Whilst the Hadron Collider in Switzerland is attempting to disprove the BIG BANG theory the Royal Regiment of Artillery ensured it would never go quietly. Indeed, winning both the Premiership Cup and Shield finals in the warmth of the Aldershot sun the Gunners were able to claim yet another sort of hi-water mark to add to their fine record over the past thirty years.
To quadruple the Gunner whammy, the prizes were presented by the Chairman of Army Rugby Union Maj Gen Will Bramble (late RA) and the day was organized by Lt Col James Cook RA—hardly a Sapper in sight !!
7 (PARA) Regt 32pts—17 RMA Sandhurst
A cracking Shield final gave the Sandhurst cadets an early taste of the practicalities of Army Cup rugby and heralded the return of the Para Gunners to the top flight.
The atmosphere around the Army Rugby Stadium was sparky and for good measure many of the Para’s ‘old and bold’ from the pre-professional 1990s era returned to cheer their successors to victory.
That is –all except one—Lee Soper who at 37 years of age had a foot in the bar and a foot on the park. From the whistle ‘Sopes’ went to the front to show his players what Cup victory would take—and doubly when they were points adrift.
He was a giant in the Army and Combined Services sides of the 1990s and will always be remembered, by those old enough, for that 80th minute line-out steal of a Navy ball on the Army line. And he was up to his tricks again—old head and broad shoulders with legs and elbows pumping. A ‘rock’ is an overworked cliché but he provided the base for the Gunners to run-which they did to great effect
Lock Luke Bellinger was omni-present in the tight corners and the loose whilst Jamie Curtis at No9 was patient and accurate and fearlessly took on the Sandhurst forwards in a very close quarter battle.
Army centre Conor O’Reilly scored a fine try. Prop Lloyd Hazelman ran in the cheekiest of tries as he surged through the ruck unscathed whilst Fiji Ben Turagnaivalu scored a third. There was a fourth but the following morning no one could remember who, what or even where!
The Academy were a confident unit with much talent –but were a little too much school / university in style. Young heads with former Army scrum half Gareth Slade Jones at scrum half played an expansive game but could not supress the cussed grunt and grind of the gnarled men in black who wore their wings on their shirts—as if they needed reminding!
Against such blood and thunder Academy skipper Sam Richardson at No8 rallied his pack to huge efforts, particularly from the front row but the Gunner’s tackling was solid, ball was turned over and Nayalo at No8 was allowed to sprint into open space.
The Sponser chose Fred Vunivesilevu as Man of the Match whereas the Gunners voted try scorer Ben Turagnaivalu as Top Man. Easy for a Welshman who thinks he’s a Scot to get the names mixed up!
STORMERS EDGE CUP THRILLER
12 Regiment RA 27 Pts—17 Royal Welsh
This was a hard Army Cup final where the tackling was ‘never-say-die’ and empty tanks were drained again and again until the very last play of the match.
In a contest that swung to-and-fro, the result remained in doubt until flanker Ben Naiyaga intercepted a last ditch attempt by the Welsh to force the ball over the line. After 80m Naiyaga ran behind the posts for Owain Davies to convert. 27 pts-17 and match over.
Despite a ten minute breather in the first half, and R&R during the interval, skipper Kenny Dowding sank to his knees.
This was a huge contest. A repeat of the 2014 final and a grudge match without the grudge.
Both sides attacked with flair and individual players tackled for the other fourteen men on their team. Clearly both sides had done their homework and lined up the likely ball carriers. Tackling was on target, a tad short of brutal and even, on occasion, audible.
At half time the Welsh led by two tries to one and 12pts–10. The Gunner’s first came from bish-bosh by tight head Dowding which kept them in touch on the score board.
The second, from flanker Alan Pugh at the start of the last quarter, gave the Artillery a 20pts–17 lead. Anything could happen –and it did. Not very pretty but tense and certainly very exciting.
The Welsh created periods of dominance where they rocked the Gunners backward. Chris Budgen came on at prop to some effect in the tight and was invariably on hand for a thundering carry. Nearer to the line –but never quite over. Flanker Will Jones towered at the line-out and presented bags of good ball. The backs ran strongly up to the point where they crashed into the heavy defensive bombardment and then the pendulum swung back to the Gunners.
Such Welsh pressure during the final ten minutes led them to play a bit of an extravaganza– Sevens style. Gunner No7 Ben Naiyanga, not unaccustomed to reading the abbreviated game pounced, hared to the line for the try that sealed victory. Owain Davies converted. Job done.
First time out for the Stormers, full back Harry Whitington fully justified his selection but it was Owain Davies, Gunner No10, who had the triple distinction of ten minutes warming the naughty bench, 12 points for fine kicking and the accolade of Man of the Match.