The UKAF Women’s team is out of medal contention at the inaugural International Defence Force Women’s World Cup, having lost 17-10 to Fiji in their second and final pool match.
Fiji’s win over Australia, combined with UKAF’s loss to the same opponents, had meant that UKAF needed a bonus point win in Auckland in the early hours of Friday to have any chance to progressing.
The opening 20 minutes were scoreless. UKAF had the better territory and possession, but Fg Off Sarah Graham missed a shot at goal and there were errors at crucial moments which allowed Fiji to relieve the pressure.
Meanwhile Fiji showed their own potential regularly, only for some excellent last ditch defence to rescue the situation from UKAF.
The deadlock was broken soon into the second quarter. A lineout drive put the Fijians under pressure, and when the Islanders could not help themselves from coming offside Cpl Charlie Morgan (RAMC) tapped quickly. There was no stopping the scrum-half and UKAF had the lead they craved.
Cpl Charlie Morgan opened the scoring for UKAF.
Image © UKAF Rugby – Travis Prior
Ten minutes later the Fijian pack gave as good as they had received, sucking in defenders with a drive of their own in the UKAF 22 before going through the phases and creating space for fly half Ani Mei to cross.
Both conversions were missed, and when UKAF did not turn outstanding position into points in injury time the teams headed for their half-time chat with the score 5-5.
Five minutes into the second half UKAF had the second score they craved. Fiji’s attitude in playing from deep had been shown regularly before the break, but when they tried more of the same the tactic backfired when Bdr Bethan Dainton (RA) grabbed an interception to dot down unopposed.
Thirty minutes later the score was still the same, as UKAF found the Fijian defence too physical and resolute to break down.
Having been on the back foot for much of the second half the Fijians rewarded their own defensive effort with a try, a couple of strong runs and neat hands putting replacement back Pelanaisa Tareguci over in the corner.
Then with 80 seconds to play UKAF hearts were broken as flanker Doreen Narokete crashed over close to the sticks. Time ticked down during the conversion attempt, but while the game re-started it was a simple task for Fiji to kick the ball out and bring the final whistle.
Bdr Bethan Dainton scored UKAF’s second try.
Image © UKAF Rugby – Travis Prior
UKAF will now progress into a play-off match next Wednesday against Vanuatu & Papua New Guinea, who finished fourth in Pool A, with the winner of that match playing Tonga to decide who finishes fifth overall.
“We’re gutted as a team,” said team captain, Cpl Sian Williams. “We worked really hard this week to come back together and perform how we wanted to perform. I couldn’t be prouder of the girls, they gave it their all.
“We didn’t perform against Australia. That hurt us a lot and we worked hard on the training paddock to try and put things into place.
“The Fijians are tough! We took some big hits and collisions, and our girls kept on going and going. We showed so much heart and did everything we could to keep the ball. They’ve got a lot of talent, we were in it until the last five minutes and it was a hell of a game.”
Words © New Dogs, Old Tricks | All Images © UKAF Rugby – Travis Prior