Royal Navy Rugby League

Royal Navy Rugby League

The Brothers Have Landed

After a somewhat eventful journey to New Zealand the RNRL touring squad arrived safely and on time at Auckland International Airport to begin a hectic 12 days in the country’s capital.

The journey from Portsmouth began well enough however on arrival at Heathrow we were informed that due to a serious fire adjacent to the airlines catering facility there would be no food or drink at all available on the flight from Heathrow to Hong Kong. All was not lost however as those kind people at Cathay Pacific presented all passengers with a £25 food and drink voucher. Needles to say the various catering facilities within departures began to look as if they had been visited by a plague of locusts as all concerned made sure that the vouchers were used to the max. Whilst this was fine on the way to Hong Kong we all fell foul of an unexpected second passage through security in the transfer lounge at Hong Kong. Any residual drinks etc from Heathrow had to be ditched before being allowed through. Again this situation was defused by each passenger receiving a further voucher from Cathay Pacific to the value of HK$ 75 which whilst sounding impressive turned out to be worth about £7. Nonetheless it was better than nowt and again all involved took full advantage. A relatively smooth flight to New Zealand got us to Auckland where once the very zealous staff at arrivals both at immigration and an area called ‘Biohazards’’ had finished with us we were allowed through to be greeted by our welcoming committee led by our old friend and Team Manager Aussie Mal Badham. Mal had done us proud by setting up everything for us on our arrival and along with Johnny Platt ensured our trip out to Devonport was as smooth as could be.

RNRL HQ for the tour is HMNZS Philomel in the Devonport area on the North Shore of Auckland which is also incidentally the home of the New Zealand Navy. After such an epic journey the first evening was relatively low key with a chance to settle in to accommodation catch up on some ZZZZZZZZZZZZZss and watch the New Zealand Warriors beat the Panthers in a shock result from the weekends NRL fixtures.

Day 1 Monday 12th July

Monday dawned bright and cool as it is the NZ winter and preps for the first match began in earnest, initially the playing squad took advantage of the gym facilities to run through individual weights programmes before breaking for lunch. Following lunch and a team meeting to identify the aims of the afternoon’s sessions the players went out to the RNZN sports facility at Ngaringa close to Philomel to work on Head coach Wayne Okells programme for the day. Both sessions were very successful with coach Okell highlighting the positive atmosphere amongst all players both senior and more recent additions to the RNRL players pool. Freed from the constraints of the group travel scenario the squad quickly developed their own code of conduct which all players and staff have bought into to ensure things run smoothly whether on the field or otherwise. The tour management team went back to the airport to meet Tom Wilkinson the last member of the squad to arrive from UK. Tom has had a busy couple of days, passing out from Phase 1 training at Raleigh on Friday morning with all the due ceremonial before getting a lift down to Heathrow to fly out to join the squad. Tom’s flight was less eventful than the rest of the squad so he had no difficulty in getting changed and joining in the session within 15 minutes of arriving at Philomel! A quiet evening was spent allowing the squad to rid themselves of the last vestiges of jet lag before the pace began to pick up ahead of the first game on Wednesday.

Day 2 Tuesday 13th July

Today signalled the proper beginning of this inaugural Tri Nations Navy RL series and was signalled by the emotional and unique experience of a traditional Maori welcome at Te Taua Moana Marae which is the RNZN acknowledgement and commitment to the Maori Culture. The Te Taua Moana consists of two distinct buildings the Wharenui (meeting house) and the Wharekai (dining room) and for this ceremony the two visiting teams were greeted by the officers and staff of HMNZ Philomel in a truly moving ceremony. Tradition would dictate that before leaving your Waka (canoe) on the foreshore visitors would have been challenged as to their intentions. Provided your intentions were peaceful your Waka would have been drawn up on the beach signalling the commencement of the ceremony (the powhiri). Whilst we did not arrive by waka we were invited by waiata (song) to enter the Wharenui, this invitation was sung unaccompanied by a female RNZN rating, women being considered the peacemakers by the Maori. This first waiata soon dispelled any doubts as to the significance of this ceremony, so led by RNRL Physio Joyce Evans (females always go first to such ceremony’s, again, as peacemakers) we advanced towards the wharenui across the watea (courtyard) and after a further invitation, by waiata, to enter the meeting house all guests removed their shoes and took their places facing the hosts. Tradition dictates that a spokesman from the tangata whenui (host people) gives an initial speech in the local Maori dialect with specific reference to the circumstances surrounding the particular meeting. The manuhiri (visitors) then respond with each speech being followed by a song. Finally in this unique environment the CO of HMNZ Philomel welcomed the two visiting teams to his base referring to the bond between the three countries in the various conflicts over the years as well as on the sports fields. For the record RNRL Chairman Cdr Gareth Hughes spoke on behalf of RNRL followed by the Brothers singing a very creditable unaccompanied version of Jerusalem. The Australian team manager also responded on behalf of his squad who duly sang ‘Waltzing Matilda’ as their waiata, needless to say the Brothers won this competition hands down. The final part of the Marae was the tradition of the Hongi or sharing the breath of life, better known to most of us before today as rubbing noses. The proper Maori wording however is kanohi-a-kanohi (literally face to face), the atmosphere and surroundings of this final event were such that all involved treated it with the utmost respect as each member of the squad followed the tradition to the letter greeting al our hosts with the kanohi-a-kanohi and traditional handshake. Following this final part of the ceremony the tangata whenui and the manuhiri moved over to the Wharekai for a brief break in proceedings before the business of the day got underway again. As mentioned earlier this ceremony is considered a great honour and was no tourist spectacle as the Te Taua Moana is the RNZN specific spiritual home and as such any NZ Taua Moana (warrior of the sea) at their time of passing has the right to rest in the wharenui before being returned to their family for burial.

As for the Rugby side of things the first management meeting was held immediately after the Marae and the final detail of the tournament were confirmed in the presence of all four teams’ management. This meeting covered all aspects of the tournament securing agreement on the conduct of the series, aspects of the actual game specifically substitutes and the nominating of the star players over the tournament to be formally recognised at the closing dinner in a Tournament representative side. Head Coach and Team Manager Wayne Okell and Jason Steele took their charges for today’s training content that after the earlier meeting all squad players will get proper game time starting with tomorrows warm up match against a NZ Invitational Side.

Day 3 Wednesday 14th July Match Day 1

Another bright but chilly day dawned in Auckland for our first match against a New Zealand Navy XIII. The game will be played as a curtain raiser to the first of the Tri-Nations series (RNZN v RAN) so it is an early kick off at 1245. Due to the unique location of Philomel the squad left the base after shirt issue for a ‘walk and talk’ stroll along to Torpedo Bay about ½ mile away followed by a basic stretching session rounded off with quality cuppa at the Stone Oven Café. The squad moved back to HQ for final individual preps before the short journey to the match venue. The support staff had travelled to the ground early to ensure all pre match preps were ready having got early access to the changing rooms. The hydration policy established by Wayne Okell at the 2008 Services World Cup has been resurrected for this series. In charge this time round is Mr Steve Penberthy who ensures that a comprehensive set of records is kept on each player both during training and on match day ensuring all players are taking onboard the correct amount of fluids and salts to maintain optimum condition during the tour. On the playing front all players will get a run out in the first match with the exception of Sili Buinimasi who has slight recurrence of knee injury. This will allow coaching staff to try out new combinations as well as getting the new players out on the park. A few highlights will be the Fijian right wing and centre combination of Wilson Tulakepa and Tim Vodonaivalu as well as for the first time at rep level the half back combination of Kev Botwood and Ade Peel. Of the new players Mike Haldenby gets a start on the left wing partnering Jim Barnes who is also captaining the side. Tommy Wilkinson starts on the bench as straight replacement for Ben Taylor at Loose forward throughout the game. The final line up for game 1 is Adam McRohan, Wilson Tulakepa, Tim Vodonaivalu, Jim Barnes, Mike Haldenby, Ade Peel, Kev Botwood, Lee Rossiter, Johnny Platt, Ritchie Metcalfe, Gareth Cadmore, Dave Gee, Ben Taylor,

Bench- Wata Robanakadavu, John Humphrey, Aaron Hunt, Tommy Wilkinson, Alex Scruton, Will Jefferson, Rob Sanderson, Chris Jones, Mark Robinson, Danny Fallon.

NZ Invitational XIII 6:40 RNRL

A tremendous effort by all concerned got the tour’s match programme off to a flyer with a hard fought victory over a big and uncompromising RNZN Invitational XIII. The game was not without incident and involved the match being moved to an adjacent pitch to allow medical teams to deal with a potentially serious injury. This happened 12 minutes into the second half and whilst perhaps not home and hosed the RN side were looking good value for their 22:6 lead. The home side had begun brightly enough using their heavier pack to blast a path through the lighter RN defence. The RN held firm however, holding the Kiwi’s to a solitary converted try scored on the stroke of half time but by that time the Brothers were already 16 points to the good. The honour of scoring the RN first points of the campaign went to loose forward Ben Taylor who crossed after 15 minutes almost under the posts giving Kev Botwood a comfortable conversion. A couple of minutes later great play by Wilson Tulakepa broke the NZ defence pushing the RN deep into the home sides half and after a great 40 metre break off loaded to his centre partner Tim Vodonaivalu who crossed to stretch the RN lead to 10 points. As the match approached half time great play from a penalty restart saw the Brothers move the ball infield with quick hands to lose forward Taylor who drew the cover defence before delivering a perfect pass to scrum half Botwood who touched down under the posts to make his own conversion a formality. With the home side pegging back a converted try the scores were 16:6 at the break.

The Brothers again withstood an early onslaught in the second half before going further ahead through an individual effort from new boy Tommy Wilkinson. Taking over at loose forward Wilkinson took the ball from the base of the scrum and sprinted the 2o metres or so to the line taking the defence completely by surprise, Kev Botwood was again able to get the extras so it was now 22:6. Following the switch of pitches RNRL continued to dominate with Alex Scruton being next to get his name on the score board crashing over from short range to score a classic hookers try. Ten minutes later the Brothers were on the scoreboard again, Richie Metcalfe taking the ball at pace and beating the defence to go over from 25 metres out. The Brothers final score came with ten minutes left on the clock, a speculative kick to the corner by Kev Botwood was palmed down by John Humphrey and the ball which was gathered by Rob Sanderson who crossed and touched down, Kev Botwood slotted home his sixth conversion of the match to post a final score of 40:6 to the Brothers. A pleasing start to the campaign for head coach Okell with some excellent performances round the team amongst them was Ade Peel’s work at stand-off which earned him RN player of the match.

Following their own match the Brothers took time out to witness the first of the Tri Nations series of matches between hosts New Zealand and the Royal Australian Navy which ended in a comfortable win for the Kiwi’s by 38-12. The match gave the RN squad a very good insight into the size of their next task as they take on the Aussies on Saturday afternoon.

Scorers Try’s- Taylor, Vodonaivalu, Botwood, Wilkinson, Scruton, Metcalfe, Sanderson.

Goals- Botwood (6 Conv.)

Day 4 Thursday 15th July.

A well deserved rest day was allocated to the squad to recover from the exertions of Wednesday both on and off the field. This did not allow the players a lie in however as the recovery and rehab from the previous days match is a vitally important phase of preparation for the next match. Physio Joyce Evans and RI Matthew Murray set up a comprehensive programme of treatment for all players specifically those who had picked up injuries in the match. Once the rehab programme was complete the squad took advantage of the gorgeous weather and did the usual ‘rest day bomb burst’ across the area. Whilst some ‘did the city’ others of us travelled to Waiheke Island a 40 minute ferry ride away from Auckland Waterfront to investigate the NZ Wine industry. The Island became a favoured destination of Southern Hemisphere hippies during the late 60’s and early 70’ but according to one expat, of some 35 years vintage, Waiheke these days has more in common with the Channel Islands than Glastonbury. Besides the spectacular scenery and views across the approaches to Auckland harbour Waiheke also boasts some 20 or so vineyards located mostly at the western end of the Island. After a visit to the highest point of the highland the group adjourned to the Mudbrick Vineyard to experience the product of the vines visible all around. An hour or so sat in the sun admiring the view whilst enjoying the fruits of the vintners labour was a great end to the Waiheke experience. A relatively quiet night was enjoyed by the squad as the preps for Game 2 against the Aussies were to begin the following morning.

Day 5 Friday 16th July

Following breakfast and by kind permission of Mess Pres WO Mick O’Carroll the squad mustered in the WO & SR Mess to go through Wednesdays Match DVD almost frame by frame to highlight the good points as well as spot areas for improvement. Whilst the review is a useful tool for Head Coach Wayne Okell it is also a forum for the players to highlight both good and bad points for the benefit of the team. It was generally agreed that whilst the end result was very pleasing the team must hit the ground running, cut out the errors and perhaps most of all complete all sets in an effort to seize the initiative from a strong looking Aussie side. Morale is good in the camp at present and all found the DVD review a great start to the wind up for tomorrow’s game. During the course of the session the weather had, as forecast, turned from bright sunshine to thick low cloud which in turn dumped the rain on the area in some volume. The Brothers decided to go ahead with the planned training session continuing to work on specific areas of the game identified at the DVD session. A rumour that had indeed become fact was that the Aussies had postponed their session due to the inclement weather leading to much comment by the Brothers as to their credentials. The main training session of the day took place just along the coast from HQ at Narrow Neck and was conducted in heavy rain but nevertheless coaching staff felt the session was very beneficial especially to the players who due to injury would be brought into the starting XIII for the clash with the Aussies. The final element of the session was a swim in the none too warm ocean which despite the temperature again was useful for rehab after the session as well reinforcing the already strong squad bonding. After supper and the announcement of Saturdays team players and staff enjoyed another quiet night ahead of the following days challenge.

Day 6 Saturday 17th July

The previous day’s rain had all but disappeared so we woke to another great Auckland winters morning as the squad fell into the well tried match day morning routine. Following breakfast the starting 17 were issued their match day kit at the team meeting before all left HQ for another walk and talk. A relaxed stretching session concluded the walk before the squad once more adjourned to the Stone Oven café for a quality coffee before moving down to the ground for final match preps. Australian Aboriginal Broadcasting Company ‘Barefoot TV’ had sent over a crew to cover the match and in another case of ‘It's a small world isn’t it’ the team had as its front man Tony Currie a former NZ RL Star and Head coach of the fledgling London Bronco’s in the late 90’s. Tony Curries link to the Brothers goes back to the early days of RNRL when Tony travelled down to Fareham to help Wayne Okell and Gareth Hughes with coaching the original brothers prior to the first ever match against the BARLA U-23 side. Following the official media ‘stuff’ Currie joined the Brothers in the changing room to pass on a few words of advice and encouragement to the RN players. Following Curries words skipper for the day Lee Rossiter gave an emotionally charged motivational brief to his team as they prepared to enter the arena and do battle with the old foes the Aussies.

With the ground underfoot very soft and the threat of further rain before full time looming the two teams took the field for the national anthems, once again the brothers won the singing competition by a country mile. The referee signalled the start of the real business of the day and the teams locked horns for the first time since 2007. The game remained even for the first 15 minutes or so as both teams strived to get the first points on the board. On balance the Aussies had the better of the early exchanges as the Brother struggled to execute their sets and force the repeat sets. Frustratingly RNRL showed in patches that they were a match for the Aussies but could not build enough momentum to get some points on the board. Eventually the Aussies did break the line, Daniel Struber going over close enough to the posts to make the conversion straight forward enough for scrum half Luke Woodcraft. RNRL continued to defend well against the powerful Aussie side but again gave away too many penalties and surrendered too much possession to be able to get some consistency to their play and in turn exert some sustained pressure on the opposition line. The Aussies now pressed home their advantage scoring again after 20 minutes this time hooker Bobbie Ashman crossed to touchdown with Woodcraft again slotting over the extras. Despite the pressure from the opposition the Brothers held the line holding up two try scoring efforts restricting the RAN to just the two converted scores. The brightest moment for RN of the half gave the team a much needed boost, on the last tackle the RAN put out a kick from midfield to the RN left, as the kick came down RN wing Aaron Hunt beat everyone snatching the ball from the air before beating the entire RAN cover in an epic 90 length of field sprint to touch down and post he first RN points of the game. Although Kev Botwood could not convert the try this was just the lift the Brothers needed and for the rest of the first half they gained in confidence pressing for another score which unfortunately did not come, so at the break the Aussies were ahead 12:4. From the restart RN were on the offensive straight away forcing errors from the RAN defence who responded with some desperate defence to prevent RN from closing the gap. 15 minutes in however and perhaps against the run of play the RAN side scored again, Chris Ison-Hastings scoring out wide, this time the distance was too much this time for Wooodcroft to convert -16:4. The second half saw a different Brothers side to the first; this was exemplified by the best possible response to the Aussies latest score. John Humphrey took advantage of a poor Aussie response to a quality midfield kick from stand-off Ade Peel, gathering the ball on the 20 metre line to skin the Aussie cover and touchdown in the corner closing the gap to just eight points. With the RAN on the ropes and almost from the restart Dave Gee made great yards from Kev Botwood's kick through and from the next play the ball Botwood delivered straight to Gareth Cadmore who took the ball over the line despite the attention of four Aussie defenders so, as if there was any doubt, it was now most certainly game on. Despite losing several players to injury the last 15 minutes were played at a frantic pace, the Aussies defending for their lives as the Brother piled on the pressure. For all their hard work however the Brothers could not find the crucial breakthrough and on the stroke of full time Ed Smith snatched a final score for the Aussies to give the final score to the RAN by 20-12. Despite a below par first half performance RNRL should be proud of their response in the second half, the penalty count was negligible compared to the first and with the RN pack more than matching their Aussie counterparts this young Brothers side should take great heart from their overall performance. At the after match formalities The Aussies awarded their RN Man Of The Match to RN No 11 Gareth Cadmore who received his award from All Blacks legend Stacey Jones who had taken part in a local league match after the RAN v RN clash.

Adam McCrohan, John Humphrey, Mike Haldenby, Silivenuisi Buinimasi, Aaron Hunt, Ade Peel, Kev Botwood, Lee Rossiter, Johnny Platt, Ritchie Metcalfe, Gareth Cadmore, Dave Gee, Ben Taylor,

Bench- , Alex Scruton, Wata Robanakadavu, Mark Robinson, Tommy Wilkinson.

Scorers; Trys- Aaron Hunt, John Humphrey, Gareth Cadmore

As if there had not been enough Rugby for one day both sides travelled to south Auckland to see the NZ Warriors take on the much troubled Melbourne Storm in an NRL weekly round fixture. For the record the Warriors won 13-6 completing their fifth back to back league win pushing themselves up to fourth in the NRL Standings.

Day 7 Sunday 18th July

Another gorgeous day in Auckland sees the squad in recovery phase, to a greater or lesser degree all players across the team are feeling the effects of yesterdays efforts so after a sessions with Physio Joyce Evans and RI Matthew Murray and a session in the Open Air pool the rest of Sunday has been designated as a well earned rest day. The most imposing sight on the Auckland skyline is the Sky Tower and at just over 1000 feet is the tallest man made structure in New Zealand rising from the very heart of the city centre. There are many ways of enjoying the Tower from playing the gaming machines in the basement to leaping of the second from top level of the tower in a cross between abseiling and bungee jumping. For those interested the journey from top to bottom takes 11 seconds at approx 85mph. The other alternative is to circle the top platform of the tower, on the outside, securely attached to wire ropes!

Day 8 Monday 19th July

Coach Okell led the DVD inquest into Saturdays defeat by the Aussies which whilst in some areas was painful to watch the session again proved to be another important tool in the preparations for Wednesdays series finale. Following the inquest the process of rehab and recovery continued led by our physio team Joyce Evans and ‘Ruby’ Murray. The coaching team decided not to risk aggravating any slight injuries and declared the rest of the day as free time with the final training sessions taking place on Tuesday back at Narrow Neck. Once again we were well served by NX TV who broadcast a thrilling NRL match between Wests Tigers and Queensland Cowboys, the game going to the Tigers after a fantastic comeback in the last quarter.

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