RNRU Players to Show Samurai Spirit in International Defence Rugby Competition


The first official rugby tournament between defence forces, the King’s Cup, was held after the First World War. New Zealand were unbeaten in all but one of their matches; setting a pattern for a century of rugby dominance. So while the rugby nations of the world are battling it out for the William Webb-Ellis Trophy, 10 nations are sending their defence forces’ rugby teams to Japan from 9-23 September 2019 to contest the third International Defence Rugby Competition (IDRC). Soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines will gather to compete for the coveted Arthur Harrison VC Cup. 

The competition was first held jointly in Australia and New Zealand alongside the Rugby World Cup in 2011. The British Army took the inaugural title, beating the Australian Defence Force 62-17 in the Final. 4 years later and coinciding again with the World Cup, this time in England, the honours shifted to the Fijian Defence Force who gave a master class in running lines and offloads.  

Unlike the two previous tournaments the UK, instead of sending separate RN, RAF and Army teams, will deploy a United Kingdom Armed Forces squad bringing together the best of the three services – a mouth-watering prospect. 

The rest of the teams taking part include the hosts Japan together with Australia, South Korea, Georgia, Tonga, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Fiji and France. 

In 2019 a knock-out tournament will be employed instead of a pool based system. Fiji and the United Kingdom are seeded while all the semi-finalists from 2015 (Fiji, UK, France, and New Zealand) will avoid each other in the first round of the competition. 

The Japanese team is taking this event seriously having acquired the services of former Japanese national Katsuhiro Matsuo as head coach, while their forward’s coach is Kouzo Higashi (a former NEC rugby player and former Self-Defence officer). After the national teams epic shift against South Africa in RWC15, a wave of expectation exists for the hosts and it is hoped this will be reflected in the performance of their military side. The hosts have accumulated a lot of useful information from IDRC15 and have been “preparing for this tournament since the summer of 2018 and have been looking to strengthen the 2019 Japan team since the first camp.” 

The UKAF squad is made up of 13 Army (inter Services Champions 2019) and 5 RAF players; the RN are contributing significant numbers both in players, 11, and in the support staff of 3. During the previous tournament the RNRU Seniors were undone by Fiji and New Zealand and found themselves competing for the IDRC Plate which they won, 32 – 7, against a fiercely competitive Georgian side. Ben Priddey, Edd Pascoe, Seti Raumakita, Nathan Huntley and Ben Chambers will be keen to make amends this time around.  Joining them on the plane to Tokyo will be Scott Makepeace, Gareth Rees, Craig Duncan, Bradley Janes and Ratu Vakalutukali. 

Some of the military’s nationally known top players, such as the RAF’s Josh McNally (Bath) and the Army’s Semesa Rokoduguni (Bath), will not be involved due to their professional requirements at club level. Meanwhile, as has been widely reported, the Royal Navy’s Sam Matavesi, although enjoying a prolific purple patch, will not be wearing the UKAF Purple. Having had a hugely influential season with the RNRU and Cornish Pirates, he was selected to reinforce Toulouse in the Pro14 and on the back of that and his versatility to play back row and hooker has been selected for Fiji’s squad for the World Cup! 

But the RN representation doesn’t stop there. Having amounted multiple RN league, union and UKAF caps, Silivenusi ‘B’Buinimasi takes his seat on the plane as Assistant Coach after having taking the Sharks and Seniors to the next level. Leading from the front is UKAF stalwart, Director of Rugby, Lt Cdr Doc Cox, whose links to service rugby go as far back as 1992, while bringing up the rear is UKAF Event Manager Cdr Arty Shaw, who is acting as Chef de Mission for the competition.

Words: Jamie Campbell-Baldwin
Image credit:  Alligin Photography