There is an intriguing match-up in the Corps Championship League 2 final on March 8th, where the Royal Artillery and Royal Signals will be 80 minutes away from joining Army Rugby’s elite.
The two teams have a hard act to follow, the 2022 final between the Royal Armoured Corps and Infantry giving supporters 80 minutes of competitive, fierce, lively and entertaining action which will live long in the memory of everyone who was there.
The Royal Artillery finished the league season with 6 bonus point wins from 6.
Image © Lee Crabb
The Gunners will be looking to cap off a season which has been made up of a perfect six bonus point wins from six, but for the Royal Signals there is an opportunity to write their own little bit of Corps history in what will be their first appearance in an Aldershot showpiece occasion.
The Gunners have shrugged off the disappointment of relegation 12 months ago to restructure and lay the foundations for sustainable success, according to Director of Rugby, Maj Stuart Bradley, work which has paid immediate dividend across the Corp’s set-up.
“We restructured the committee and support staff to ensure success both on and off the field,” he says. “It has led to the growth of five teams: 1st, Ladies, Sevens, Academy, and Masters, with three of these sides successfully reaching finals day.
“The first team is currently undefeated in Merit League 2. This can be attributed to four key areas. The first is the development of the player pathway from Regiment to Academy and onto the senior XV. Second has been the signing of a long-term sponsorship and investment in funds from CGI as a whole club primary sponsor, alongside individual team sponsors. Thirdly has been the commitment from our Units to prioritise sports, where they can, and release players despite an extremely busy FOE. And finally is the voluntary dedication put in by our team of three coaches and the club captain.
“In total 68 players have represented the first team across the six league fixtures with a final squad selection of 35 being taken forward to the Corps League final. We were also delighted to see 13 of these players be selected in the initial Senior Army Squad against the Oxbridge Varsity sides.
“It is an exciting time and we look forward to a challenging final against the Royal Signals and the prospect of bouncing straight back into Merit League 1.”
Club Captain and Team Manager, SSgt Thomas Chave, adds: “This season has been seen a period of rebuilding.
“From the disappointment of relegation in the final minutes of the final game last season we have aimed at building a long-term plan for the side. This has enabled us to unearth some new talent, establish a new core of senior players, and build a new culture with the players at its centre with the goal of promotion back to League 1 at the first attempt.
“It has been a good stepping stone season, a chance to develop the emerging talent all in preparation for us to go back in and be competitive in the top league”.
Given the Royal Artillery’s history within Army Rugby it is unsurprising that all eyes will be on them. But the Royal Signals are determined to push them all the way, according to head coach, Capt Jeffrey Howard.
“I’m looking forward to a fantastic game between two good sides who have shown that they can win it,” he says. “We surprised them twice this year in both games, even though we lost them narrowly, and if I’m honest I think we surprised ourselves a little bit.
“This is going to be a very close, competitive and hard fought game.”
Having had a home walkover against the Army Medical Services in Round 1, the Royal Signals opened their playing campaign with a daunting trip to Larkhill to play the Artillery. The game finished 31-30 in favour of the Gunners, but Capt Howard says that the performance put the Signals on the road to Aldershot.
Following a successful league season the Royal Signals are deservedly making their debut at the Corps Finals.
Image provided by RS RUFC
“I’ve been involved in Corps rugby for 10 years and that was the best game of rugby we’ve played against the Artillery for a long, long time. So myself and the coaches made sure that the players understood that. It may have been a one-point loss, and had some of the decisions during the game gone another way then we could have won. So to come away from Larkhill having scored 30 points against them was a massive plus.
“We took that into our next game against the Royal Armoured Corps, and that showed in the result. We tried to carry that through to show the players that we believed that they could do this.
“Building that belief is key, and this year we’ve had Amanda Wilding, a civilian sports psychologist, working with the players as well between games. That’s made a difference. She’s worked with them to build unity, and how we achieve goals, getting players thinking in a different way to achieve our collective objectives.
“She’s had a standalone session as part of our standard two-day preparation before each game, as well as talking one-on-one with players and coaches.”
Capt Howard also highlighted the contributions of Cpl Phil Kay and LCpl Josh Raqio in establishing and developing a positive culture in the playing group.
“Phil’s been with us for a number of years and Josh is one of our newer players, but both of them have been making sure that all the players have been striving towards our collective goals,” he says.
“As part of the senior player group they’re able to speak to the players on their level rather than it being me and the coaches speaking all the time. That helps with the togetherness we’re trying to build.
“Post-Covid we had to start again last season, so it was a really new, young squad. We had an aspiration of finishing third in the league last season and then second in the league this season.
“This year there have been the Royal Artillery, Royal Armoured Corps as well as ourselves as strong teams, so it’s been a case of targeting those games where we can be competitive and win. We targeted the Royal Armoured Corps as our closest competitors and then doing our best to score as many points as we can against the Royal Artillery.”
The clash between the Royal Artillery and Royal Signals kicks off in the Army Rugby Stadium in Aldershot at 1100hrs on Wednesday, March 8th. Entry is free and all are welcome.
Words © New Dogs, Old Tricks
Header and featured images – Alligin Photography © Lee Crabb