Army Scotland head coach Capt Si Talbot (SNIY) expects the RAF to be “a real challenge” when the two sides face off at the Oriam Stadium, Edinburgh on Wednesday, June 7.
The Red Shirts won last year’s Inter Service Championship, one which came amidst the backdrop of Covid and the return to play protocols and have won two of their past three against Stirling County (36-20) and the Army Masters (17-13), before going down 52-7 to Caledonia Reds.
With the Navy absent from next week’s action, bragging rights will now on the line between the Army and RAF in what Capt Talbot expects to be a cracker.
He said: “I’ve seen a bit of their Development side; I know their Director of Rugby well and he’s taken their quality of rugby on.
“They play a lot of their rugby up in Kinloss which is key, but also quite useful for me as we have 39 Engineer Regiment nearby and I know some of the Kinloss Eagles through my coaching team and players.
“They’ve probably caught me on the hop a bit, but I think the Air Force will be the same beast, a real danger.
“Their director of rugby is a good guy with a good brain, he understands rugby and he’s a highly capable man, so they’ll come with fire in their belly and they’ll be powerful at the scrum, efficient at the breakdown and solid in defence.
“For us if we can push through the storm, work through the phases and get the ball out to the backs, it would be how I see it panning out.”
Reflecting on the build-up to the next week and last year’s triumph, Capt Talbot said: “(2021-22) went well, we had a pretty decent campaign in the build-up to Inter-Services, we were able to play some good rugby and competitive teams and it set us up well.
“We had a good, balanced squad going into the Inter-Services and the proof was in the pudding with a comprehensive 36-3 win against the Royal Navy and a 24-5 over the Royal Air Force.
“We were delighted with that, and the return to play protocols set us up well – it was a positive season for us.”
The Army won the Inter Service Scotland competition in 2022.
Image © Bryan Robertson
He continued: “We’ve had different challenges this year. A lot of the SRFU clubs we were due to play, a significant number of their matches were postponed which shunted out them out to be played later as part of their leagues.
“This meant the opportunity to play those clubs were few and far between or came at difficult times or short notice, so a as a result while we’ve played some good rugby, we’ve not played as much as I’d have liked.”
Despite the lack of competitive action, numbers remain strong, with Capt Talbot stating: “The springboard and opportunities for the players is still there, but it’s been a little more challenging than last year.
“Numbers-wise we’re in a similar place to last year, about 65 and notwithstanding the day job – people have the chance to go into selection and we have a look at them.
“A few of the older guys have stepped down – albeit they’ve helped with some management and facilitating getting the guys where they need to be – but we’ve also got some young guns coming through.
“There’s a batch of new talent into the Scottish regiment who’ve come in and helped us immeasurably, so I’d say the squad is where it was before in talent.”
Links between the ARU and Army Scotland have strengthened in the last 12 months – the Masters game a highpoint for Capt Talbot – though he hopes things can continue to grow in the future.
He admitted: “The ARU have been good to us bringing them under the banner, putting us on the website and amplifying our social media activity which is positive for us, and I put the Army Sports Control Board in the same frame.
“I enjoyed the week with the Masters. Their management team were great guys, they couldn’t have been more engaging with us and it demonstrated for me the fact it’s one Army Rugby Union.
“The players were a bit circling like wolf packs because they knew at the end of the week they were going to be crossing swords, but it was definitely a positive environment and having the two Army teams training in Redford was brilliant.”
He continued: “The match itself, we play in a similar way – I knew they’d be well-drilled, perhaps better than us, they’d have decent strike plays and experienced players – but I focussed on making sure our defence was solid in drift, blitz, structure and shape, and I knew eventually we’d be able to turn the knife in gaps as they appeared, which is pretty much what happened.
“It was a good chance to showcase Army rugby up here and I was delighted to get the win – I thoroughly enjoyed it, I hope they did and the feedback we got was they did.
“I’d love to see it repeated and (Masters Head Coach Maj) Mark (Eastley) and I chatted briefly after the game and said we’d like to make it regular.
“I can only see the positives from it whether it be the Masters or the Under 23s, it’s a great opportunity to have two Army teams run at each other. From an engagement point of view it’s massive – Biggar (RFC) benefitted as there’s a big rugby community who came along to watch on a Friday night and it was dry which made a difference!
“I know it’s cliché but rugby was the winner and if we have it as an annual fixture it continues the synergy (between the ARU and Army Scotland), momentum and it can only be a good thing.
“Similarly, the return game with Stirling County, rather than playing it in barracks, we played it at Penicuik rugby club just down the road and their president couldn’t have been happier to have the quality on show with a packed clubhouse and crowds coming to watch.”
The recent defeat to Caledonia was not what Capt Talbot hoped for, but he still found some positives for his young side, commenting: “We were able to score a converted try after 15 phases of play against a quality outfit in the middle of the second half – and from that point on we stopped them scoring again.
“Too much damage was done in the first half, we were flying out the line too quick as individuals and as a result, penalty, kick to the corner, line-out, push-over try.
“However, again it was an opportunity for the young guns I alluded to have a game against a decent regional rugby team who are a blend between National One and Prem players so they can measure themselves – I think they learnt a lot and as a result of that although we lost in the final of the Sevens tournament we were playing in it was the last result against a semi-pro Herriot side we were playing against.
“We appear to have learnt our lessons from that and our guys will be looking to kick on better next year. They’ll be a year older, a year more experienced and they’ll understand structure is key whether it be in attack or defence.
“Teamwork is critical in sport and I’d like to think if they buy into what they want to achieve both culturally within the team and the structure we want them to play, hopefully they’ll see why we want to achieve that and the result will maybe come.”
Army in Scotland v Stirling County earlier in the season.
Image © Bryan Robertson
Aside from how his team is developing, Capt Talbot has recently completed a Director of Rugby course which he believes has benefitted him, revealing: “In the Army I don’t believe we get enough plaudits out in the civilian world and how good we are at dealing with people.
“We’re in an organisation where we have to deal with people all the time and I think at the centre of rugby it’s key – coaching and mentoring comes off the back of that.
“The Director of Rugby course opened my eyes to a little bit of self-reflection to think how I do business, and things I want to do – it’s been useful seeing other people and networking – and now during the summer I’ll be working with some of the age group sides which is a different demographic.”
He continued: “It’s different levers and I’m still a soldier, so I do understand how to press their buttons, getting the same results out of civilians is different, but the course has just softened those people skills and you must sort out what works for individuals to achieve a common aim and goal.”
Words © New Dogs, Old Tricks
Header and featured images © Bryan Robertson Photography