Mattie Stewart won 34 caps for Scotland but he’ll tell you that the physicality of the annual Army-Navy game matches any International.
On Saturday the two teams go hammer and tongs at Twickenham as the Army look to recapture the Babcock Trophy, which they let slip last year when Gaz Evans, the Plymouth hooker, went over in the final minutes. Evans is at No 8 this time to accommodate Ben Priddey.
The form guide is intriguing because while the Navy beat the RAF 52-3, the Army beat them 52-0. Almost as if the Army had to go one better!
It’s a bit superficial but those results suggest another nail-biter for a crowd that could top 60,000, even with Quins playing across the road at the same time. If you’re not in Twickenham to watch rugby, best give the area a wide berth.
As the son of a former Royal Navy player, there’s no doubt where my loyalty lies. So I hope I’m wrong when I predict an Army victory. One of the Navy’s star turns is Josh Drauniniu, of London Welsh and ex-England Sevens, but he’ll be missing after suffering a recent finger injury. He’ll be involved in a coaching capacity but Navy coach Lt Cdr Geraint Ashton Jones said: “We’re losing a player who everyone involved with Service rugby respects and a player who can turn a match.”
The Army have a few big guns, including a Test fly-half in Jack Prasad. Fellow Fiji international Apo Satala, who has been playing for Taunton this season after a move from Gloucester to Sale fell through, will wear seven opposite the Navy’s England Sevens player Greg Barden. Chris Budgen is still going strong at tighthead and I see that Gerhard Wessells is on the bench – he was the star of last year’s National Sevens Series. I was told he would be on deployment.
The Army had won eight Army-Navys in a row before losing their crown last year and I reckon their motivation to ‘right the wrongs’ of 2010 will just be enough. But not betting on it!