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Outgoing Army Masters Head Coach Capt Mark Eastley was pleased to sign off in style as a 24-0 victory against the RAF Vultures ensured a runners-up finish in the Inter-Services Championship.

A narrow 21-17 loss to the Royal Navy Mariners the week before meant the Red Shirts’ monopoly on the title was ended for the first time since 2015, but three quick-fire tries in the second quarter gave the Army control at Kingsholm, Sgt Pauliasi Taura (RA), SSgt Nicky Lloyd (R Sigs) and Maj Sam Richardson (AGC (SPS)) the men to get the ball down.

With WO2 Chris Harris (R Welsh) adding two conversions it was 19-0 at the break, and despite the Air Force repeatedly threatening to come back, an outstanding defensive effort and late try from man-of-the-match WO2 Ben Fulton (RA) meant Eastley was able to end on a high.

He revealed: “We were licking our wounds from last week where we didn’t quite turn up to the races, and the Navy did a bit of a number on us.

“It hurt us a lot because we didn’t perform to the level we can, and against the RAF I’m pleased we put that right.

“To their credit they came out all guns blazing, and it took quite a while for us to get any kind of ascendancy, but well done to our guys because we avoided going back into the organised chaos of last week!

“We managed to keep our structure, put the phases together, and out patience showed in the end, despite the RAF continuing to come at us.”

Key to the victory was the three-try blitz midway through the second quarter, and Mark continued: “The pressure was there and eventually it just popped – they were probably tiring at that point and on a hot, sunny evening, maybe we were just that little bit fitter at that stage because we started to break their defensive line and get in behind them.

“We’re always dangerous when we do that.”

Leading 19-0 at half-time the Army were on the back foot for long parts during a hard-fought contest, and the Head Coach was pleased to keep a clean sheet.

He said: “Our defence in our own 22 and our line was good last week against the Navy, so we knew we had that and when the RAF were battering away, we knew we could repel it.

“It’s really pleasing to nil them, although late in the second half they started coming again and I thought they’d sneak one in.”

Star man Fulton led the way alongside try-scoring Lloyd, with Mark adding: “The centre partnership was great and they bossed it, running hard lines and getting in behind.

“Ben led a solid red wall and nothing was coming through – credit to him because when we were struggling up front he put his hand up to go in the back row, and he managed to poach a try.”

Having contributed a huge amount to Masters Rugby in the past decade, Mark is set to move on but was presented with a ceremonial cap to commemorate his efforts and he ended: “It’s massive and sort of beyond words.

“I leave the service in five weeks’ time, so this is kind of my last interaction with the squad and it was nice for the boys to play a good game; to get the cap is the cherry on top.

“Barring last week’s blip it’s been an amazing run and to be undefeated for nine years in the Inter-Services has been incredible.

“We’ve also been World Masters champions twice and it’s a very special crowd.

“We might be older gentleman, but despite being over 35 the guys can all still play expansive, exciting, fast rugby, and every year we’ve manged to raise the bar.

“It gets better and better, and as a player, coach, part of the management staff it’s been a great atmosphere and ethos.”

Words © Richard Ashton

All images – Alligin Photography © Army Rugby Union

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