The fixture against New York City RFC Women, the 3 times All American Champions, was played in South West Manhattan, a stone’s throw from Ground Zero with the most amazing backdrop of the Manhattan skyline. With a 20:45 kick off time, the ARU(W) Squad had been able to relax during the day and were in high spirits going into the game.
Played on a “thin” 3G pitch, the pace promised to be fast and furious, and from the kick off this proved to be the case. Receiving the ball, the Army forwards set up a couple of solid breakdowns for Welsh International, Capt Gemma Rowland at fly half to release the backs. Capt Chantelle Miller, also a Welsh International, playing 13 hit a great line at pace, breaking the first up NYC tackles and then used her considerable pace and evasive running to score from 40 metres under the posts. The extras were added by Lt Kate Hancock to make the score 0 – 7 in the first minute.
If only the rest of the game was to be this easy. The NYC defence had been caught napping, and that was not going to happen again. A brutal exchange between the two sets of forwards ensued, with Sgt Bee Dawson, Lt Fran Athawes and Capt Erica Mills consistently making powering runs into the NYC defence.
On the 10 minute mark, after a concerted period of NYC pressure, the Army won a scrum against the head on their own 22. Capt Alex Hardy, playing 8, reacted quickly and stole yards up the blindside before offloading to full back Hancock, who timed her pass to perfection to wing Sgt Dani Phan who was in space. She put on the after burners, only to be chased down yards short of the try line. The Army support arrived quickly providing a great platform for the backs to move the ball to the opposite wing for Chantelle Miller to go over in the corner. 0 – 12.
The grinding battle in the midfield continued, with neither side giving up yards without a fight, but the Army were starting to dominate the contact area. After 21 minutes of play the Army were able to create sufficient pressure to put England International Prop, Sgt Bianca Dawson into space and there was no stopping her crossing for another Army Try. 0 – 17
The Army were now definitely in the ascendancy and after the home side gave away a free kick in their own 22, Scrum Half, Cpl Bev Gilbert took a quick tap and fed Dawson 5m out, with the inevitable result. Hancock converted the try. 0 – 24
The Army forwards poured on the pressure, with impressive running with ball in hand from Pte Ellie Gattlin, Cpl Nat Lewis, LCpl Sarah Batley and Hardy. This all led to space for the backs who were able to create the overlap, once again giving Phan the opportunity to demonstrate her pace, only to be forced into touch deep in the NYC 22. The Army challenged the line out and took the NYC ball. Gattlin powered to the line from 10m supported all the way by the Army pack. 0 – 29.
The half time whistle came as a relief in the humid conditions. During the half time team talk Army Head Coach, Capt Glyn Barraclough, asked only two things of his players: “Keep playing as you are and keep the opposition score at zero”. A tough ask against a committed and determined NYC team, who had been unlucky on occasions in the first half, not to make more of the opportunities they did create.
The Army took to the pitch in the second half after making wholesale changes. The depth of the squad meant that this in no way weakened the side.
From the kick off it was apparent that NYC had been geed up during their half time team talk as they came out all guns blazing playing 100mph rugby and making some in roads into Army territory. Their big back row, led by the No8 forced the Army to make tackle after tackle, with skipper Cpl Jane Leonard leading from the front. Her individual tackle count was immense and truly inspirational to her team. NYC did make ground and were looking dangerous attacking towards the Army 22, when Batley made a superb tackle and simultaneously managed to rip the ball from her opponent and so halted NYC in their tracks.
The home side were not disheartened and came again and again at the solid Army defence, but to no avail. The aggression and commitment of the Army’s resistance pushed the hosts back into their own 22. Offensive defence at its best. Another Army turnover gave the backs the opportunity to go wide for what looked like a certain score, only to be foiled by an unfortunate fumble in midfield.
The intensity and discipline of the Army kept NYC camped in their own half for the next 15 mins.
On the 25 minute mark a blistering break by Cpl Caz Roberts saw her through to the line only to be held up.
The Army seemed over eager to capitalise on their first half dominance and made too many unforced errors in attack. The endless pressure on pressure finally brought dividends for the Army with Rowland seeing the space out wide and throwing a long miss pass to Cpl Jade Mullen on the wing. She had the speed and strength to beat her opposite number and go over in the corner. 0 – 34.
NY playing all the way to the whistle created some good opportunities only to be met by huge tackles, which had been the pattern throughout the game.
One such tackle led to a turn over allowing Roberts to break the line and feed Welsh International wing, Bdr Bethan Dainton who stepped her winger and showed her pace for an unchallenged touch down. Rowland converted with the last kick of the game making the final result NYC 0 – ARU(W) 41.
After two games and two wins on the tour, against opposition with completely different styles of play, the Army Women have adapted and evolved to meet the differing challenges. Although score lines may indicate easy wins, this has not been the case. Every point and every yard has had to be worked for against enthusiastic, determined and well drilled opposition. The nest fixture against the All American Collegiate All Stars (USA U23s) on Sat 4 Jun will undoubtedly prove to be the hardest encounter to date; but make no mistake the Army Women are up for this challenge.