Fresh from Varsity success, Oxford University provided a stern test for a revamped Army XV that featured only five players with Red jersey experience. On a gusty wet night both teams attempted an open game. Mistakes were inevitable but none proved catastrophic.
The key to the Army win was utter dominance in the scrum and at one stage, with a player in the bin, a seven man unit shunted the Students to the shadow of their own posts – at the double.
Under 23 hooker Peter Austin looked comfortable twixt Chris Budgen and Warren Ross Allen, who was almost back to his very best. Lock Dave Bates, after a period on ‘ops’, had a massive presence at the line-out. Ronan Bolger, reinvigorated via a strong Cup run with 17P&M, spread a drop of ‘Irish’ around the park.
The Students opened brightly with the wind and tide, moved the ball well against good tackling and were rewarded when the Army close defence failed to spot a training ground ploy closein.
Before half time winger Rob Bishop took his chance to impress with extreme pace and ball control as he ‘foot-rushed’ to under the posts. James Dixon converted to make it 7 pts apiece. The Army scrum must have given the Blues much to think about going into the dressing room.
In the second period the back row gelled with Chris Mundy, Makku Koroiyadi and new man Rob Lennox getting into the face of the Oxford movers. Mistakes followed pressure and with the Army mentally on the front foot Tom Chennell and James Dixon, switched from full back to No10, turned the tide.
Whilst the conditions remained very ‘iffy’ the Army chose to work the ball off the back of the scrum. Koroiyadi put in a trade mark performance for a Fiji international and Lennox drove hard and low to soak up the Student’s defence.
Dixon, confronting a flagging Blues’ defence, looked dangerous as he brought centres Tinny Hiscock and Sami Raloka into play. It was however an alert Ray Bishop who grabbed his second of the night.
Dixon failed from far out but slotted two penalties to seal victory 18pts—7.
It’s not possible to talk about a Man of the Match without putting Chris Budgen firmly in the frame for his role as skipper, productivity at tight head and in the loose. Chris Mundy at No7 and Dave Bates deserve acclaim but for my money Ronan Bolger and Rob Lennox, in his first game in a Red’s shirt, certainly proved a point. The others will get an opportunity in the season.
Coach Axel Rees, a man of not many words, smiled his contentment. Two tries to one and a pile of positives was enough.