The Army Women were defeated by the touring Australian Services 13pts-10 in a very exciting and ‘nearly’ match at Aldershot. It started as ‘one-way’ Green and Gold traffic but in fourth quarter the tourists were listening intently for the whistle’ as the Army livened things up.
The Aussies knew their rugby and were cream smooth in wintery conditions. They played creatively from front to back, well -rehearsed patterns ‘worked’, sometimes in spectacular fashion, to the appreciation of a small but noisy crowd.
Attacking Aussie drives were interspersed with strikes down the centre closely supported by an athletic back row. Against such competent rugby the Army tackling was so immense that by the start of the fourth quarter there was a hint the Aussies had shown their repertoire and might be running out of steam and ideas.
The Army scrum dominated from the whistle, exerted tactical pressure throughout and had the Aussies on the trundle. Kat Watkins (nee Woods), possibly playing her best game in a red shirt, was enormous at tight head, and supported by lock Rosie Haigh and the dynamic Shelley-Ann Magic they created the platform for attack—and more importantly points to counter two early Aussie tries.
Also newcomer Stacey Gomes and Bianca Vasey looked complete in the front row.
Gemma Stonebridge-Smith at scrum half was quick and accurate but in crucial territorial positions and at vital moments the Army failed to trigger their potent backs. The 10-12 link either over-elaborated or simply broke down.
Centres Dani Phan and skipper Sarah Mitchelson were left with ‘what might have been’ as the Aussie defence regrouped with speed. Too frequently the ball was directed back into the Aussie cover with the wings gasping for a chance to go wide. The support was there as the back row threw themselves into the game.
Indeed great work up front did produce opportunities but the door for Army progress was seldom left more than ‘half open’ and the Reds needed three bites of the cherry to overcome a 13 point deficit. Two first class tries by Dani Phan, at a crucial point to keep the Army in the hunt, and skipper Sarah Mitchelson showed the art of the possible.
This was a performance of great character at the very start of the Army season. The ‘just returned from ops’ card has frequently been played across the spectrum of Army sport and to an extent this was a fair comment. There was indeed a ‘rustiness’ about the Army and on another night in February the score might have been different. New coach Capt Glyn Barraclough RLC was clearly content with the potential.
Well played the Aussies who have produced a clean sweep in their Service matches. They now move to Caerphilly to meet the Combined Services in a Remembrance Day match on 7 Nov. This will give a number of the Army players an opportunity to redress the balance.