The opening game of the ARU(W) USA Tour took place at Severna Park, Annapolis on Sunday 29 May. The opposition is a side made up of players selected from all the East Coast USA Clubs and so was definitely going to be a challenging game. Weather conditions were very good, if not also very hot. It was a great day for open flowing rugby.
It was the USA Team that took advantage in the opening minutes, maintaining possession with good “Go Forward” and camping themselves in the Army half. Solid Army defence and good discipline held the Capital attack and forced a pressure relieving penalty. In the opposition half the Army were pressured into mistakes, giving possession back to the hosts and having to defend again. This was the pattern for the first half hour of the game: The USA team attacking and the Army holding firm in defence and protecting the try line as if lives depended on it.
With energy levels dropping in the searing heat of Battle, the Army discipline lapsed twice, giving away two kickable penalties and a “Team” yellow card. Therefore, on 30 minutes the USA were up by 6 and the Army were down to 14.
This was the wake up call the Army needed. They had defended like demons and it was now time to attack. With ball in hand both forwards and backs produced impressive inroads into enemy territory; out flanking the Capital defence twice before half time. First was down the right flank, with Cpl Jade Mullen going in at the corner. This was followed by an attack down the left with Mullen coming off her right wing to support Bdr Bethan Dainton on the other side of the field, which created the opportunity to drive Sgt Sarah Mitchelson over to score in the corner. Half time: 6 – 10.
In extreme heat, the half time whistle was well received. With the team rehydrated and energy levels boosted the Army were keen to get back on the field and continue as the first half had ended.
It was the USA team that came out of the blocks harder, pressuring the Army and opening up the midfield to score under the posts. 13 – 10. The call from the Army Coach, Capt Glyn Barraclough, was to “Re-Org and manage the chaos”. After a particularly solid set piece, the forwards provided the platform for the backs to strike. Capt Gemma Rowland at fly-half opened up the USA defence to put Cpl Caz Roberts through the midfield and she raced 40m to cross the line, fending off the Capital 15 on route. A successful conversion by Rowland made it 13 – 17.
The Army were now starting to dominate, even though they had to work hard for every yard against a committed and effective USA defence. On 49 minutes, the backs took advantage of good ruck ball and with Full Back, Lt Kate Hancock joining the line and creating the overlap. Hancock was able to put Mullen into space, who after stepping two defenders went over for her second. 13 – 22.
The Capital side fought back and were rewarded with a penalty. 16 – 22.
The USA team were now desperate to get back into the game and as often happens when playing “catch up rugby” things go wrong. On 59 mins the ball was dropped by the USA Centres in midfield on the half way line. It was Mitchelson, who was quickest to react, fly hacking the ball down field, chasing and gathering her own kick before racing the final 30m to score under the posts. Once again Rowland added the extras. 16 – 29.
With 15 minutes left on the clock Hancock kicked through from deep and the foot race was on between Gnr Jess McAuley and her opposite number. McAuley showed the better pace and was able to gather the ball and offload to the ubiquitous Cpl Jane Leonard who scored in the corner. Once again the conversion was successful. 16 – 36.
The hosts were not done yet, and fought back to add a second try making it 21 – 36 with 10 minutes to play. The last word was to go to the Army, when on 74 minutes Rowland took the ball down the short side to release replacement wing, Sgt Dani Phan, who used her considerable pace, stepped inside and scored under the posts. Rowland finished what she had started, adding the conversion making the score 21 – 43, which is how the match ended.
This had been a very tough first fixture on tour, against a quality opposition. A number of players were heard to say that it was one of the most physical games they had ever played in. Capital RFC were a dogged team, who fought to the very end. They also proved to be great 3rd half hosts, but what goes on tour………..