Stormers captain LBdr Matt Waqanisau hailed a ‘surreal moment’ after his side were crowned Unit Premiership champions following a 29-12 success against 1 Royal Welsh at Newbury RFC.
A phenomenal first half saw the last season’s runners-up rack up a 24-0 lead advantage on the back of tries from LBdr Antonio Rede, Bdr Alfredo Naulivou, Gnr Josh Vakasilikakala and 8 SSgt Tom Chave, Bdr Owain Davies with a brace of conversions.
However, Welsh hit back with a two-try surge at the start of the second period, Fus James Disney and Fus Misa Rokotuiwakaya both touching down as Fus Rokodaini Waicolawaiya landed an extra two points for 24-12.
Stormers then had Gnr Vakasilikakala sin-binned, but they held out and the introduction of hooker Bdr Pete Austin and scrum-half 2Lt Al Gliksten – both of whom played for the Army at Twickenham on Saturday – gave them a boost.
Bdr Austin went over from the back of a maul to effectively seal the deal, and skipper LBdr Waqanisau said: “We had unfinished business from last season and that was a motivation for us to put it right both in the semi-final against 1 Yorks and in the final.
“Fair play to the boys for achieving what they have. It’s such a surreal moment.”
He continued: “We started the first half on fire and while we slacked off a bit at the start of the second, we regrouped again and got it done.
“I was looking at the clock ticking when they came back and we had the yellow card, but I knew the wind was on our side and we just had to calm our nerves.”
With his side missing a couple of players, the captain paid tribute to all those who helped secure the title along with the magnificent backing his side got at Monks Lane.
He ended: “The regiment has been a bit busier than normal, so it’s just the guys who are in camp who played today – there were a few key players away on operations, but they have also been part of the journey. The win is dedicated to them.
“The support was crazy and we’ll look forward to celebrating with them.”
Meanwhile man-of-the-match Cpl Dom Carrol, whose blistering break from full-back set-up the third try before he later switched to fly-half to close the game out in the final quarter, added: “It went well despite a tough second half, but we got there in the end.
“They didn’t really come out in the first half and we seemed to get on a real roll.
“After half-time we came out a bit flat and it changed the balance of the game, but thankfully we managed to get it back despite having the yellow card which put us under a lot of pressure.
“If they’d got another try it would have been a nervy last 10 minutes for sure, but we saw out the sin-bin and then we managed to apply pressure and pin them in the corners, which they couldn’t really deal with.”
The introduction of 2Lt Gliksten and Bdr Austin helped Stormers reassert their authority, with Cpl Carrol continuing: “We’re lucky we’ve got some top-quality players who’ve played for the Army, and the new boys who’ve come in are also good.
“We’ve been buzzing since we won the semi-final and you could feel it at every training session.
“The loss last year was hard, and while a lot of our guys today weren’t playing then, we definitely wanted to bring the trophy back.”
Saving his final words for the support his team had received off the field, Cpl Carrol concluded: “The coaches have been unbelievable and (SSgt) Ken Dowding can’t do enough for us. He’s at every training session, he puts other commitments on hold, he looks after us with stash and drinks – he just can’t do enough for this team.”
Words – New Dogs, Old Tricks © Richard Ashton
Header and featured image – Alligin Photography © Lee Crabb