Northampton Saints emerged victorious from the 2022 Mobbs Memorial Match, beating the British Army 59-7 in front of more than 2,000 supporters at Franklin’s Gardens.
Saints came into the match on the back of an eye-catching run of form and had named a team which included a number of full and age group internationals. And it was one of their number, Samoan full back Ahsee Tuala, who got the first points with a couple of minutes on the clock, running in a long-range try between the uprights.
The Army responded, LCpl Ifereimi Boladau (R Signals) making a charge, Lt Matt Smart (YORKS) mixing and matching where he was putting the ball, and Spr Mikey McDonald (RE) showing superb skill to keep a ball in play under massive pressure.
However, it was not long before the red shirts were back under pressure, former Wallaby Taqele Naiyaravoro putting a trademark tackle-busting run down the left wing deep into the 22.
The big winger was eventually pulled down, and while Saints set up camp in the Army’s red zone the defence remained resolute, with the whole team getting back into position to pull Saints down time and again.
“Andy Evans has worked really hard this season to put our defensive structure in place, and the boys have started getting it,” said Head Coach, Capt Mal Roberts (RLC).
“For me the boys stood up to be counted. There were some big players coming down the channels and our boys didn’t shy away from it.
“It showed the heart, desire and passion in the red shirt that I expect.”
It took 15 minutes for Saints to get their second try, Naiyaravoro on the end of a James Grayson crossfield kick to dot down in the corner.
With Grayson converting both tries the Army were facing a 20-point deficit at the end of the first quarter, and were needing to get a foothold in the contest. Unfortunately an attack from deep was ended by a loose pass in the face of some aggressive defence, and a lineout on halfway was won by the home team against the throw.
At the other end Saints were clinical, Naiyaravoro coming up from the bottom of a driving maul for his second of the evening.
Grayson added the hosts’ fourth on the half-hour from a five-metre scrum, Capt Will Reeve (4X HQ) having done superbly to sweep up a kick ahead under severe pressure from Tuala. And then the Saints’ skipper rounded off a 10-minute purple patch by first putting his team into great position with a 50:22 kick before sliding over for his own second five-pointer, the conversion sending the teams into the sheds with Saints leading 31-0.
Having been on the receiving end of all the tries in the first half, the Army made their mark four minutes into the second. A pair of penalties saw Lt Smart kick the red shirts from deep in their own half to the Saints’ five-metre line in the blink of an eye, and after the lineout was won and possession maintained Gnr Senitiki Nayalo (7 Para RHA) showed his power to drive through a number of tacklers to crash over, Lt Smart adding the extras.
Capt Roberts added that this was reward for the way the team kept on playing.
“You can see this year that there’s a collective team spirit, a real want, desire and passion in that team ethos,” he said. “We tried to create that early doors and you’re seeing it on the pitch. The boys are talking about the brotherhood that’s within, and I think we saw that in spades tonight with the resilience.”
The Army continued to have a good spell over the next few minutes, but with the second half action being interspersed with regular replacements it took time for the game to settle. When it did it was Saints who added to their points tally, James Fish and Aaron Hinkley finishing off driving mauls in the right and left corners respectively.
With Grayson remaining accurate off the tee this took the score out to 45-7 in favour of the hosts, and the 50 was brought up in style, replacement scrum-half Jake Garside showing silky side-stepping to take him to the line.
Still the Army kept their heads up, LCpl Phil Graham (RE) – who just last Saturday was in the Army Sevens team which won the Melrose Sevens – getting the chance to run a couple of times, bouncing up from a monster hit from Nayaravoro the second time.
There was a pair of lineouts near the Saints’ line as well, but the second strayed off the middle, and that was as close as the Army would get, Fish rounding off the scoring at the other end on the stroke of full-time.
But for Capt Roberts the evening was all about giving players opportunities.
“We’ve had a lot of changes midweek,” he commented. “We had three people come in yesterday – Frank Boginisoko, Phil Graham and Levi Roper, the Under-23s’ skipper – and I thought they blended into the side quite well. The boys put their hands up and played really well.
“I’m proud of them.”
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Words © New Dogs, Old Tricks. All Images © Alligin Photography, Cat Goryn