The Dog Watch Trophy 2018
By Keith Humpleby
Burnaby Road was looking its best, floodlights on and the crowd already warmed up by a serious encounter in the previous match between the Academy sides
The first 15 minutes proved to be just that, the usual frantic opening saw the RAF have the better of the exchanges as they struck first. A well worked move created an overlap on their left, 2nd Row Sam Breeze took the ball and crossed to the left of the posts, Nathan Barker converting, 0-6 early doors. Sean Houghton for the RN replied in the best possible way, finding space on the RN right he cut the deficit to two points with his first of the night 4-6. The RAF were next to score edging themselves further ahead, Jake Starbuck crossing out on the RAF right, this time the score was not converted 4-10, all this in the first 15 minutes! The next few minutes were scoreless as the two sides sought to stamp their authority on the game and it was going to be a difficult one to call. After a period of RAF attack was repelled by strong RN defence the home side moved up field and on the last a wonderful cross field kick by Sean Casey was hacked at by an RAF defender but the ball flew into the arms of Josh Coupland who gratefully touched down to bring his sides within 2 points. 5 minutes later the winger was in again with his fifth try in two games against the light blues, a promising attack got the RN into the RAF 22 the ball going through plenty of hands before Sili Buinimasi made the killer off load to Coupland who touched down again, with no conversion it was now 12-10 to the RN. This was to be the score at the break after a bruising first half with plenty of incident to keep the crowd engaged.
In a similar way to the first half the sides exchanged scores after the break first up the RN went over, Jamie Birdsall joining the line out wide and taking the defence with him touched down, Sean Casey with a superb conversion made the score 18:10. The RAF dug deep and once again cut the RN lead with a converted try of their own 18-16 with another half hour to go! Just on the ten minute mark a significant point in the match happened when the RAF lost full back JiuteTupa to the bin for a high elbow which the RN capitalized on almost immediately with another Sean Houghton score,a despite the missed conversion the RN were now a converted try ahead and looked a bit more comfortable, 22-16. This lead was then extended to 12 points when Houghton secured his hat trick on the night perhaps saving his best till last, backing himself out wide he rounded the RAF defence touching down under the posts, Casey having no trouble converting, 10 minutes left and ahead by 12 the RN surely safe now or were they? Whether the home side took the foot off the gas or the RAF just wanted to avoid the whitewash it was the visitors who had the better of the closing minutes, Nathan Barker crossing to cut the deficit to 8 but crucially the conversion was wide. The RAF continued to press for more and were rewarded with a great finish by stand off James Hutchinson, he missed his own conversion so it remained, 28-24. The last word went to the home side, Darren Bamford coolly slotted home the one pointer in the dying moments of the game 29-24. Referee Matt Rossleigh brought the game to an end with extreme opposites of emotion on the opposing sides, perhaps not a classic for the purists but the crowd thoroughly enjoyed the spectacle. The RN retaining the Dog Watch Trophy consigning the RAF to a whitewash for the first time in some years. Ref Rossleigh and his officials nominated Darren Bamford as man of the match, the scrum half being presented with his award by Mrs. Beverly Fitzgerald wife of QinetiQ managing director Steve Fitzgerald.
This match proved to be an emotional one for RN centre Sili Buinimasi as it was his last game in RNRL colors. The big Fijian announced earlier in the year that this would be his last season and it was only fitting he should finish with a win under the floodlights at Burnaby Road. After receiving the Dog Watch from RN sponsors QinetiQ Managing Director Steve Fitzgerald he gave his thanks for his career with RNRL stretching back some 15 years and wishing everyone well for the future. The evening was complete with a rendition of the RNRL victory song led by team captain Ben Taylor normally only heard in the depths of the changing room!
Royal Navy: Sean Houghton (Vice Capt), Josh Coupland, Silivenusi Buinimasi, Gavin Duffy, Luke Cooper, Shaun Casey, Darren Bamford, James Parry, Danny Heaton, Matt Holland, Ben Taylor (Capt), Nathan Lee, Jamie Birdsall
Replacements: Jack Basher, Adam Birkett, Louis McKenna, Jack Savage, Danny Johnson
RAF: Jiute Tupa, Mark Harper, Harry Marks, Paul Bartlett, Chris Ambo, James Hutchinson, Nathan Barker, Sam Roberts, Connell Barningham, Jake Starbuck, Dan Collinson, Sam Breeze, Kev Raqio
Replacements: Ben Mellor, Kris burns, James Bristow, Phil Laycock