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Man-of-the-match Lt Matt Smart admitted the way 2 Rifles fought back in the Unit Plate Final had him worried before his 1 Yorks side sealed a deserved 34-18 success.

The fly-half pulled the strings throughout and converted an early Pte Joeli Varo try before also adding the extras to his own score and landing two penalties in the opening 40 minutes, Yorks leading 20-8 at the break as Lt Sebastian Jones touched down for their opponents and Rfn Maik Kuruselavakabisi struck a three-pointer.

Yorks moved further ahead at Newbury RFC as Pte Inoki Nakoronivalu collected a converted score, only for Gunners’ back row duo Rfn Lekima Ravuvu and Lt Jones to cut the gap to 27-18.

The latter was held up over the line as Rifles pushed strongly in the final quarter, but a brilliant breakaway try from LCpl Sukani Naiyagi ensured last year’s Cup champions took away the consolation prize.

Lt Smart admitted: “We made it hard work for ourselves, but when we got into our structures and shapes we played well.

“In the first half the way the game went worked for us, but in the second they got on top and we were lucky we started so well.

“They came back strongly and showed they might have been a fitter side, and they worked us hard towards the end.

“If I say I wasn’t very worried at one point under the posts I’d be lying, however, we then got our shape and structure back and played in the right areas.

“The defensive pressure then forced the breakaway try which ended the game, whereas before it was on a knife-edge and if they’d scored they might have kicked on.”

A clash of styles between the bigger Rifles side and the more expansive 1 Yorks outfit led to an intriguing contest, Smart’s half-back partner Pte Junior always looking to up the tempo.

And Lt Smart continued: “It’s enjoyable to play with him (and the rest of the back line), although it can also be a bit of a nightmare when I want to go a bit more old-school!

“We’re lucky in we’ve got a few of the Army 7s boys in the backline, so we try and use them as much as we can, while they were a bigger, tighter pack.

“However, the way we play with pace and tempo does work and it was effective as we showed for most of the game.”

While 1 Yorks had to settle for a third-placed finish by winning the Plate, Lt Smart is already looking ahead to next year as he ended: “Operationally we’ve been very busy, so the team’s been changing every week – even now we’re missing some boys, albeit it’s the same for the others.

“We think we should have been in the main final if we’d played the way we did today, but it’s a good stepping stone for next year and we’ll comeback stronger.”

Words – New Dogs, Old Tricks © Richard Ashton

Header and featured image – Alligin Photography © Lee Crabb