an attempted tackle to go over by the uprights. Bdr Davies’s conversion was straightforward and in the blink of an eye the red shirts were 15-9 in front.

The tries were far from a knockout blow, however, and a couple of minutes later the Navy could have gone back in front, had Dan Rutter stretched out over his head to dot the ball down while being tackled close to the Army’s line. Instead there was a fourth penalty for Gott, whose break had put the men in blue onto the front foot, making the score 15-12, and then a fifth 90 seconds before the interval.

That was more than enough time for the Navy to strike, and like the Army’s first this came midway through an attack by the opposition.

The red shirts had recovered the kick off and were spreading the ball left and right in search of an opening. The Navy had other ideas, and when they won a turnover with an overlap there was no hesitation in playing from deep. There was little Sgt O’Reilly could do and Raumakita had made amends for his earlier mistake by crossing by the uprights.

Gott’s conversion brought the half-time whistle and a 22-15 lead for his team, but while the score had given the team in red plenty to talk about in the changing rooms there was still the positive that the Army were just one score down having had precious little of the ball in attack.

Still, they needed the next score, but instead came within a couple of loose passes of conceding a second try straight after play resumed. Fortunately Jerome Rudder left the ball behind him, and it took a strong tackle from Maj Reeve to strip the ball.

However the Navy had all the momentum, and when Rutter stretched out to have an inch of the ball touching an inch of the whitewash – that’s all a try needs, after all – it put his team well in control at 29-15.

It also lit the blue touchpaper, and the Army’s immediate try was a scorcher. Replacement centre, 2Lt Frank Kelly (AGC (SPS)), made inroads down the left wing, and when the ball came quickly right Bdr Davies’s miss pass to Capt Stu Cross (RMAS/Yorks) put the flanker away down the touchline. Spr McDonald was in support and celebrated his hat trick in style.

As the hour approached the game started to open up. Spr Michael McDonald (RE), on at scrum-half, looked to up the tempo with a quickly tapped penalty, but when the play broke down on the halfway line Navy full back Craig Duncan put his team on the front foot with a superb line break.

This was rewarded by Gott’s sixth penalty, which opened the margin back up to 10 points, but it was a try for Jarrard Hayler which took his team too far in front to recover.

Frustratingly, the play was started by a lineout which looked for all the world to be off the middle, but the Navy’s ball retention was good when it needed to be, and the break from Ratu Vakalutukali was worthy of a score itself.

The Army were also not helping themselves, either, and when 2Lt Kelly and Spr Jack Johnson (RE) put them into a promising position, when the ball was slung left it did not just hit the deck, but a penalty was also conceded for a tackle without the ball.

There were still a few minutes to play, and plenty of effort put in by both teams, but the contest had gone.

Words © New Dogs, Old Tricks

All images – Alligin Photography © Army v Navy Match


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