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By Hugo Batten
The Rugby Blues beat a brave Royal Navy side 21-14 last Wednesday, but the quality of the rugby on show did not quite reach the sparkling heights of their brilliant triumph over the British Army the week before.
The Iffley Road Stadium was unplayable due to the recent run of bad weather, and so the boys made their way down to Portsmouth to take on the Navy at their home base. Alas, the conditions were bleaker than the grimmer portions of Dostoyevsky and creativity was, accordingly, stifled.
In addition, a young Blues side perhaps tried to play too much from their own half early and struggled to make headway against a good Navy defence and a strong headwind. Fly-half Charlie Marr, who possesses a fine boot and a beautiful pass, took control in the latter portions of the first half to convert possession into territory. The Blues capitalised and scored through fresher centre Henry Lamont, who has the quickest feet since a young Fred Astaire trod the boards.
The Navy struck back through strong forward play to level the score, with ‘one out rugby’ that typified the evening. The Navy then scored a slightly fortuitous try after a charge down lead, in what can only be described as a comedy of errors, to take the lead at 14-7. However shortly after half time the Blues got their act together as Number 8 Fraser Heathcote barged over the line from close range to level the score. Characteristically, it was Sam Egerton who scored the decisive try for the Blues, sniping around the ruck to restore the Blues’ 7-point lead. Gus Jones, England U/18 captain and recent sub for the England U/20s, skippered the side as a fresher and was typically brave at the breakdown, and to quote Jones himself: “I live in the grey area”. Sam Perrin, a former Special Forces soldier who came off the bench, performed stoically against his old comrades in the Army and was similarly effective in defence against the Navy.
The Blues were heartened to see the return of club captain John Carter from the knee injury that forced him out of the Varsity match. Carter was typically robust in contact and made both yards and big hits over the course of the second half. Carter is a veritable Tyrannosaurus Rex, not so much for the ferocity of his play, but rather for his apparent inability to use his arms in contact.
Marcus-Alexander Neil was a rock in defence at inside centre. Neil is a brutal front-on defender and rocked the Navy’s midfield on a few occasions. Equally, Tom Reeson-Price and Will Darby, both stalwarts of the U/21s, made strong debuts and look set for distinguished careers in the senior OURFC team.
Henry Hughes was named the man of the match. Hughes, a Magdalen second year medic, offers hope to the less physically dominant rugby player. Initially a slightly under-sized flanker, through grit, hard work and an extraordinarily brave approach, Hughes has transformed himself into a class winger and will be integral to the Blues’ next Varsity campaign. Coach James Wade, ever the master tactician, made some astute substitutions, particularly that of one Hugo Batten, who provided one of the game’s highlights in a scintillating late run down the left wing. Alas, after several goose-steps, dummies and swivels, I was desperately unlucky to be brought down about three metres from the line.