Royal Engineers Head Coach, Sgt Gerhard Wessels, said that the team’s game management was key as the Sappers retained the Corps Championship League 1 title.
The Sappers snapped a seven-year streak without the title last season, but ensured that they went back-to-back with a dominant performance against the Royal Logistics Corps in Aldershot.
The snow and rain which swept across north Hampshire may have largely gone by the time the League 1 final kicked off, but there was still plenty of snow on the pitch which both made handling tricky as well as emphasised the importance of taking scoring opportunities when they came along.
In this regard the RLC drew first blood, scrum-half Pte Blaze Bulicokocoko breaking from a ruck before chipping Spr Cameron McDonald and diving on the loose ball to score a stylish solo try.
But from then on the reigning champions took an increasing hold on the contest. Fly half, Spr Jack Johnson, showed fantastic opportunism to spot the ball on the whitewash as the RLC took their time to clear a ruck on their own try line. Spr Johnson then converted, adding to his earlier penalty, and the Sappers did not look back.
Their second try was an absolute peach, turning a retreating scrum in their own 22 into an 80-metre score. LCpl Cakua found Spr Qaniuci with an offload, and the man of the match then showed side-stepping and acceleration more akin to summer sevens than a snowy spring. LCpl Graham was on hand to take the scoring pass.
A superb tackle from Spr McDonald denied the RLC a try, while the RLC pack did superbly to withstand a 13-player maul at the other end of the field, and the 17-7 lead remained until half-time.
The pack was next, driving for try line from a line out, finished by centre Cpl Mercer a fitting end to his final merit league appearance for the Sappers before leaving the Army. Spr Goneqali put the seal on the 27-7 final score by hitting a short line off Spr Michael McDonald to crash over.
“We’ve had a great season,” Sgt Wessels commented. “We regrouped after the hiccup at the start and got things right on the field and off the field.
“We knew today was going to be tough against a physical side, and the weather conditions also made it tough.
“But I spoke to the guys before the game that it suited us, because we can play different ways, and our game management was outstanding.”
The Sappers were in the stand several hours before kick off, taking in the League 2 final between the Royal Artillery and Royal Signals in the late morning and the early stages of the Women’s Corps final before heading for their warm-up.
Sgt Wessels added that this was important for the team to be able to assess the playing and weather conditions before getting into their own build-up.
“The plan was always to get here early and get a shake out and see the rugby that’s being played in the Gunners’ game against the Royal Signals,” he said. “I think we used that to our advantage.”
RE captain, Sgt Sonoma Veikune, said that becoming back-to-back champions means a massive amount to the squad.
“We knew everyone wanted to come out and beat us this season,” he said. “We learned a lot from our first game against the RLC, and from then we came together to build from there.
“We tried to keep things close to keep the error count down and the boys played really well.
“Then to do it twice, well, it’s a pleasure to play in the same team as these boys.”
There is more rugby back in Aldershot on Wednesday, March 15th, when the Senior Men host the French Army. Kick off is 1900hrs, and all are welcome.
Tickets for the 2023 Inter-Services Championship are now on sale.
Words © New Dogs, Old Tricks
All images – Alligin Photography © Andrew Fosker