BRNC USA Rugby Tour

Image Credit: BRNC / ©Anderson
Image Credit: BRNC / ©Anderson
Image Credit: BRNC / ©Anderson
Image Credit: BRNC / ©Anderson
Image Credit: BRNC / ©Anderson

The RN connection with the USN goes way, way back and so do BRNC rugby tours but on the back of a very successful Navy Cup, a reward was due. The US Naval Academy (USNA) at Annapolis was the destination, a clear choice due to the connections between the two training establishments as well as being a very attractive proposition for prospective tourists. They also happen to have a rugby team who BRNC were to play towards the end of the week long tour. Funds were self generated with support kindly offered by a list of generous benefactors including the RNRU, the Britannia Association, the RN and RM Sports Lottery and ESS Support Services Worldwide. Without this vital support the tour wouldn’t have occurred.

Arriving in the US, dressed to kill in tour blazers, the team was met by Lt Cdr Andrew Storey, the Royal Navy liaison officer at Annapolis, who introduced us to our American counterparts. While the TSG were in hotels the players roughed it in the US Midshipmen’s accommodation.

Annapolis has a dissimilar role to Dartmouth and is therefore set up rather differently. Midshipmen, or officer cadets, undergo a four year academic degree course with occasional intense periods of military training and therefore the USNA can really be seen as a university in a military setting rather than the US equivalent of BRNC. King Hall, their dining facility, rather than holding a few hundred, can hold all 4500 students in one sitting – roughly a sixth of all RN personnel!

Lt Cdr Storey led the group on a tour of the campus after breakfast which gave the team a chance to see all the amazing facilities, especially sports facilities that the academy has at its disposal. There is a great emphasis on sport at the Academy and it is timetabled in every day from 1530 to 1800.

After the campus tour there was an opportunity to train and as this was the first session the team had had together in a while. There was inevitable rustiness but it was still a worthwhile run out. After lunch the guys travelled to the rugby pitches at The Brigade Sports Complex. Despite rugby not being a major American sport (though recent 7s success says otherwise) they have a very good setup with a large locker room, physio facilities and both artificial and grass rugby pitches.

While there, BRNC cheered on Annapolis 1st XV who were playing Clemson University, South Carolina, in a cup game. It was a great match played at a good standard. The basics were performed well and both teams were big and powerful with quick backs. This should not have come as a surprise as Annapolis train two hours a day with extra strength sessions tacked on meaning they have good hands and at the same time wouldn’t look out of place at a weightlifting competition. In fact, Joe Burton could be seen trembling on the sidelines at the prospect of having to play against some of the larger players later in the week. The Navy team won with a late converted try which was met with the customary whoops and hollers. This meant that their first team would fly out later in the week to California to play Berkeley leaving BRNC to play a combination of their 2nd and 3rd XVs.

After an enjoyable evening cementing international relations, Sunday was a rest day with most of the team opting to visit Washington. Several visited all the major tourist sites and most visited the impressive Air and Space Smithsonian Museum where the likes of Chuck Yeager’s Bell X-1 airplane can be seen. Sportsmen to the core, a group took in the Washington Wizards game against Atlanta Hawks. Basketball is an acquired taste but the cheerleading aspect should definitely be brought into rugby more often.

One of the aims of the rugby tour was to gain an appreciation of what the US Naval Officers go through in training. Monday was the principle day for this and partnering up with the Academy’s players, the squad shadowed them on their daily schedule. A few lucky souls got to indulge in some timetabled phys, a session on the 18 hole golf course with a few helpful pointers from the resident golf pro. In the afternoon, with the wind picking up and the weather against them, the squad braved the field for a second training session.

An early reveille involved a visit to the Defence Expo at the Gaylord Convention Center (sic). The Sea-Air-Space Exposition showcased a wide array of technologies from extended range missiles to underwater delivery vehicles. The team gained an insight into the defence industry and procurement on a significantly larger scale.

After the first match against a local Baltimore team was called off due to the pitch being flooded, a training session alongside the Annapolis team took place. Many of the Americans had not played rugby until they entered the Academy and therefore there was a big emphasis on protracted drills focusing on the basics. The weather had been good all week but it rained non-stop all day so the artificial pitch, slightly more forgiving than the 3G surface at BRNC, came in handy.

Rugby training was followed by an outing on the Yard Patrol craft. These could be described as P2000s on steroids and the Academy has many of them for training purposes. They can berth roughly 25 Midshipmen and regularly transit up to Baltimore and other areas around the Chesapeake Bay - a tremendous asset.

The Captain’s Run took place on Thursday morning, putting the final touches to team moves and getting mentally prepared for the match. Before lunch we formed up to watch their daily Parade Formation. This is where the entire Academy form up and perform a slick drill routine with a band playing before marching into lunch. This attracts a crowd of a few hundred members of the public everyday and is a spectacle behold.

…And so to the match. At the pitch, Wilma Boyington, the team physio, set up stall to strap up seemingly half the team. An 80 minute match would simply not have been possible without her good work.

Kick-off was delayed slightly due to the lateness of the referee but he was of international standard and was considered by all to be worth the wait. The match was played in four 20 minute quarters with rolling substitutes permitted.

Annapolis started well making gains into the BRNC half with powerful runs, their team no smaller than their 1st XV. BRNC defended well and soaked up the pressure. At last with ball in hand, the greater skill came to the fore with well composed back moves shredding their defence. After the first real attack, team captain Oliver Toozs-Hobson scored a try in the corner after good forward play pulled in the defence. Silly penalties allowed Annapolis to get back into the game and they responded with a try through their forwards near the posts. Annapolis led by 2 points after 20 minutes but BRNC continued to show the confidence that they could go on to win the game. Replacements were made and tactics altered taking fewer risks when attacking from deep. During this period Vivian Wilmott put in a thunderous hit on their fly half resulting in a damaged American and bloodied Brit who had to sit out the remainder of the match.

The thirdquarter started in a similar fashion to the second and soon BRNC had a lineout 10 metres from their goal line. A 13 man maul formed, to which the opposition had no answer, resulting in a try for Rhodri Leyshon. In a tug of war like tussle the opposition responded well again and it wasn’t long before one of their massive centres ran through a gap in the line and scored under the posts. Greg Stewart at fly half was running the game well and Joe Burton at No. 8 was carrying well and wearing down their defence so confidence remained high. Some good hands down the left hand side made good ground and after a few forward carries for small gains, David Hewitson went over in the corner for BRNC to retake the lead. 15-14. Going into the final quarter BRNC needed to remain calm and not play to the opposition’s superior fitness. 10 minutes left, BRNC won a penalty in kickable range which Chris Gray coolly slotted requiring a try from Annapolis to win. Defending well and despite a couple of half breaks BRNC line was not threatened gain. The final score 18-14, a well earned victory.

A steak feast followed and during the after dinner pleasantries the opposition coach awarded the Man of the Match to the BRNC number 10.

Seizing the opportunity to buy a couple of gizzets, the squad visited the cemeteries at Arlington, 1000 Pennsylvania Avenue, the Washington and Lincoln Memorials which certainly lived up to all expectations.

This has been an incredible season for a team with limited numbers and very little continuity. To have a season with accolades including Navy Cup Champions, Inter Navy Champions and on the back of an unbeaten tour of America, it is fair to say that BRNC is back in contention as a major player in Royal Navy rugby.

Article by POPT Stephen Fidock, BRNC. Images by SLt Randy Anderson, BRNC

Watch this space for news of the RN President’s XV tour of Estonia.