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STAR man LCpl Mikey McDonald was left buzzing as the Royal Engineers completed an emotional third consecutive Corps Championship Division One victory – and a third straight success against arch-rivals the Royal Artillery.

The Army scrum-half and German international put in a magnificent performance as his side overturned a 22-15 deficit early in the second half – also down to 13 men – to eventually run out 37-27 winners in Aldershot.

Commenting on the triumph, Mikey started: “I still find this fixture bigger than any international game I’ve played – going against the Gunners is so meaningful and unmatched to anything else I play.

“It’s nerve-racking, emotional and beyond a rugby match, it’s a dogfight, a scrap and I’m grateful for the win.

“Playing the Gunners is always the hardest game of our season.

“It’s been a very good few days (Germany had stunned Belgium 21-11 five days before) and I’m so glad we’ve managed to win the Corps league three times on the bounce now.”

The Sappers made a great start as Spr Jack Johnson converted a Spr Ogunwole try, only for RA to hit back with a Bdr Pete Austin maul try added to by Bdr Owain Davies.

Spr Vili Tabuatamata put the Engineers back in front before Army ace Austin levelled, and another red shirt, Sgt Connor O’Reilly, grabbed his side’s third score to give them a 17-12 lead.

McDonald kicked a penalty to cut the gap on the stroke of half-time, but his side had already lost Cpl Eyres to a high-tackle yellow at the end of the first quarter when two more for the same offence arrived early in the second period.

Austin completed his hat-trick for 22-15, but RE rallied incredibly with tries from Spr Qiolevu, Ogunwole and Spr Komaitai, two McDonald conversions and a penalty completing a 22-point blitz which turned the game on its head.

Gnr Vosanibole collected a late consolation for the Gunners, but it was not enough.

And Mikey explained it was the resilience at the start of the second half which was key to the Sappers’ triumph, stating: “The boys fronted up even when we had the yellow cards and were under the cosh on our own five-metre line – we put in a shift and came away with the win.

“Our defence is the best part of the team, we rely on it a lot to win games and teams don’t ever tend to go through us – they can try and go round us but even then that’s hard.

“To hold them out with 13 men for as long as we did was out of this world. It was very hard because they’re a good side, but when we got into their half, we looked so dangerous with our back three.

“It’s a massive statement and shows how much dog we’ve got in our team. A lot of sides would have put their heads down at that point (22-15) and bowed over, but I don’t know what it is about the Engineers, we generate some energy and three Corps titles in a row and three Canonball trophies as well, it doesn’t get much better.”

An intriguing sub-plot to the contest was the number of Red Shirts-capped players on both sides, and Mikey said it added extra spice to the game.

He revealed: “I know quite a few boys from the Army side who play for the Gunners, and I feel like every time we play them they try to target the link between me and JJ (fly-half Jack Johnson).

“They try and put me under a lot of pressure.”

“There’s a big rivalry.”

While victory was hugely satisfying to the Sappers, it was tinged with sadness following the passing of a member of their backroom staff the night before the game.

And Mikey reaffirmed it had been an emotional day as he concluded: “A few lads turned up with their heads down, but having rallied everyone up in the changing room, we had a chat and to come away with the win for him was huge.”

Words © Richard Ashton

All images – Alligin Photography © Andrew Fosker


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