army v navy 
Saturday 4th May 2024


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Match Report | Army Masters 17-21 Navy Mariners

The Navy Mariners secured their first Inter Service Championship title in nine years with a nerve-shredding 21-17 win over the Army Masters at the Richmond Athletic Ground.

The Masters came firing out of the blocks to get on the scoreboard with just four minutes on the clock.

A pair of penalties allowed Robert Mitchell to kick play into the Navy half, and after the Red Shirts retained possession from left to right and back again, winger Ifereimi Vukinavanua flying through the final tackle to dot down in the corner. Mitchell converted nonchalantly for a perfect start.

Vukinavanua had an immediate impact in the Army’s next attack, coming off his wing to suck in several defenders and make an outrageous offload. But not before the Navy had come close to a try of their own, Ben Priddey penalised for holding on after peeling off a five-metre lineout maul.

The Navy’s pack also showed their power at scrum time, with Steve Hillman making a strong burst. Winger Matt Bowden had a break down the left wing, too, and when he chased a Richard Cadywould grubber it set up a superb position on the Red Shirts’ five-metre line.

The men in blue looked set to score, but for the next 25 minutes they would be frustrated again and again.

Veresa Valemei fumbled on the deck, as did Lloyd John in the final drive for the line. Several penalties were turned into scrums by the posts, and there was turnover after turnover won by the Navy scrum.

But still the tries remained elusive. Hugo Mitchell-Heggs held on in the tackle, and a Priddey pass to Jez Parsons was ruled forward as the Navy ran a dangerous play from a lineout in the Army 22.

Referee Mike Hayes’ patience ran out when Ignatius Putty saw yellow for a high tackle on Paul Saberton, although the scrum-half was rescued by his forwards, who grabbed the ball back at the lineout.

The Army’s goal line defence had been nothing short of superb. But they were powerless to stop Priddey crashing over in the left corner, the hooker finishing off Ryan Cox’s touchline break.

The Navy’s second half began in a similar fashion to so much of their first half – getting within sight of the Army’s line but not quite finishing the job. Replacement James Elliott had other ideas, his neat show-and-go creating the space to go over unopposed. Saberton converted and the Mariners had the lead for the first time.

Mitchell took the Masters into double figures just before the hour with a straightforward penalty, Saberton replying in kind after a 50-22 from Parsons. The full back’s second penalty – a short attempt after the Army had failed to clear a longer shot that rebounded horribly off the upright – took the Mariners two scores clear with 15 minutes to go.

Five minutes later the margin was down to one. A quickly tapped penalty took the Red Shirts up to the Navy’s line, and after the forwards had sucked in plenty of defenders Vukinavanua came off his wing to hit a short ball and crash over.

Chris Harris nailed the conversion and with the game going into its crucial minutes the tension was ratcheting up.

Saberton kept his nerve to land a 35-metre penalty which extended the lead to 21-17, but there was still time for more drama and crucial moments. The first was a penalty conceded by the Navy’s scrum, which saw Harris send the ball upfield to the touchline. The second was in the next passage of play, when – just as the Red Shirts looked to be building pressure for what would have been a winning try – Ben Fulton held onto the ball in a tackle, conceding a penalty of his own.

There was time for one more attack from deep from the Army, but there was too much territory to overcome, and when the ball was dropped the final whistle came and the Navy camp was in delirium.

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