Professional clubs across England are well into their pre-season preparations for their respective Premiership, Championship and Premier 15s campaigns, and the Army Rugby Union will be well represented.
Pte Ratu ‘Siva’ Naulago (Yorks) took the Premiership by storm in his first season when he joined Bristol Bears from Hull FC, and was even talked about as a bolter selection for England. However his second campaign did not have anything like as much fluency, thanks to injury and suspension. His strike power was missed by Bristol, who did not hit the same heights as their first two seasons back in the top flight, and – bolstered by the addition of several international players – they will be looking to hit the ground running when they face Bath, Wasps, London Irish and Newcastle Falcons in September.
That trip to Kingston Park could possibly see an Army head-to-head on the wing, thanks to Rfn Vereimi Qorowale (Rifles) having put pen to paper with Newcastle earlier in the summer. Rfn Qorowale is more familiar with the Sevens circuit, but he has impressed Head Coach Dave Walder and his team, who have obviously seen potential they can work with. It has been a summer of change at Newcastle, who will be using the safety blanket of a season without relegation to begin to build for the future.
Image © Lee Crabb
Image © Cat Goryn
Both products of the Army 7s programme, Pte Ratu ‘Siva’ Naulago, YORKS and Rfn Vereimi Qorowale, RIFLES could go head-to-head for their clubs in the Premiership this season.
In the Championship Gnr Senitki Nayalo (7 Para RHA) will be one of the more senior players for Coventry, who have rung the changes at Butts Park Arena. A core of experience left the club at the end of last season, replaced by youngsters and BUCS University graduates who new Head Coach Alex Rae will believe can be the foundation of a bright future. Cov’s league campaign was underwhelming last term, but they were buoyed by an impressive Cup run in the spring, which culminated in their first appearance in a final since the 1970s.
Round 5 will be one to watch for Army Rugby supporters, which is when Coventry travel to London Scottish, who re-signed second rower Sgt Dan Lewis (RAMC) for 2022/23. Sgt Lewis joined up with the Exiles towards the end of last season, and combined with his performances for the Army, impressed Director of Rugby, Bryan Redpath, who described him as “a player who can make a real impact in the tight five, an area which will be key to our success this season.”
Meanwhile there will be a confirmed half-dozen Army Women in the Premier 15s going into the new season.
At Harlequins, SSgt Jade Mullen (AGC (SPS)) and Bdr Bethan Dainton (RA) have been joined as Army-qualified by Spr Lauren Brooks (RE). Spr Brooks has been at the Stoop since 2017/18 and was a starter in the team which beat Saracens to the title in 2021. The two teams also met in the 2022 semi-finals, but this time Saracens were triumphant on their way back to lifting the trophy.
Spr Brookes made her debut for the Army 7s team this summer.
Image © Lee Crabb
In the Midlands Lt Sally Stott (RAVC) will be hoping for a more consistent run of fixtures for Loughborough Lightning. Although she went on to win Player of the Match in the Army Navy match at Twickenham, an award she also received in the UKAF win over France in the first few weeks of the season, Lt Stott’s year was interrupted by sickness which ruled her out for a number of months. This meant that she also missed out on running out at Franklin’s Gardens following Loughborough’s partnership with Northampton Saints, an agreement which could see Lightning go from strength-to-strength and make a charge for the semi-finals.
Pte Courtney Pursglove (RLC) was another eye-catching player in the Inter-Services Championship, scoring two tries against the RAF and another three against the Royal Navy, which – along with her call-up for England Sevens training – has earned her a deal with Sale Sharks. Sale had a challenging season last time out, their only two wins coming against DMP, but they have made eight new signings along with Pte Pursglove, including three current internationals and two of England’s rising stars.
Pte Pursglove impressed during last seasons Inter Service competition.
Image © Army v Navy Match
A new face in the west country is LCpl Millie Williams (AGC ((RMP)), who has joined Gloucester-Hartpury. The fly half came off the bench at Twickenham and started at Kingsholm in the 2022 Inter-Services Championship, and could see more action at one of rugby’s iconic venues as Gloucester-Hartpury also look to move up the league away from what was a very congested mid-table battle with Loughborough and Wasps, the three teams covered by just one league point.
LCpl Williams’s AGC (RMP) colleague, Maj Chantelle Miller, is another new face in the Premier 15s, having agreed to play for DMP Durham Sharks. DMP survived a massive summer scare to overcome a shortfall in funding, which was rescued by a combination of a crowdfunder, sponsorship pledges and public support.
The Women’s season will have a different look to previous years, thanks to the Rugby World Cup in October and November. This means that the Premier 15s league season will not begin until the weekend of November 19th, with the preceding nine weeks including five rounds of Cup action – the league’s 10 teams dividing into two pools for a round-robin stage – and additional weeks for training purposes.
We will keep you up-to-date with how all our Army players get on during the course of the season!
Words © New Dogs, Old Tricks
Header and Featured Images – Alligin Photography © Cat Goryn