Army men and women win interservice rugby championships by Leut Kirsti Burtenshaw

After falling off their pedestal in 2014, the Army men’s rugby union team had a point to prove at this year’s Australian Services Rugby Championships (ASRC), held from May 17-23 at Ballymore Stadium in Queensland.
 
In last year’s final a determined Navy outfit battled it out to the dying seconds resulting in PO Jason Harrington crossing the line moments before the final whistle. The try effectively robbed the men in red of a double victory as Army women had already come up trumps earlier in the day.
 
The 2015 ASRC started well for Army. Both the men’s and women’s teams decisively disposed of Air Force in their opening matches, the women coming away with a 77-0 win. Army looked the stronger team from the onset, dominating field position and set plays.
 
Rookie player of the championships, Lt Danielle Cahill, stood out, dominating her opposite number and creating many of the chances for her teammates. Army men were not to be outdone and their skills, finesse and superior fitness were on display for the enthusiastic Wednesday afternoon crowd. Air Force fought gallantly, but by the second half Army had run away with the game and finished with 11 unanswered tries. The final score was 71-0. A couple of days off meant both Army teams could physically and mentally prepare for what would be a much greater challenge. “The first game saw us dust off the cobwebs and have a great hit out against Air Force,” Lt Cahill said. “You always have things to work on and we tried to do that in the days leading up to the second game.”
 
Although tradition dictates a 9-9 draw in the Army and Navy “Old Boys” match, the final game day did not start well for Army. The Navy Old Salts crossed the line more times than Army in a game filled with passion, fuelled by the location and a swelling crowd, as spectators arrived for the women’s and men’s clashes. By the time the women’s teams ran through their respective tunnels, the crowd had far surpassed the numbers to ever attend an ASRC.
 
The roar from the fans electrified the occasion as Army men and women win interservice rugby championships Navy and Army took their places for the starting kick off. With 19 ASRU and 3 Wallaroos internationally capped players, on paper Army looked the stronger team by far. They did not disappoint, producing arguably the strongest ever display of service women’s rugby at the tournament. Army outscored Navy, six tries to two. They had the match won 16 minutes into the second half when they crossed the line for their fifth try to lead 32-0. Navy scored two late tries to narrow the final result, but the damage had already been done. The telling match statistic was the number of times each team penetrated their attacking 22m zone. Army dominated that statistic, 11-2. Navy didn’t cross their attacking 22m line with the ball in hand until the 55-minute mark. The final score was 37-12, delivering Army the championship for the third year running.
 
While the Army women had been determined to continue their reign as champions, Army men were adamant they were going to win the crown back and came out firing for the final. Male player of the championships and Army men’s captain LCpl Luke Miles said there was no way they were going to repeat last year’s result. “We stepped it up to the max in the preparation for this match, the taste of 2014’s defeat feeding us to do everything better,” he said. Army opened the scoring four minutes into the match with a try to in-form centre, Pte Blake Hart, following excellent support play by Army’s highly mobile and effective back row. The try was converted by Army five eight, Cpl Craig Rogerson.
 
There was a sense in the crowd that this quick start might be a sign of things to come, but Navy had other ideas. The next 10 minutes saw both teams battle for possession and territory, and it was Navy who scored next, courtesy of good build-up play in their attacking 22m zone. Navy fullback, LS Daryl Seden, dismissed outside defenders and scored a well-deserved try. LS Damien House, Navy’s five eight, was successful with the conversion, levelling the score 7-7. Army gradually moved ahead 13-7 over the next 15 minutes, scoring two penalty goals, courtesy of Cpl Rogerson.
 
At the 31-minute mark, LCpl Miles scored an excellent backrower’s try under the posts, having received the ball on the 22m line from fellow backrower, Pte Siaka King, then evading two tackles. Cpl Rogerson made no mistake with the conversion and Army went into the half-time break leading 20-7. Just like the first, Army outscored Navy in the second half, three tries to two, courtesy of two superb long range raids. Interestingly, Navy had more penetrations into their attacking 22m zone, 6-4, and the penalty count also favoured them 9-4. At the end of the day, the main differences during the match appeared to be fitness and endurance, especially in the forwards, and tactical patience and skill – both in favour of Army.
 
The final score was 37-19. Army men’s co-coach Spr Isikeli Fukofuka said he was proud of the team. “They executed everything we talked about well,” he said. “Their aggression off the line and dogged determination at the breakdown helped us retain possession of the ball and our backs were able to spread it wide for quick counter attacks. “The whole team played well and that is reflective in the fact we had 20 players selected for the ASRU squad.”
 
The championship concluded with a post-event function, during which three ASRU lifetime achievement awards were presented. Former Army member, ASRU captain and coach, Murray Harley, was recognised for his long outstanding services to ASRU.
 
Both ASRU squads will now prepare for their next championships – the Australian Women’s 15s Nationals this month and the Men’s International Defence Rugby Competition in the UK in October.

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