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Every four years the best International Defence Force rugby teams come together for the International Defence Rugby Cup. The traditional host nation is the same as that for the Rugby World Cup, which means that the UK Armed Forces squad has made the short trip to Brittany, France.

Maj William Reeve (RGR) is no stranger to the UKAF purple. Likewise he is familiar with international competition thanks to his Sevens and 15s caps earned with Kenya. However this is his first IDRC, and he is taking us inside the camp during the tournament.

“It means a huge amount to me,” he says. “It’s a massive sense of pride to wear the badge and represent the UK Armed Forces. It also means a huge amount as an individual and as a player to be selected for a squad which is ultimately the pinnacle of service rugby.

“There’s no such thing as a standard UKAF camp. We’re either prepping for a Remembrance Day fixture, which of course comes with its own uniqueness, likewise for an Armed Forces Day game. The biggest difference of course is the length and nature of the tournament. There’s a lot of importance placed on recovery and growth, and peaking at the right time, whereas in the one-game camps there’s much more pressure to get it right straight away.”

This week saw the squad move their preparations to St Malo, join the 11 other participating teams at the opening ceremony, before taking on Tonga in the opening clash on Saturday afternoon.

Opening ceremonies may be the only time when all of the teams see each other in the flesh, but it also posed unique challenges to the representatives from the three Services who have come together under the UKAF banner.

“The opening ceremony was great,” Maj Reeve comments. “The emotions didn’t run too high – frankly it was too hot – and we were worried too much about whether it was Army, RAF or Navy drill standards! And as someone from the Light Infantry I march at a different pace to them all!

“But of course it was great to meet a few other players and teams, especially the Tongans, as we not only faced them in our opening game but I have a big Tongan friendship group from my civilian club in the UK who enjoyed the connection.”

Then came the match against Tonga, which could not have gone much better for UKAF. Seven tries and a 43-14 win speaks for itself, as did the way UKAF mixed and matched their attacking play between forwards and backs.

“The Tongan match was a great way to open our campaign,” says Maj Reeve, who lined up at full back. “They were a tough team to breakdown and they just wanted to play and play and play. Unfortunately there were a few too many cards shown for poor discipline but we managed a good result out in the heat.

“It’s always exciting to face new teams – it challenges our flexibility and our agility. It also allows the coaching staff to test different combinations and apply different strengths and weaknesses, therefore offering a healthy squad rotation.”

Unlike the Rugby World Cup, the IDRC has much shorter breaks between matches, and this week includes the remaining group clashes against Georgia on Wednesday and then Spain on Sunday. Those two teams also met last Saturday, with Georgia winning 87-0, and while Maj Reeve is all-too-aware of the need to avoid looking too far ahead, there is nevertheless a good feeling in the camp.

“It is a busy week,” he says. “We are trying to balance preparation and rest – as ever – but our best guess is that Tonga are our toughest opponent in the group stages so we can afford to continue to focus on progress and not perfection.

“We expect to see a set piece-focused side in the Georgians who will test our scrum and line outs whereas we expect a slightly different style from the Spanish. Either way we expect to be ready to bounce into the knockout stages in good order.”

UKAF’s game against Georgia kicks off in Brest at 1800hrs BST, with live coverage on the Forces TV YouTube channel.

Words © New Dogs, Old Tricks

Header and featured image © UKAF Rugby – Andrew Fosker