OPENING try-scorer Spr Jack Johnson (RE) believes his Army side showed plenty of potential during the 31-17 success at Cambridge University.
The fly-half got the show on the road in just the second minute, turning down a shot at goal to take a quick tap penalty and dart over the line for a try he then converted.
And his side never fell behind from there, Sgt Connor O’Reilly (7 PARA RHA) and LCpl Jake Bamber (REME) extending the lead before Cambridge pulled back to 19-10 at half-time.
The red shirts had to show their defensive qualities early and throughout the second stanza, but further tries from wings Pte Olly Butterworth (PARA) and LCpl Phil Graham (RE) – right at the death – secured a fine victory against a battling students outfit.
Having spent three months away Nordic skiing since November, Jack only returned to rugby recently and admitted: “It was good to be back and playing with the boys. We’ve got some new faces so it’s an exciting time for us.
“We tried to put a lot of pressure on, stretch them out and got some early tries, so that was good.
“We want to bring tempo this year and play some nice expansive rugby – we’ve got a Fijian No. 9 (Rfn Vili Salusalu, Rifles) so you never really know what you’re going to get! But (for the first try) we had a quick penalty and luckily I got through.
“In these games we really want to get through our repertoire, our sets and our plays, and see what works and what doesn’t work.
“When we get down to the French and Irish games, we’ll probably take the points (penalties when on offer).”
With his preparation different to recent times, Spr Johnson reflected on his time away and its benefits, continuing: “It got pushed through the regiment and Tim was understanding that I hadn’t really stopped rugby with Corps, UKAF and other bits and bobs since coming through the Under 23s, so it was nice to have a bit of time away.
“I was on skis for the best part of three months from early November to February, and it’s fitness in a different way.
“I did manage to lose a few kgs – but the S&C guys have said I need to put a few back on and I’ll be happy to eat a few more meals.
“It was different but also interesting from the admin side of it, normally I come to a rugby game with boots, gumshield and my kicking tee, but this time I had to go with a rifle, rounds, magazines, skis, the wax, the poles, warm gear, so it was lot more Army than what I’m used to!”
Having previously been a U23s Inter-Services winner in 2021, it was the latest in a trio of events which Jack feels has helped expand his game and has him in his best shape yet with plenty more big games to come against the likes of the French Army and then Royal Navy and Air Force.
He ended: “Coming from the Under 23s into a training camp with (England international LCpl Semesa) Rokoduguni (Scots DG) was good for me to learn about game management – as a young 23-year-old I just wanted to play from everywhere, but he took me under his wing and told me when to go and when not to go, when to use your boot to pin teams back and capitalise on their mistakes.
“Then, playing at the UKAF World Cup last year gave me a lot of confidence and understanding of how military rugby works – it’s probably what I needed just to push me into believing I’ve got the ability and skills.
“It was a great experience and nice to be out there with a good group of lads.”
Words © Richard Ashton
All images – Alligin Photography © Cat Goryn