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Army V Australian Services Rugby Union (ASRU)

Thursday 24 May 2012

A cold and wet day more typical of Aldershot than Sydney was the setting for the ARUW’s second fixture of their Tour ‘Down Under’. Amid cries from the Aussies that we deliberately brought the weather with us, the Army Team took the field of Victoria Barracks (one of the premier Rugby pitches in Sydney when it is not raining) determined to claim the scalp of the ‘Colonial Settlers’.

The Aussies won the toss and opted to kick. Restarts had been a key area of weakness in the first fixture, but the hard work in training to improve this area of the game paid dividends and the restart was cleanly taken by Army No 7 (LCpl Jane Leonard). However, Army possession did not last long and a knock on (not helped by the atrocious conditions) led to an ASRU scrum on the halfway line. The Army fought hard to regain possession and some aggressive work by the Army forwards at the breakdown led to an Army ‘steal’. Army scrum half, (Cpl Laura Marsh) executed a highly effective box kick to take play up to the ASRU 22 meter line and the first line out of the match.

ASRU retained the ball at the line out but immense tackling from Army No 7 (LCpl Jane Leonard) led to a knock on by the ASRU centre and an Army scrum. A penalty to the Army followed and a quick ‘tap and go’ brought the first of many chances for the Army team to score. However it was not to be and great scramble defence by ASRU snaffled Army fullback (Lt Gemma Rowlands) 5 meters out. The pressure was lifted on ASRU but only momentarily. A strong ASRU scrum followed and they retained possession. The Army responded with characteristic aggression at the breakdown and forced ASRU into conceding a penalty.

This time the Army opted for touch and a quality kick took play just inside the ASRU 22 meter line. A poor line out was stolen by ASRU who immediately used the opportunity to attack the Army back line. Quick hands from the ASRU backs moved play up to the Army 10 meter line. The Army defended well and despite wave after wave of attack, the Aussies failed to make any tangible territorial gain. However, it was only a matter of time before the inevitable penalty was conceded by the Army. The Aussies opted for posts just outside the Army 22 meter line. The kick was unsuccessful and the Army immediately responded with an attack from deep inside their half.

The conditions continued to deteriorate and the Army worked tirelessly to retain possession up to halfway. The Army continued to pressure the Aussies and some excellent recycling and industry between Army winger (Capt Alex Coxan ) and full back (Lt Gemma Rowlands) took play up to the ASRU 22 meter line. The Army pack drove the ball towards the ASRU line and a nifty offload to Army winger (Cpl Titilia Bani) presented her with a prime opportunity to get points on the board for the Army. The try was converted by Army full back (Lt Gemma Rowlands) and against the run of play the Army took the lead 7 points to nil.

The restart was not taken cleanly by the Army and scrappy play led to an ASRU scrum on the Army 22 meter line. The scrum was good and a No 8 pick and go paid dividends for the Aussies when the Army conceded another penalty for failing to roll away. This was to become a regular occurrence for which the Army would pay heavily for later on in the game. The Aussies thankfully bereft of a quality kicker opted to tap and go but advantage returned to the Army when the Aussies conceded their own penalty for not ‘releasing the ball’ at the breakdown. The Army failed to make touch but an ASRU knock on took play to the halfway line with an Army scrum.

Good vision from the Army scrum half (Lt Gemma Stonebridge-Smith aka ‘Smudge’) led to a cross field kick, but the execution was slightly overcooked which enabled ASRU to regain possession. The Army defence was resolute but a brutal (slightly high) tackle from Army Skipper (Cpl Sarah Mitchelson) led to a penalty being awarded to the Aussies. The Aussies opted for the quick penalty but at the resulting breakdown disaster struck when the Aussie No 13 suffered a badly broken leg (later confirmed as a broken Tibia and Fibia).

Play resumed (once the casualty had been removed from the field) with an ASRU scrum. Both teams continued to struggle to control the ball in the horrendous conditions but efficient recycling by the Aussies took play past the Army 22 meter line. The Army defence once again stood tall and withstood the Aussie barrage. This defence was rewarded when the continual pressure exerted by the Army resulted in an Aussie forward pass and consequently an Army scrum. The resultant scrum was put under intense pressure by the Aussies, but Army legend, No 8 (Maj Kat Woods) managed to retain control of the ball and off load to fellow back row (LCpl Jane Leonard) who drove deep into the heart of the Aussie defence. The ball was recycled quickly and a highly effective Army kick led to an ASRU knock on from just inside the Aussie 22. However, the Army failed to capitalise as the Aussie’s responded with some fierce scrummaging of their own which led to a knock on by the Army at the back of their scrum. The Aussies desperate to get some points on the board once again attacked the Army half but their advance was halted when another penalty was conceded by ASRU for ‘over the top’. The referee spoke to both skippers and warned that any repeat infringements would force him to go ‘into his pocket’.

The Army kicked to touch on half way but the line out was not straight and ASRU opted to take a scrum. The scrum was good and ASRU advanced towards the Army 22 meter line. Despite some brave and decisive tackling, Army Hooker (Cpl Rae Metters) failed to ‘roll away’ from the tackled player sufficiently quickly for the referee who subsequently showed her a yellow card. The Army find themselves down to 14 women with 30 mins gone. ASRU, determined to make the most of this opportunity kicked for touch and took play just inside the Army 22 meter line. However, the pressure was immediately relieved on the Army when the Aussies knocked on at the resultant line out. This enableed the Army to clear their lines and consume some more precious seconds of the sin-binning. Throughout the remainder of the half the Aussies tried to ramp up the pressure onto the Army but the Army defensive line remained unbroken. Half time ensued. Army 7 – ASRU 0.

The second half witnessed the Army return to their full complement of players and determined to add to their lead. The conditions continued to conspire against both teams as the rain refused to let up. The Army kicked off but almost immediately conceded a penalty for a high tackle on the opposition second row. ASRU kicked for touch to secure a line out just inside the Army half. An over exuberant early lift from the Army awarded the Aussie’s a free kick but a knock on by ASRU immediately returned possession to the Army. The previously ‘perfect’ pitch now more akin to a duck pond, combined with the incessant rainfall and ensuing fatigue from what had already been a bruising physical encounter began to take its toll and both teams traded infringements within the middle of the park. Despite some good running from the Army open side (LCpl Jane Leonard) and centre (LCpl Aleisha McCormish), neither team could capitalise on their gains and for the Army Head Coach (WO2 ‘Deano’ Lewis) this was a clear signal of the need to get some fresh legs onto the park.

The substitutions gave a welcome boost to the heavy legs on the pitch and a great ‘steal’ from the Army No 10 (Lt Gemma Stonebridge-Smith) set Army centre (LCpl Aleisha McCormish) off on a tantalising 40 meter run which left the ASRU defence standing. Unfortunately the ball was lost in contact and resulted in an Australian scrum albeit deep inside the Aussie 22. Some excellent scrummaging from the Army forwards put the ASRU pack under severe pressure. The Aussies could not withstand and the Army ‘steal’ the ball. However, the Army, keen to put daylight between themselves and the Aussies lacked patience and subsequently concede a penalty which the Aussies kicked to touch. Another poor Aussie line out lead to the Army regaining possession and making significantly territorial gain, but scrappy play resulted in the ball being lost forward and once again another opportunity for the Army goes begging. As a result, ASRU were awarded a scrum 7 meters out from their own try line. The Army sensed the opportunity to spoil, and produced an excellent scrum to regain possession. ASRU defended bravely but could not weather the ‘Army’ storm and the Army replacement Prop (Cpl Bianca Vasey) scored a well worked try with 25 mins of the second half gone. The conversion was successful and took the score to Army 14 – ASRU 0. The try spelled the end of LCpl Jane Leonard’s game but she had done enough to subsequently be awarded ‘Player of the Match’.

With the Army 14 points clear, you may have thought that the Australians would have conceded defeat, but they continued to attack the Army line with renewed vigour. The restart was taken cleanly by the Army but subsequent ill-discipline at the breakdown led to an ASRU penalty. A quick penalty followed and it was only some highly effective covering defence by the Army winger (Cpl Titalia Bani) which prevented an ASRU try. This served as a stark warning to the Army of what would happen if they let down their guard. The Aussies launched another attack this time just 5 meters out. The Army under considerable pressure continued to defend as if their lives depended upon it and it paid dividends when the Aussies failed to find a way through. The Aussies attacked again and a try was seemingly inevitable but, the Army remained resolute and continued to hold their line. The Aussies eventually broke the line but the ball was held up and play returned for a 5 meter scrum. The Army pack dug deeper and were rewarded by turnover ball at the scrum. A well executed clearance kick finally relieved the pressure and play moved up to the Army 22 meter line.

The weather continued to play its part and both teams traded knock ons and penalties before some great hands and dazzling footwork by Army winger (Cpl Titalia Bani) and Army centre (Cpl Aleisha McCormish) threatened the ASRU line again. However, the ball was slightly overrun and ASRU turned over the ball at the breakdown. The Aussies continued to harry and harass the Army but they could not convert possession and pressure into points and it began to look like the Army had got the result ‘in the bag’. However, another penalty conceded by the Army was the final straw for the referee who subsequently sent Army full back (Lt Gemma Rowlands) to the sin-bin for failing to ‘roll away’.

With the Army down to 14 women and their kicker in the sin bin, the Aussies sensed an opportunity to punish the Army. They kicked deep into the Army half but another poorly executed lineout gave the Army an opportunity to relieve the pressure on themselves. An Army cross field kick gained territory but returned possession to the Aussies who once again attacked. The Army conceded another penalty but the Aussie’s inability to execute their line outs forced them to ‘tap and go’. Play moved to the Army 10 meter line, but the Aussies lost the ball in contact. Army Skipper (Cpl Sarah Mitchelson) drilled the ball into touch to secure a well deserved victory.

All in all a bruising encounter against a well drilled and physical Australian Combined Services Team in demanding and unforgiving conditions. With all due respect to the Aussies, the victory was hard fought and thoroughly well deserved by the Army Women who should be rightfully proud of their efforts.

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