Following the success of the Summer Tour to the USA, the Army Women’s Team set their sights high with a fixture against the IRB 15th ranked, Netherlands for their first game of the 2016/17 season.
After a period of preparation in Aldershot, dogged with injury and unavailability, the team travelled to Amsterdam in good spirits. The game was played on a 3G pitch in bright sunshine at the Dutch National Rugby Centre Amsterdam. The conditions were perfect for fast, flowing rugby and the game did not disappoint.
Straight from the kick off, the pace was fast and uncompromising, with both sides trying to gain initial dominance. The mid field battle seemed never ending with both teams running hard and the tackling was absolutely ferocious.
A strong break off the base of the scrum by the Holland No 8 saw the Dutch in behind the Army defence, but a first class, last ditch tackle by Army Full-Back, Lt Katie Hancock saved the day. The Army forwards scrambled back and forced the home team to infringe, allowing the Army to clear their lines with the resulting penalty.
A period of Army pressure followed, which was met by solid Dutch defence. A break in the centre by Capt Chantelle Miller brought the crowd to their feet. Once again strong cover tackling brought her down 10m short of the line. The Army were able to maintain the impetus in the Dutch 22, but were too eager to kick rather than keep the ball in hand and so gave away possession to Holland at crucial points of attack. The Dutch were quick to capitalise and were able to break out of their 22 and rumble up the field to the Army 22. Good Army defence forced a turnover and they were able to clear their lines. The Army continued to mount pressure on the Dutch and on 23 minutes, after a period of sustained continuity, the Army were able to create a breakdown in the corner 5 yards short of the Netherlands goal line. The ball was popped out to the rampaging Sgt Bianca Dawson, and from there she was not to be denied. The conversion attempt was unsuccessful. 0 – 5 to the Army.
The Dutch were not to capitulate and immediately came back at the Army mounting a series of forays into the Army midfield, creating sustained continuity. On 28 minutes, 10m short of the Army goal line, the Dutch forced a penalty. A quick tap followed by strong phase play stretched the Army defence allowing Holland to go wide and score a well worked try. The conversion was good. 7 -5
The last 10 minutes of the first half belonged to the Army, with strong running by newcomer and first cap, OCdt Sally Stott, Capt Alex Hardy and Cpl Carrie Roberts all making an impression. Sgt Amy Robinson, making a return to the Army after a year out due to injury, was taking the ball flat at 10 and putting runners into gaps. With 5 minutes of the first half remaining Stott tidied up a loose ball from a Dutch lineout and fed Robinson. She saw the gap and was able to put Roberts through for her to be pulled down metres short.
The half time whistle signalled a well-earned break, with the score 7 – 5 to Holland.
Both teams came out for the second half refreshed and ready to continue the brutal war of attrition. Defence from both teams was as brutal as any time in the first half. 7 minutes into the half, the Army was able to get Roberts through the Dutch defence, but unfortunately she was unable to get a pass away to Gnr Jess McAuley in acres of space.
The Army forwards fought like demons at the tackle and breakdown and were able to execute a number of turnovers, with Stott and Hardy being particularly effective.
On 50 minutes the Dutch forwards were able to gain a period of sustained pressure, sucking in the army defence. This allowed their talented backs to go wide, and despite the heroic last ditch effort by Cpl Jade Mullen, their wing was able to cross into the corner. The conversion was unsuccessful. 12 – 5 to Holland.
Stinging from the Dutch score, the Army responded well from the restart. Forwards and backs combined well and made almost immediate inroads to the Netherlands 22. Continued pressure forced the Dutch to give away a penalty 10m in front of their own posts. Replacement scrum half, LCpl Kayleigh Clemes reacted fastest, tapping to herself and forcing her way over under the posts. The conversion by Roberts was successful. 12 -12 after 54 minutes.
The game continued to ebb and flow with both sides giving their all in both attack and defence. Both benches were unloaded, ensuring the tempo of the game didn’t slow. After 63 minutes the Dutch forced their way into the Army 22. Their forwards put together a string of strong charges, with the final one giving their big 2nd row the space to crash over for the try. The conversion was unsuccessful. 17 – 12 to Holland
The last 15 minutes of the game was played with the same intensity as it had been for the throughout the first 65. Both teams were giving their all. With 2 minutes remaining Stott picked up from the base of the scrum on the Army 22, broke the first tackle and put Hancock, now playing 10, into the gap. With only the full back to beat, Hancock slowed to step the tackler and was unfortunately brought down from behind on the Dutch 22. Holland won the resulting ruck and cleared their lines. The Army didn’t get another chance to attack and the game ended 17 – 12 to Holland.
This was a fantastic spectacle of Rugby; great to watch and I am assured by the players great to play in. The Netherlands are a class act; ranked 15th in the world, and the Army were not disgraced in any way. The game could easily have gone the other way. It was definitely a great advert for Women’s rugby.