Combined Services Women Feel The Blues
A historic encounter at Cardiff’s famous Arms Park saw the Combined Services Women narrowly miss out 17 – 12 to the Cardiff Blues. Despite the atrocious conditions both sides tried to play positive rugby to entertain a record crowd for this fixture. The busy operational Fleet programme had precluded four Navy players from attending, so it was left to Loz Morton to be the sole Royal Navy representative in an otherwise Army and RAF side.
The choice of Cardiff as the opposition was particularly apt for the 2014 Women’s Remembrance Match. The declaration by Cardiff Rugby Club one hundred years ago when it suspended all fixtures and urged all “playing and subscribing members of the Club, as well as footballers generally, and spectators of Amateur Rugby Football in the District, to do everything in their power for the good of the Empire” is well known but some of the other contributions of the Arms Park to the War effort are perhaps less so. In 1917 the pitch hosted the first ever Cardiff Ladies match in aid of war charities when Cardiff took on neighbours Newport. Surely no one at the time would have envisaged that women’s rugby would grow to be such a vibrant sport.
Another key event hosted by the Arms Park, was perhaps a prelude to the recent Invictus Games organised by Prince Harry. The Sports for Wounded Soldiers held in August 1917, was further evidence that the Cardiff Club had held true to its pledge of 1914 when handing over the Arms Park to the Marquis of Bute, whilst declaring that it may be used in any way he saw fit to support the future war effort.
So some 100 years on, Jane Leonard led her Combined Services team out on to the very modern day Arms Park. Not only to meet the challenge of the Cardiff Blues but also to play a game in memory of those who did not return from the two World Wars and the numerous conflicts since.
It was CS who started the game the more brightly and made light of the terrible conditions. Cardiff Blues had trouble to stay in the game and keep their defensive line as with a surfeit of possession the Combined Services launched wave after wave of attacks. It was therefore surprising that it was the Blues who opened the scoring when a CS indiscretion gave them a simple kick for goal. The set back only re-doubled the CS resolve and they were soon back on the attack. The weather was now beginning to increase the error count and it looked as if the Blues might be able to hold out until half time with their 3 – 0 lead. However with a couple of minutes until the break the Blues defence was finally breeched when Sarah Mitchelson crossed for a well taken try, converted by Gemma Rowland. A deserved 7-3 half time lead for Combined Services.
As so often happens, the break seemed to disrupt the CS flow and perhaps their concentration as after the break they found themselves on the back foot as Cardiff Blues upped the intensity of their game. The visitors were further rocked when they lost their skipper Jane Leonard, to the sin bin for what even the locals felt was a harsh call. With CS down to fourteen players the Blues were able to capitalise and cross for a try of their own, the conversion giving them a slender 10 – 7 advantage.
However shortly after Leonard returned to the fray it was Cardiff Blues who extended their lead through a second try, again converted. With a ten point lead, horizontal rain and just over fifteen minutes on the clock it was going to be a tall order for Combined Services to rescue the game. With the Navy’s Loz Morton, on the pitch CS again found the rhythm of the first half and began to exert real pressure on the home side. However frustratingly for Combined Services they could not get the early break they so desperately needed and the clock kept ticking away from them. It was the dominant CS forwards that finally produced the needed break and give the visitors the chance of the win when, with barely five minutes to go, they crossed for the try to bring the game back to a single score. With the conversion missed it was a five point game.
From the restart the Combined Services launched their final assault. They were soon within 5m of the goal line and reminiscent of the trench warfare all those years ago, there was the expansion of huge effort for barely a metre of ground gained. With the clock ticking down through the last minute, the match wavered between the Cardiff Blues 5m line and their Goal Line but showing the resolve of their committee in 1914, the Blues were unbowed, their defence held and the victory secured 17 -12.
Both teams deserved the after match plaudits for a hard fought game that kept the spectators enthralled. The baton is now passed to the men and the Recreation Ground, Bath on Tuesday 11th November with an evening kick off when it is the turn of the Barbarians to meet the Combined Services Remembrance Challenge.
Images by Alligin Photography / © John Walton