Poor discipline proved decisive at Iffley Road as the Army Senior Men went down 31-5 to Oxford University.
The opening 10 minutes were spent with the Army camped deep in their own 22 and having to repel wave after wave of Oxford attack. The Dark Blues were certainly helped by the red shirts getting on the wrong side of the referee, with no fewer than half-a-dozen penalties being awarded in this period alone.
Several of these decisions rescued the hosts, who twice fumbled the ball with the line at their mercy. But, having previously put the ball through the hands, when the Dark Blues kept things tight it paid dividend, Tom Osborne crashing over from close range.
Vasco Faria’s conversion made it 7-0, and the Army were going to have to play from behind.
Powerful runs from Cpl Boladau (R Signals) and Capt Giles Bromley-Martin (IG) got the Army going forwards, but it was a scything break from LBdr Fitzgerald (RA) which cut the game open, the winger hitting a short inside ball to head deep into the home 22.
There was a Dark Blue fumble close to their line as well, but that was as good as it got for the visitors, who remained in the referee’s bad graces, especially at the breakdown, and regardless of whether they were in possession of the ball or not.
Spr Cam McDonald (RE) would pay the price for the team’s collective discipline, seeing yellow at the end of the first quarter, and with a couple more penalties the hosts were not just back in the red zone but over the whitewash for a second time, Harry Scoble on the end of a strong lineout drive.
Given all the time on the back foot it was somewhat pleasing that the Army were still just the 12 points adrift. But with Spr McDonald waiting to come back on Oxford scored a long-range try.
Unfortunately it came from a home scrum which the Army was doing well to disrupt. The ball came flying out of the back of the set piece straight to full back Harry Parker, who stepped inside the first attempted tackle and immediately turned on the afterburners.
Sixty metres downfield and LBdr Fitzgerald made a cracking tackle, but Liam Furniss was in support and Oxford were seven points further ahead.
Nineteen-nil was how it stayed until the interval, but Oxford should have been further ahead, a fumble over the line letting the Army off the hook. This was followed by a moment which summed up the disjointed first half for the red shirts, as Maj Will Reeve (AHQ) spotted plenty of space to work with, but sent the pass behind Spr Cam McDonald to instead have the visitors scrambling to retain possession.
The second half began in similar fashion to the first, with repeated penalties pushing the Army back to their own line.
As with the first half there were a couple of misfires, too, with a fumble and an overthrown lineout, but nine minutes into the action the Dark Blues pack kept the ball up their jumper to drive second rower Edward Blake over for a try which extended the lead to 24-0.
Another forward effort just before the hour brought a fifth try for the Dark Blues from flanker George Hobbs.
At 31-0 the contest was all-but-done, but there was still time for the Army’s replacements to grab an opportunity, and on the hour they did just that.
A chip from Bdr Davies (RA) made the most of the lack of a sweeper to get the Army going, and when Michael Fankah saw yellow for a trip on LCpl Ratukadreu (REME) there was no hesitation in sending the ball to the corner.
Capt Ackers (Rifles) came close to the tryline from the peel, and LCpl Vereti (REME) hit a good line to crash over the whitewash.
There were some powerful scrums and more strong running from the red shirts, and some excellent last ditch tackling to deny Oxford’s pacy back three.
The added urgency also brought one final sight of the whitewash as Oxford fell foul of the referee. But LBdr Videi’s (RA) charge which was brought down just short was as close as the Army got.
The Army Senior Men host the French Army at Aldershot on Wednesday, March 15th. Entry is free and all are welcome for this much anticipated capped international.
Tickets for the 2023 Inter-Services Championship are now on sale.
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Words © New Dogs, Old Tricks
All images – Alligin Photography © Neil Kennedy