We are most grateful to our key sponsors: Dell Technologies, Fujitsu, SecureCloud+, Collins Aerospace, Legation Strategies and Team Ethos for supporting us in this exciting venture [attending the International Defence Rugby Competition in Japan – 9-23 September]
UKAF Chairman – Air Vice Marshall Rocky Rochelle OBE DFC MA RAF
Match Report from Cdr ML (Arty) Shaw BEng CEng MRAeS RN
UKAF Rugby 17 – Republic of Fiji Military Force 31
Eddie Jones, the England Head Coach stated before the World Cup that whichever team who coped with adversity in Japan the best, would be the one standing more chance of winning the trophy. And that quote was fully tested as the build up to the Final of the International Defence Rugby Competition 2019 could not have been more challenging. The location for the final was to be the Kashiwanoha Park Stadium, a venue truly fitting of the final between the UK Armed Forces and Fiji.
However, 10 minutes into the 3rd Place Play Off Final between France and New Zealand, the strong winds blew over the left-hand goal post, shearing the supporting bolts and thus rendering the posts completely unserviceable. Frantic discussions then took place between the Japanese officials, desperate to fulfill their commitments, who even suggested that the game be played with no posts, no conversion, drop goals or penalty kicks.
Thankfully common sense prevailed and given excellent organisation by the host nation, the game was moved to Camp Narashino, the venue of UKAF’s first game and the squad’s training pitch during the tournament. The teams marched onto the pitch with a large crowd anticipating a great battle, the anthems adding to the majesty of the event.
The travel disruption and delayed start did not affect either team as both tried to launch plays from strong field position early in the game. Despite the strong, and at times, typhoon strength, winds that blew across the pitch, both teams attacked with ball in hand, passing plays just not quite able to break two very well drilled and resolute defences. It was UKAF who made the breakthrough, when Dixon punished a Fijian offside infringement after a bruising tackle with a kick to make it 3-0.
This was to be the last UKAF points on the scoreboard for the remainder of the half as the Fijians’ power and sublime counter-attack mentality began to make inroads into the UKAF defence. After a great catch and drive by UKAF which was sadly knocked on RFMF capitilised from the resulting scrum when their scrum half, Leone Nawai a former Fiji U2 international, broke from his own goal line. The ball was taken on by Epi Cokanasiga wh kicked ahead before being tackled. Nawai won the foot race to the ball to score his sides opening try. The RFMF flyhalf Jeke Suguturage missed the conversion but the RFMF had a 5-3 lead.
The second Fiji try came after a period of sustained pressure by UKAF in the Fijian 22, but an overthrown line out was picked off and after slick hands, the Fijians scored again through their left wing Epi Cokanasiga to make it 3-12. The UKAF defence was tested again and again, the Fijians strong in the tackle but using the offload to significant effect. Again, sustained pressure stretched the UKAF men who had to resort to killing the ball but a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ tap and go Leone Nawai to score his second and to give RFMF a commanding 3-17 lead at the half after Suguturage had missed the conversion.
As in the Semi-Final, the team had Head Coach Lee Soper’s firm half-time talk ringing in their ears and began to build on their strengths of a strong set piece and a flying set of backs, well-orchestrated by the tactical kicking game of Dixon, who used the wind to fantastic effect and kept the Fijians pinned in their 22 for long periods of the half. But the same Fijian offload game continued to test even the most resolute of UKAF defence. As in the first half, a significant passage of play led the Fijians to the UKAF 22, who having been caught offside enabled the Leone Nawai to once again tap and go. This time the powerful right wing, Gabby Matakiviwa, had drifted in field to take the pop pass and go under the posts four his teams fourth try. Suguturage landed the simple kick and RFMF had extended their lead to 24-3
With UKAF team buoyed by the reinforcements from the bench adding fresh legs, the team began convert a dominance up front with great field position. They were camped on the Fijian line for long passages of play, not being able to find a way through until finally, the Fijian defence could cope with the onslaught no longer and Rob Bell finished a superb catch and drive maul, converted by Dixon to make it 10-24. With their tails up, UKAF continued its dominance but again, just could not break down the Fijians immense tackling and turnovers which led to the stand out try of the match with the Fijian backline demonstrating their supberb handling skills in extreme conditions, coupled with their forwards exploiting time and space to give them a 10-31 unassailable lead.
Despite knowing the game was lost, UKAF continued to play with drive and vigour and after pressure led to a Fijian yellow card, the men in purple exploited the overload and enabled Stu Cross to score the final try of IDRC 19 to make the final score 17-31.
Head Coach Lee Soper said “the first thing I would like to say a massive thank you to all the players for their gigantic efforts on the pitch against a very good team. To my TSG for all their support they have given myself and the lads over these past 6 months. We started very well but a couple of mistakes cost us points in the first half and the lads did great after the half time break. I’m just really proud of this bunch of players to have pulled together in such a short space of time to achieve getting and running the Fijians close at the end”.
Director of Rugby Doc Cox added “The final whistle brought to an end a truly hard-fought contest where both sides battled against the elements kindly provided by Typhoon Tapah. The UKAF players that took to the field wore the shirt with pride and passion, and can be justifiably proud of their efforts both on and off the pitch and their achievements. Despite being magnanimous in defeat, the result is still a bitter pill to swallow when you take into consideration the amount of possession UKAF had in the Fijian Red Zone and their abrasive defence stopped the UKAF score line ticking over. As the sun set on the closing ceremony new friendships have been made that will stay not only between the players and TSG, but throughout the rugby family around the world”.
So, the defending champions Fiji retain their trophy and despite the conditions in the final, they played with both power and sublimity and are worthy Champions. The player of the tournament was awarded to the Fijian Number 9, Leone Nawai, who was today’s man of the match. UKAF can be proud of their achievements in Japan, leaving with significant memories, new friendships made and the UKAF name ever more prestigious.
International Defence Rugby Competition – Japan – 9-23 September 2019
The International Defence Rugby Competition (IDRC) brings together the best defence rugby teams from around the world to compete for the Arthur Leyland Harrison VC Cup.
The IDRC is held by the host nation of the Rugby World Cup and runs alongside the main competition. This year the competition will be held in Japan where Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines from ten nations will be competing to become the World’s Best Armed Forces Rugby Team. The competition was held for the first time in Australia and New Zealand alongside the Rugby World Cup 2011, where the British Army took the title after beating the Australian Defence Force 62-17. The second IDRC was held in UK in 2015 when the Republic of Fiji Armed Forces team took the main prize.