The British Army Women travelled to Cherbourg in France to play the Marine Nationale Francais (MNF) on Saturday 8 October 2016. The game was part of the Cherbourg Hague Rugby Club 50th Anniversary and the French had pulled out all the stops to make it a day to remember.
After the Anthems and introductions in front of a full house at the Cherbourg Football Club, the game kicked off and immediately the Army were dominant, pushing hard into the French 22. After just 3 minutes the French gave away a penalty 5 yards out. The army scrum half, Capt Gemma Stonebridge-Smith was quickest to react, taking the quick tap and offloading to 2nd Row, Pte Ellie Gattlin who powered over for the score. A successful conversion by centre and skipper, Capt Gemma Rowland gave the Army an early lead, 0 – 7.
MNF struggled to cope with the powerful running of the Army Centres, Rowland and Cpl Lou Dodd and were once again defending in their 22 and struggling to clear their lines. The tackling was fierce and after turn overs by both sides, the French forced their way back to mid field, through their big pack keeping the ball tight and attacking the fringes. Although MNF had a period of sustained possession, their backs were unable to break the Army defence and threaten the Army 22 so kicked away the ball.
The Army rallied and once again forced their way into the French 22, launching a number of attacks through forwards and backs running hard, but the last pass went to ground on too many occasions. On 22 minutes the French infringed and the Army kicked to the corner. Gattlin, who was awarded player of the match, took the ball comfortably at 2 in the line out, to set up an unstoppable driving maul, allowing No8 Capt Alex Hardy to cross the white wash. The conversion was unsuccessful, 0 – 12.
5 minutes later the Army were once again in French territory. Gattlin broke through the initial line of defence at the breakdown and fed Hardy in space. Stopped just short, she was able to off load out of the tackle to prop, LCpl Sarah Batley who crashed over for the try. Rowland converted, 0 – 19.
The Army now truly had their tails up and from the kick off the forwards surged back into the French half with powerful running from prop and vice skipper, Sgt Bianca Dawson; blind side, Capt Erica (Kiwi) Mills and 2nd Row LCpl Heidi Silcox, who is just back from Operations,. A quick ruck released the backs, who moved the ball down the line, putting wing, Gnr Jess McAuley over in the corner. Conv by Rowland, 0 – 26.
After 35 minutes, Dodd running straight and hard, broke through the mid field defence only to be tackled just short of the line. A fantastic offload under pressure to Fly Half, Lt Kate Hancock in support allowed Hancock to score unchallenged. Conv Rowland, 0 – 33.
On the stroke of half time the Army won a line out allowing the backs to perform a strike move straight off the training paddock, to put wing Bdr Bethan Dainton over untouched for the try. Conv Rowland, 0 – 40.
The Army started the second half as they had finished the first, with strong running from both forwards and backs pushing the French defence back into their 22. On 43 minutes they rewarded when hooker, Sgt Rae Metters, winning her 25th Cap, crossed for the try. Conv by Hancock, 0 – 47.
The French had obviously had a motivational team talk at half time and after the early second half try, they rallied. A battle of attrition ensued, with the French keeping the ball tight and making bullocking runs with their big forwards. The Army defence held firm with aggressive tackling from each and every player. Neither team were willing to give an inch until the 57th minute, when the Army managed to suck in the French defence and spin the ball wide for wing, McAuley to score her second try. The conversion was unsuccessful, 0 – 52.
The MNF came back even stronger and advanced into the Army 22. From the 65th to the 75th minute they camped on the Army 5m line, throwing all they had into attempting to score. The attacks were relentless and were only matched by the Army defence. As is often the case when defending so close the line the Army penalty count went up, until Mills took a team yellow card. This was closely followed by a yellow card, for a dubious high tackle, for Sgt Nat Lewis, on the pitch as replacement prop. Even with only 13 on the pitch the Army line was unbreakable and they were able hold firm and clear their lines.
On 78 minutes the Army won their own midfield scrum, with only 6 forwards and provided the backs with quick ball. A dummy scissors move in the centre put Dainton in space, who showed her considerable pace to round the defence and score under the posts. Conv by Hancock, 0 – 59.
Form the restart, the impressive Gattlin fielded the ball and made good ground into the French half. She drew the defence and popped to McAuley in support. With the last line defence ahead, McAuley timed her pass to perfection, giving the ever present, open side flanker, Sgt Tara McGlade the opportunity to outpace the chasing defence and score the last try of the game. Conv by Hancock. Final score 0 – 64.
This match report seems to portray a one sided game, and in some ways it was, however the Marine Nationale Francais must be congratulated on their determination, effort and commitment. Against an Army side that was firing on all cylinders, playing some of their best rugby in memory, the French stuck to their task throughout the game and made the Army work for every score.
Congratulations to Capt Morag Paterson on winning her first Army Cap.
Special mention must go to Sgt Rae Metters on winning her 25th Cap. Metters has been a stalwart of Army Women’s Rugby and is still at the top of her game. There are many more caps to come for this talented and committed player.
The ARU(W) would like to thank the Marine Nationale Francais for hosting them so well and hope that they can return the hospitality in the future.