Army Masters head coach Capt Mark Eastley (RE) believes his side are among the best Over-35s teams in the country after they beat the Navy Mariners 38-16 to win the Inter-Services Championship with a fine five-try victory at Rosslyn Park.
Leading 14-6 at the interval following converted scores from Maj Matthew Morgan (RAMC) and LSgt Iggy Putty (WG), the Red Shirts pulled away in the second half with SSgt David Best (RAPTC), SSgt Vasa Bai (RAMC) and Sgt Peceli Nacavamuto (RE) also touching down, replacement fly-half WO2 Chris Harris (R Welsh) adding three conversions and a penalty.
And Capt Eastley said: “I’m ecstatic – the boys pulled it out the bag because we knew the Mariners would be tough opposition.
“The Navy skipper (Paul Saberton) is a good mate of mine and he said before the game he thought it was one of their best sides for years.
“They came to play and we had to produce one of our best games of the season to beat them.
“The first half was tight and could have swung either way, but the resilience of the guys to keep to task shone through in the end.”
He continued: “We planned a tactical change with our fly-half, a centre and wing which was due to happen five minutes into the second half to just change things up and give the Navy some new problems.
“We had to bring Chris (Harris) on slightly earlier because of Rob’s injury, but he made an impact and the same with the props, when (SSgt) Joe (Baker, RLC) and (Maj) Chris (Clifford) came on they made massive inroads.
“Saying that I couldn’t have asked any more of the starting props who were running on fumes by the end.”
A physical affair saw the Masters receive four yellow cards, while their opponents also had one along with the red-carding of Oliver James midway through the third quarter.
Reflecting on a fiery affair, the head coach explained: “It’s not easy to play against 14 men, and we were down to 13 ourselves at one point so we had our own things to deal with.
“It was a massive effort. Discipline is something we keep talking about, generally we get caught with the tackle heights, so we’ve got some massive work-ons for next season with the new laws coming in.
“But this was the best performance I’ve seen this season and speaking with the skipper a few weeks ago we said we owed a full game.
“We’ve played great at times, but we wanted to link it all together and they did that superbly.
“The style of play was in our favour on a nice wide 4G pitch and allowed us to run some of their big boys around the park to tire them out.”
The Friday night triumph capped a wonderful season for the Masters, who picked up seven wins from their eight games – the only defeat coming to a young Army Scotland side – with Eastley adding: “Everyone think’s Over-35s rugby is ‘champagne rugby’, but it’s not, it’s hard, physical and I think we proved that again, along with the skill sets of the individuals.
“I’d argue we are the best Over 35s team in the country, and next year we’ll be looking to set things up where we can be posed even more questions.
“We’ve played some tough teams in Camberley and North Petherton, both Level Five clubs, and we won both of those.
“Army Scotland’s youth, enthusiasm and energy was absolutely outstanding and they put us under huge pressure, but I believe it gave us the mental resilience to go on.
“The physicality of the game was something we could build on, and also reminded us we can perform in tough games.”
Capt Eastley only came into his current role at the start of the campaign, but he shared his final thoughts to praise those around him as he ended: “I can only give the guys a skillset, and they have to go out and deliver on the pitch.
“I want to thank everyone whose been involved with the Masters this season, it’s been an honour and a privilege to be head coach.
“It’s great to be champions but we now move onto 2024 to try and make it even better.”
Words © Richard Ashton / New Dogs, Old Tricks
Images – Alligin Photography © Lee Crabb