Player of the Match Lt Sally Stott (RAVC) and team captain SSgt Jade Mullen (AGC (SPS)) were both quick to pay tribute to the way the Army Women players contributed to delivering the team’s processes and achieve the 2022 Inter-Services Championship title with a comprehensive win over the Royal Navy at Twickenham.
Against the RAF at Kingsholm in March the Army had begun positively, only to lose momentum in the middle third of the match before re-gathering themselves and secure the win.
At the home of England Rugby there was none of that, just a team which set out its stall from the first minute to the last, including scoring in the final minute of each half rather than take the easy option of kicking the ball dead.
Their approach was rewarded by 10 unanswered tries and SSgt Mullen was understandably all smiles.
“It was a phenomenal performance,” she said. “We stuck to our structures and the way we want to play. We played as one team, which is what we emphasised all week. We said at the start of the week that our only downfall was going to be us and losing how we wanted to play.
“We didn’t want to take our foot off the gas or be complacent. We knew that we’d potentially have a crowd stay to watch us and we wanted to showcase what women’s rugby is all about.”
“As happens in a lot of rugby games, against the RAF we did have a bit of a lull and we had to pull through that as a team,” added Lt Stott. “We worked out as a team how we rally after something like that, so when we came out at Twickenham we knew we could do it and what our processes would be to do it.
“But we didn’t need to. We hit that gear and kept going up.”
As well as her winner’s medal, Lt Stott was also clutching a bottle of Bollinger for her performance, which added to the same award being given after the UKAF win over France in September.
But she insisted that it could have gone to any of the 23 players who represented the Army on Saturday.
“There’s not a single person in a red shirt that didn’t deserve Player of the Match,” she said. “Smudge asked us to go out and do our job for our team, and that’s the good thing about this group. We’re not individuals or standout players. Everyone does the job for the shirt and that gets us over the line. Everyone went out today, stuck at their jobs, and you saw the result.”
Both SSgt Mullen and Lt Stott have experience in the Premier 15s and at representative level, the captain with Wales Sevens and the number eight with England Under-20.
But they both acknowledged that running out at Twickenham was special.
“I couldn’t imagine it, even though I have played at Twickenham in the BUCS Final before, Army Navy is a different kettle of fish,” said Lt Stott. “The atmosphere, getting clapped out by the Men’s team, the whole build-up of the week was just phenomenal.
“We’ve got a lot of players who are used to playing in front of crowds in the Premier 15s, albeit not at Twickenham. But we also have a lot of girls who don’t have that week in, week out, and that’s a huge ask for them to come out there and keep their composure to execute.
“They showed that Army efficiency under pressure and got the job done. The buzz lifted the team rather than overwhelming us.
“Every single person who we’d spoken to had said that they were staying. The crowd condensed into the lower tier and the noise on the pitch was phenomenal.”
“We’re so grateful for the opportunity, to the legends who played in the red shirt before us, and the current squad of 30, and we did this for everyone today,” added SSgt Mullen.
“Everyone from the first cap to the 25th cap played phenomenally. Me and Bethan [Dainton] wanted to build a culture, Gemma as Head Coach emphasised about staying tight as a unit and being uncomfortable with each other, because if you can do that then you can grow as players and maintain that team cohesion.”
SSgt Mullen also praised the resolve shown by the Royal Navy team, who despite not scoring did not let their heads drop.
“They kept on bringing it to us,” she said. “They brought the physicality and hit us hard, and they’re only going to improve. But we’re looking forward to that challenge next season!”
There is a final challenge of the season coming up for the red shirts with a trip to Cherbourg to play FRN, but for some of the players there is also the end of the Premier 15s campaign to navigate, and SSgt Mullen believes that more Army players should look at that option to develop their game.
“We’re encouraging the younger players to step up and look at playing in the Premier 15s,” she said. “If we can get that raw talent and make them better then we’re only going to have better players out there.”
Words © New Dogs, Old Tricks
All Images © Army v Navy Match