Irish Colleges 34 Combined Services U23 17

It wasn’t just at Croke Park that a little bit of history was made in Dublin over the last weekend of February 2007. Following a move up from U21 last year to U23 this season, the junior Combined Services squad also moved up a league by embarking on a truly international fixture list which will see them play Irish Colleges, Welsh Universities, Scottish Universities culminating in the traditional fixture against the English Universities at Twickenham in May on Army-Navy day. Friday 23 Feb 07 saw their opening fixture against the impressive Irish Colleges Rugby Union at the Suttonians Rugby Club in Dublin. Both teams based themselves in the same hotel and following an exhilarating 6-outrider Garda-escorted coach convoy through rush hour Dublin to the venue, the serious business took place under floodlights on a windswept and cold evening warmed by genuine Irish hospitality. From the outset it was obvious that this was going to be no ordinary game. Concerns over a British military team playing in Dublin against the backdrop of the history associated with Croke Park and the full International being played the following day faded into the background as newly-formed friendships were set aside for the encounter. The opening exchanges had both sides making unforced errors but the Irish were quicker into their stride and 10 minutes into the match scored through their winger Peter Budina in a move that started in their own 22 and, following good support play, ended with a 40m run in to score. Brian Collins’ accurate conversion was to be a sign of what was to come from this fine player’s right boot. Nine minutes later, Cpl Phil Thomas (DCAE Cosford) scored the Combined Services opening points of the evening with an accurately struck penalty but the Irish quickly responded with a Collins penalty to re-establish a 7 pt lead. It wasn’t long before the Irish pressure told again with their backs playing expansive rugby ending with a Gary Conway try in the corner which was converted by that man Collins again. Combined Services suddenly found their rhythm and centre, LCpl “Bomber” Mills (HMS BULWARK) danced his way through the Irish defence to touch down. Enter the trusty boot of Cpl Thomas and the half was to end 17-10 with the Combined Services still very much in touch. One way traffic characterised the opening 35mins of a second half that was to run for 56 minutes. However, unforced errors and Irish pressure up front in particular allowed the home team to extend their lead with 3 penalty goals from, you guessed it, that man Brian Collins and a cheeky drop goal from Sean Carey. With the scoreline reading 29-10, Combined Services refused to bow their heads and 5 minutes concerted pressure from the restart gave them their reward when replacement winger CH Josh Drauniniu (HMS BULWARK) showed his pace on the wing with a fine chase and touchdown in the left hand corner following a darting run from scrum-half Pte Ryan Walsh (AFCO Manchester). Cpl Thomas converted from wide out to make it 29-17 with 10 minutes remaining. Despite determination from the British team, it was not to be, and the Irish sealed their victory with a final flourish and a scintillating try from the replacement winger, Sean Carey in the dying moments of the match to make it a final score of 34-17 to the home side. The teams had put on a tremendous display of open, running rugby played in the true spirit of the game and quickly retired to the clubhouse in order to consolidate new friendships. Combined Services’ young players had learnt a huge amount about international rugby (it is no surprise that 9 of the Ireland team playing England the following day had pulled on the green shirt of the ICRU in their formative years) and though the Irish were thoroughly deserved victors on the night, there was one clear overall winner and that was the magic game that we call rugby. Ireland, we thank you – slainte mhath!