The day after the Sovereign’s Parade, the RMAS Rugby Squad and coaching staff departed for New Zealand. The tightly-packed schedule allowed for three matches against Devonport Naval Base, the NZ Army Academy team and the Officer Cadet School, along with a day sight-seeing in the nearby town of Taupo and a day in Auckland.
On arrival, it became clear that Devonport would be unable to put a squad together, which allowed us two days to acclimatise and blow the cobwebs out; the final fortnight of term at RMAS does not feature a lot of time for much beyond foot drill and kit preparation!
This respite was ideal; putting the squad into the correct frame of mind for two games that we knew would be highly competitive. After the long drive to Waiouru, the squad were greeted with a traditional Maori welcome, the powhiri, and were welcomed to the marae, the spiritual home of the camp. This was an incredibly powerful and emotive moment, and illustrated in no uncertain terms the trials that we would face on the field.
With this challenge ringing in our ears, we set to our training in earnest, and in the first match our intense preparations paid off, earning us a solid victory against a youthful but physical NZ Army Academy side. A strong interception try from OCdt Raleigh added to two opportunistic efforts by 2Lt Clements-Hunt and OCdt Andreoli finished a flowing back move to round off the contest. OCdt Williams capped a strong performance at number 8 with a try from the back of a scrum on the opposition 22. Much of the graft was produced by the tight five who regularly turned ball over in the set piece and caused much dismay with their hard support in the loose. OCdts Scott-Bowden and Butler made great headway off the shoulder of the stand-in fly half OCdt Mackenzie-Lawrie, while OCdt Gale so comprehensively worked over his colossal opposite number that he was forced to abandon the field. The opposition cam back strongly in the second half but were held to a last gasp try. The game ended 26-7 to RMAS, and the teams enjoyed a beer and reflection on the hard-fought game.
The following day, nursing a host of aches, niggles and knocks, the squad ‘enjoyed’ a light training session followed by a difficult yoga session led by the exceptionally patient physiotherapist Captain Williams. Subsequently we visited the NZ Army Museum, a fascinating experience that brought home the reality of our employment, when we aren’t enjoying the perks of military life. The powerful exhibitions, especially on joint operations such as those at Gallipoli and Crete highlighted the close bond of our two nations.
Such was our preparation for the showpiece game, that against the Officer Cadet School. While there were some attempts to keep us in the bar for a great length of time the night before, it had little effect on our performance as we showcased our talent, albeit against a much smaller pool of players.
After another inspiring haka, the teams went to it. As with the previous match, RMAS came out of the blocks quickly, one of the benefits of such a tight schedule. With scrums uncontested, the tight five were able to roam about the field with impunity, with OCdt Butler again putting in some good yardage and setting up OCdt Raleigh for a try which he finished in no uncertain terms by running through the opposing fullback. In an exact role-reversal, OCdt Raleigh turned supplier, with OCdt Butler touching down having done little except be on scene providing support. Many of the team were now wondering where OCdt Butler was actually playing, hooker or wing. The dominance shown in the first half was capitalised upon by both backs and forwards, with almost every support runner making good gains. OCdt Mackenzie-Lawrie finished a gorgeous backs move by dotting down after a miracle pass from OCdt Fairhurst went to hand. OCdt Andreoli again bisected the posts with the conversion. At this point, the team slightly started to let the scoreline go to their heads, with players who had no right being close to the centres loitering beyond wingers, and miracle passes being attempted more often than is decent. Mistakes and frustration mounted, and our penalty count crept up. Fortunately, half time saved us from total implosion, and allowed us time to regroup.
However, it swiftly became clear that we had lost the faith of the referee, who was very quick to his whistle against us, slowing our momentum right down. In spite of this hindrance, RMAS stuck to the task, with OCdt Macleod scoring a magnificent solo effort, chipping through, gathering and finishing strongly to cap a robust performance. Despite encouragement to stick to our positions, the fearsome combination of OCdts Scott-Bowden and Butler found themselves poised at 10 and 12, taking advantage of a large weight difference to force OCdt Butler through for his second. In the meantime, the shock replacement flyhalf Major Davies had managed to find himself in the sin bin after very few minutes on the pitch, alongside OCdt Harcourt, both for heinous misdemeanours such as not rolling away. Taking one for the team is how he describes it! OCdt Hill finished the game with a poachers try, mopping up from close range after good work by OCdt Balfour and heavy carries from OCdts Leishman and Ratcliffe, with OCdt Hall providing selfless support to both.
In spite of the heavy weather made of the second half, the two sides finished very amicably, allowing the squad to finish the cracking tour on a high in Auckland.
The RMAS tour to New Zealand proved a resounding success, and certainly achieved its aims. We played very competitive matches, and won both convincingly. We were able to experience New Zealand’s rich culture, and gained experiences that will stay with us: I doubt anyone will watch an All Black haka without remembering fondly our own welcome. We made friends from the NZ Army who I have no doubt we will meet again, either on courses or conducting operations. Finally, we saw and experienced how to run an exceptionally enjoyable international sports tour, and look forward to taking this experience to our Regiments, where we will hopefully be able to undertake our own in the future.
Huge thanks must go to the support staff and tour manager. Major Davies, WO2 Bowman, Captain Hamblin, Captain Williams and CSjt Zwinjen, along with Lt Cameron Greig NZ Army, all enabled us to have a really smashing time. Their graft behind the scenes, their hours driving, their energy and enthusiasm were the foundations on which we based our successes, and they must be thanked by all for their huge efforts.
2Lt Alex Wilson