ROLL ON the Defence Rugby Cup. That’s the message from the British Army after they ran the Royal Navy ragged, 44-10, to regain the Babcock Trophy in front of a 62,790 Twickenham crowd, writes Rugby World deputy editor Alan Pearey.
The inaugural Defence Rugby Cup is being held in Australia and New Zealand in October and on Saturday’s evidence the British Army should have a real shot at winning it – dependent on player availability of course.
It’s impossible to overstate the influence of their Fijian soldiers, who comprise half the team. Between them they scored all seven tries – three by right-wing Ben Seru, two by Apo Satala, one by left-wing Gus Qasevakatini and one by fly-half Jack Prasad. When the sun was out and the game was loose, it was like watching a sevens tournament in Suva.
“We have quite a few Fijians and Welshies and they like to throw the ball around,” says Army coach Andy Sanger. “The Navy tore into us at the start and we were a bit shellshocked, but at half-time I had a few choice words and reminded them what the Army jersey is about.”
Sanger identified three areas for improvement after last year’s shock defeat: contact, rugby conditioning and complacency. He was able to tick all three boxes. Despite the heroics of Navy openside Greg Barden, the Army forced several turnovers in the last hour as the force of their hits told.
One of these led to Prasad’s try which gave the Army a 12-10 half-time lead. Whereas last year the Navy finished the stronger, this time the Army’s second-half onslaught took its toll. And nor did the Army show any mercy as they chalked up their ninth win in the fixture in the past ten years.
They now have three days of conditioning tests in both July and August before heading Down Under to take on the best combined forces teams from around the world.
The Royal Navy will also be competing but outgoing coach Geraint Ashton Jones, who has now passed the reins to Andy Kellett, points out that the team is likely to be weaker – rugby takes a back seat to the players’ main role as armed forces personnel.
They were gutsy to the end and will be back to fight another day, but they’re going to need to keep the game more structured to have a chance in 2012.
Players of note:
British Army – Bola Boladau and Apo Satala were immense in the back row, and second-row Ben Hughes – winning his 32nd Army cap – keeps delivering. Jack Prasad was instrumental in several of the tries and on the wing Ben Seru had a field day against Scott Llewellyn, who was filling in for the injured Josh Drauniniu.
Royal Navy – Greg Barden was amazing at seven, and the locks, Stu McLaren and Marsh Cormack, were prominent before the Navy were worn down in the second half. The centre pairing of Dale Sleeman and Calum Macrea (the Navy’s try-scorer) combined well but like the team as a whole they were mainly on the back foot.