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With the dust still settling on the Community finals day at Aldershot, Chairman of Community Rugby, Maj Marc Wilding (REME), says that community rugby is still on an upward curve within the British Army, despite the challenges presented on the modern day service.

The eight teams presented a day of entertaining and competitive rugby. The tone was set in the Vase final, where the Royal Irish and Royal Welsh matched each other throughout the game.

Tied 12-all at the break, it took until the 70th minute for the next score, Royal Welsh scoring an unconverted try. But there was still time for a reply, and the Royal Irish went over between the sticks, making the conversion the match-winning score at 19-17.

5 Rifles edged the Tankard final 19-15 over 3 Para, while in the Plate final 3 Scots had to withstand a comeback from 22/26 Engineer Titans. 3 Scots had built up a 15-0 lead, only for the Titans to fight back to 15-12 before a late try sealed the win, 22-12 the final score.

“The day showed that there’s still desire to get out and play at Unit level, which is why we set these fixtures up and give people a chance of competition,” says Maj Wilding.

“Three of the four finals were hotly contested and going down to a single score.

“One of the things which shouldn’t be underestimated is the hard work done by Andy Bennett in making sure that Unit rugby is still driven and supported at Regimental HQs.  Jonny Atterton delivered the day superbly well and will deliver the Army Cup final in a similar manner in May.”

There were plenty of tries on an entertaining Community Finals day.

Images © Lee Crabb

The fourth game was the Quaich final, which was comfortably won by the Welsh Guards, 62-5 over Abbeywood. But even in this game Maj Wilding highlighted the contribution from the losing side.

“Abbeywood is a team mainly comprised of civil servants, but they play regular inter unit rugby, which allows other Army teams to get game time against them,” he adds. “It was great to see them at the finals again and I thanked them for what they do for Army rugby.

“Dan, their rugby officer, there’s a guy there who from minute 1 to minute 80 did everything he could to drive his team on against tough opponents. That selfless commitment to rugby values and Army values is exactly why we do this.”

The weather in Aldershot was a far cry from the inches of snow and freezing conditions which made the Corps Championship finals so challenging for teams and spectators alike. Nevertheless, the teams served up an entertaining day there, too, which Maj Wilding says reflects on the competitive nature of all three leagues.

“The end of the first season had all the drama in that any number of teams could have reached the Merit 1 final and any one of three of the teams could have gone down,” he says.

“The way the dice fell it was the Royal Artillery, but they responded well this term, having a good look at themselves and have bounced back strongly. They’ve worked on the Cannons, their development team, and they’re much more like a civilian club now in the way they are bringing new players through.

“So seeing that growth in the game is heartening. The Royal Engineers again showed why they’ve won the last couple of years. They play with a structure that all the players understand and are a complete team. They’ll no doubt be strong again next year.

“The Gunners and Signals game was a cracker, and it shows in the way that the leagues have been rebalanced that it gives healthy competition for all.

The Royal Artillery v the Royal Signals in the men’s Corps League 2 Final in a snowy Aldershot.

Image © Andrew Fosker

“Meanwhile the Air Corps have a good team, they’ve done really well to foster an esprit de Corps, and they will do well I think; if you put a lot of time and effort behind it – and they’ve got a strong admin team – then they can really establish themselves in Merit 2.”

However, the Corps Championship was not without its challenges in 2022/23, not least in Merit 3, where the Intelligence Corps were unable to fulfil any of their fixtures. Maj Wilding says that this reflects the nature of the work done by the present-day Army, but is also confident that the full competition will be in place for the start of the new season.

“In 2012 we had our largest number of community matches played while we were still heavily committed in Afghanistan,” he reflected. “These days we see smaller deployments which impact on large team sports like rugby. The Int Corps is impacted because they’ll have representation on every deployment we have.

“Not having the Corps Festival didn’t help, because that’s when Corps teams shake things out and understand they players they have, where they may have lost and where they may have gained new players who have come in over the summer.

“We will be trying to keep four teams in the league next season, and the Int Corps will be set up and ready to go next season, although there are other options as well. We’ll ensure that we’ll be maximising the sporting opportunity available to our soldiers, and that’s the challenge for us as administrators that we have to rise to.”

This also applies to the Women’s Corps Championship, which this year reached its climax at Aldershot on the same day as the Men’s trophies were played for.

“The proposal to have the season set out in the way it is was met favourably by the Corps,” commented Maj Wilding. “There are still some teething points and things we can improve on, such as how we at the ARU assist in the delivery of those games. And then each Corps team can reflect on how they do things as well.

“Women rugby players are a much more finite resource, and if you’re a good rugby player then you’re probably good at other sports as well and could get pulled in more directions than our male rugby players might. So we’d like to work that out so we don’t stretch ourselves too thin and then burn out our players.

“It would be fantastic if every Corps could have their own team, but numbers are the factor in that – some Corps are very large but don’t have that many females in them. We balanced the numbers of women in each Corps which saw us come to the five teams which we had.”

Tickets for the 2023 Inter-Services Championship are now on sale.

CLICK HERE for information about the Army v RAF at Kingsholm, Gloucester, on Saturday, April 15th.

CLICK HERE for information about Army Navy at Twickenham on Saturday, May 13th.

Words © New Dogs, Old Tricks

Header and featured image – Alligin Photography © Lee Crabb