Army Scores at the Death to Edge it by One Point

04 May 2024

14:00 @ Twickenham Stadium

Senior Men XV


Army Senior XV

The Army and Navy produced a match for the ages in front of a sun-drenched Twickenham crowd.

From being 22 - 0 down after a quarter and 29 - 5 behind at half-time, and then 42-31 with four minutes to play, the Army scored a double-blow of tries to keep their hopes alive of regaining the Inter Service Championship.

If there were any nerves for debutant, Hooker Jack Wright, they were dispelled inside the first five minutes! The Army had made the early running, Imi Qorowale getting his legs going down the left wing. But the Navy held firm and regrouped during an injury break to create a break for Ben Chambers. This brought a penalty which Jordan Gott kicked to the corner, and the power of the Navy pack did the rest, Wright coming up with the ball for the game’s opening try.

The Navy landed a second blow soon after, Ratu Vakalutukali on the end of a William Rigelsford offload after Craig Duncan had made a line break from halfway.

Rigelsford turned finisher three minutes after that, scything his way through after taking a Kristan Dobson offload at full pace.

Gott’s conversion made the score 17 - 0, and what was even more disappointing for the Army was that they had barely retained possession, let alone build pressure.

This was also compounded by talismanic scrum-half Michael McDonald leaving the field to an injury in the build-up to Vakalutukali’s try.

This is not to say that the Red Shirts were lacking in effort, they were just being confronted with a wall of blue that was aggressive, confident, and able to stop whatever was being thrown at it.

The defensive work was rewarded with a fourth try a couple of minutes into the second quarter, Dobson showing strength and speed to race into the right corner off phase 1 ball.

The Army needed a reply, and quickly, as much for their vociferous supporters as for the players themselves. They got it almost immediately. Senitiki Nayalo got his team onto the front foot with a trademark burst, and when a penalty for a high tackle was kicked to the corner, the Coventry number eight was at the back of the maul which drove over the line.

With 10 minutes to go there was still time for the Army to pull themselves back into the contest. The important thing was not to concede any more points. The Navy had other ideas, and when a penalty was awarded for a high tackle, there was no hesitation from Jarrard Hayler to point to the corner.

Gott put the pack into prime position, and Wright did the rest, finding his man at the lineout and then steering the maul into the corner. Gott’s superb conversion made it 29 - 5 to the Senior Service, which was how things stayed until the break, thanks to Army blindside Matthew Dawson having a try ruled out for obstruction.

Fifteen minutes into the second half and that error was long forgotten, because what the Navy could do in the first half so could the Red Shirts after the resumption of play. 3 tries in 15 minutes brought the game back to life.

Nayalo was first over the line, barrelling his way to the score from close range. And when the Fijian powered his way forward in the Red Shirts’ next attack it created the space for fly half Jack Johnson to finish things off. Tight-head Ashley Horner was next, coming up with the ball after the red pack had marched inexorably over the whitewash, and with Johnson landing a pair of conversions suddenly, the contest was back in the balance at 24 - 29.

Gott settled Navy nerves with a penalty, and when replacement prop, Dom Cleverley, came up with the ball from a close-range drive on the hour, turned into a maximum by Belgian international fly half, Gott, the Senior Service were back in control at 39 - 24.

The way the game was going the one-off moments were going to matter even more, and between 65 and 70 minutes there were three which were pivotal.

First was a break from Solodrau Radianirova that carved the Navy’s defence to shreds. Halfbacks Johnson and Alexander Gliksten were in support, but the blue shirts had scrambled, winning a turnover which immediately became prime attacking position thanks to Craig Duncan’s 50-22.

But the Navy made a hash of the lineout, the ball was kicked downfield, with the chasers forcing Duncan to concede a lineout. The drive which followed yielded a yellow card for Navy lock Edd Pascoe, and a hat trick try for Nayalo, who tapped quickly to go over.

Johnson’s conversion brought things back to 31 - 39, which while positive for the Army was still a two-score deficit.

Gott seemingly made the game safe with a penalty four minutes from time, and when the fly half intercepted to defuse a dangerous Army attack with 77 minutes on the clock there seemed too much still to do.

Jay Toogood was in support, but when the replacement scrum-half held on in a tackle Johnson and Nayalo showed quick thinking by tapping quickly and combining to put Radianirova over between the sticks.

The conversion made it 38 - 42, and – crucially – there were still 90 seconds on the clock.

Plenty of time for the most dramatic of finishes:

Job 1 – secure the kick off.

Job 2 – head downfield with a penalty.

Job 3 – win the lineout.

Job 4 – create an opportunity.

All were achieved, and when Gliksten spotted an overlap on the short side, Nayalo and Frank Kelly combined intelligently to send Qorowale away down the left touchline and the red shirts into ecstasy winning 43 – 42.

The destiny of the 2024 Inter Service Championship will be decided in Gloucester on Saturday, May 11 when the RAF and Army meet at Kingsholm.

Senior Men: Kye Beasley, J Wright*, B Watson; J Williams, E Pascoe; R Vakalutukali, B Mallett, J Hayler (C); W Rigelsford, J Gott, B Chambers (VC), J Lowe, S Raumakita, K Dobson, C Duncan.
Replacements: G Evans, T Lindsay, D Cleverley, W Scott, C Mills, J Toogood, D Rutter, K Teear-Bourge.
* Denotes new cap.

Words by Chris Wearmouth.

Images by Cinnabar Studios