The Army Under 23s suffered late heartbreak as a last-gasp penalty gave the Royal Air Force an 8-7 victory in appalling conditions at Witney RFC.
Despite fumbling the kick off in heavy rain which continued for the whole game, it was the defending Inter-Services champions who came out of the blocks stronger, winning a succession of penalties.
However, on two occasions – one earned at a line-out and another at a scrum – LCpl Chris Hubberstey (REME) was unable to bisect the uprights as his first attempt was pushed right and the second came up short from 35 metres out.
Yet the home side continued to give away penalties, and eventually flanker AS2 Connor Roberts was sin-binned for his team’s repeated infringing.
The RAF managed to avoid conceding during their time with 14 men and began to come into the contest as the first half wore on, but the red shirts replied.
Another string of penalties inside their own 22 led to a second RAF flanker, AS1 (T) Ben Collins, being given 10 minutes off the park, and this time the Army took advantage.
Hammering away at the line, they then switched play back against the grain, prop SIG Drew Stephenson going over from a couple of metres out on the left.
LCpl Hubberstey landed a brilliant touchline conversion to give his side a 7-0 advantage, and as time ticked down on the opening 40 minutes, they very nearly added to it as both ATPR Max Percival (AAC) and Ptw Orisi Katalau (RLC) were held up over the line.
LCpl Hubberstey with the successful conversion for the Army’s first half try
Image – Alligin Photography © Lee Crabb
There was no let-up as the rain continued to play havoc after the restart, but it was the home side who enjoyed the better of the initial skirmishes.
Firstly, lively left wing AS1 Kieron Prescott had a try disallowed for a forward pass down the left, and then when his side won a penalty from the resulting scrum, they kicked to the corner from which AS2 Josh Peacock rode a maul across the line – only for it to be held up by some brilliant Army defence.
Things got worse for the away side, though, No. 8 Sig Miller (R Sigs) picking up the third yellow card of the evening after his side gave away a series of penalties.
And this time the RAF made no mistake from a maul, AS2 Peacock getting his side off the mark for an unconverted score.
Both sides began to kick more and more as conditions dictated, but after the Army missed a third penalty, there was to be extraordinary drama at the death.
After Army replacement Gnr Sanday (RHA) was sin-binned for a high tackle, the RAF kicked the ball to the corner.
Yet they seemed to have let-off their opponents when the throw was not straight – only for the Army to be penalised for unsporting conduct after their celebrations were deemed overly exuberant.
A quick tap-and-go was just held up before the champions slipped off-side, and AS1 Kieran Jenkins landed the simplest of penalties to give his side the edge.
And while the Army were able to regain the ball following the restart, they coughed it up for the RAF to boot it into touch for a famous and first win in 10 attempts in the fixture.
The Army host the Royal Navy at Aldershot on Wednesday, November 30 (19:00hrs). Entry is free.
Words © Richard Ashton
All images – Alligin Photography © Lee Crabb