Army Women break Navy Women 37 to 12

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Army won the match, 37 – 12, retaining the Commodore Mick Dunn, RAN Trophy, awarded to the champion women’s team. This is the third year in a row Army has won the title.

It was always going to be a tall order for Navy to upset Army, especially after their comprehensive victory over Air Force, 77 – 0, compared with Navy’s 15 – 0 win over Air Force. It’s fair to say Army had the odds stacked in their favour – former Wallaroos player (Caroline Vakalahi) coaching, two Wallaroos in their forward pack (Mollie Gray and Alisha Hewett), a player of the match performance against Air Force by rookie prop, Danielle Cahill, a back line brimming with cohesion and confidence, and their captain and openside flanker, Hayley Robinson, leading from the front.

Last year’s big loss to Army, 0 – 55, would have still been fresh in Navy’s mind. No doubt, Navy Coach, Amanda Folkes, and her team fostered a strong desire to make amends for last year, sending a clear message to Army they would not be intimidated by their success in recent years. Saluluelani Gray, Navy centre, has caused plenty of trouble for Army in the past, and was the winner of the Championship’s Best Women’s Player in 2011. She was also player of the match against Air Force, this year. Ashleigh Payne, Navy no.8, caused all sorts of grief for Air Force during last Sunday’s match, and then there’s Navy’s veteran halfback, Nikki Palmer, who is always full of fight. Those who were at the 2011 tournament may remember her try late in the match against Army, which essentially sealed victory for the combined Navy/Air Force team, that year.

So, the stage was set for a ding-dong battle this year, but unfortunately for Navy, that’s not how it panned out. 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. To their credit, the two times they did cross the 22m line, they scored tries. Saluleulani Gray’s try late in the match, where she received the ball just on the 22m zone and evaded four tackle attempts on her way to the goal line, reinforced her potency, but she simply did not enjoy the same amount of possession as the Air Force game. Army also dominated the penalty count, 11 – 5.

Today, Army was simply too good. Some experienced spectators believed this year’s Army team was the slickest women’s team they have seen since the women’s championship commenced in 1997. The fact that Army did not tally up a record winning margin is testament to Navy’s grit. They may have been outscored today, but Navy was not entirely outclassed. They demonstrated good aggression and a solid defensive structure for many parts of the match. Back to Army’s performance, they were confident, bold, cohesive, and very well structured. They threw the ball around with flair, skill and precision, in tight and out wide, and consistently gained plenty of good yards. The investment made by Army Rugby in recent years, through its Inter Brigade Competition, is well and truly shining through.

Army no.8, Mollie Gray, had a blinder. Her dominance was plain for all to see. She scored a try, had a hand in other tries, and was ruthless in and around the tight contest, charging forward with the ball, and defending. ASRU coaching staff deservedly selected Mollie as the player of the match. She was followed closely by Army rookie prop, Danielle Cahill, who delivered another strong performance. She has really impressed the ASRU coaching staff during this tournament, with her skill, mobility and influence.

Contender for ‘almost’ best conversion of the tournament was an attempt from the sideline during the second half, by Army five eight, Lucy Lockhart. It was a cracker of a kick, but hit the crossbar, bounced up, and fell forward of, not over the bar.

Contender for try of the tournament was delivered by Army at the 26 minute mark of the second half. It commenced from a ruck on the left hand side of the field, about 10m out from Army’s attacking 22m zone. The ball was thrown wide by the Army backline, passing through four sets of hands to Army fullback, Courtney Holmwood, who received the ball mid field, she spied a defensive vulnerability on Navy’s outside flank, kicked the ball with surgical precision to open space inside Army’s attacking 22m zone, where it was scooped up by Army winger, Kelly O’Leary, who then ran 15m to score, untouched. The crowd roared with delight.

Today’s match was the most enjoyable game of women’s rugby this author has watched, thanks to the growth, skill, commitment and camaraderie displayed both both teams. Well done to Army and Navy.

Army – Kelly O’Leary, wing (2 tries); Alisha Hewett, lock (1 try); Mollie Gray, no. 8 (1 try); Laura Fletcher, wing (1 try); Courtney Kerr, centre (1 try); Lucy Lockhart, five eight (2 conversions, 1 penalty goal).
Navy – Renae Woodward, lock (1 try); Saluleulanei Gray, centre (1 try); Vika Pinomi (1 conversion).

Best player points:
Mollie Gray, Army no.8 (3); Danielle Cahill, Army prop (2); Saluleulani Gray, Navy centre (1)

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