Match Report: UKAF Men v Rugby for Heroes

In front of a noisy, excited crowd at Kingsholm the Remembrance Rugby fixture between UK Armed Forces and Rugby for Heroes promised to be an exciting game even before the first whistle had blown.

UK Armed Forces Rugby v Rugby for Heroes, 17th November 2021, Kingsholm Stadium – Photo Credit Neil Kennedy / Alligin Photography

The UKAF team was without some of their big names, though Josh McNally did travel up to present the team their jerseys, but the Rugby for Heroes squad was littered with familiar names from Premiership and international rugby. Julian Salvi and Jordan Crane in the back row are both familiar faces for rugby fans and Delon Armitage & Tom Varndell might both be retired but they give up their time for so many charity fixtures they still look match fit. Their captain Mike Tindall led from the front and it’s clear he still doesn’t know how to give anything other than his all.

UK Armed Forces Rugby v Rugby for Heroes, 17th November 2021, Kingsholm Stadium – Photo Credit Neil Kennedy / Alligin Photography

With so much talent on display, it was no surprise that Rugby for Heroes were the first team to score. A series of passes allowing Armitage within inches of the line after just three minutes and Jordan Crane, with the poaching instincts of a lifelong number 8, finding space to stretch his arms and score. Ryan Lamb was unable to convert.

It was all white shirts for the next few minutes, UKAF resolute in defence but unable to get their hands on the ball as Rugby for Heroes showed their pedigree with some lovely offloading. A dropped ball led to UKAF possession and one pass later Jarrad Hayler showed the sort of pace you don’t associate with a back row forward as the Royal Navy man sped through a gap in the line to score and get the UK Armed Forces show on the road!

UK Armed Forces Rugby v Rugby for Heroes, 17th November 2021, Kingsholm Stadium – Photo Credit Neil Kennedy / Alligin Photography

Army’s James Dixon’s conversion was good and UKAF took the lead. All this and still only 7 minutes on the clock! A couple of minutes later and the Air Force got in on the action too. Sam Hutchinson might be playing in the second row but he stole an intercept that would make a winger proud and charged through to score.

The individual talent on Rugby for Heroes showed through as they continued to dominate territory and possession but the fitness and unity of the men in purple ensured their opponents were thwarted time and again.

UK Armed Forces Rugby v Rugby for Heroes, 17th November 2021, Kingsholm Stadium – Photo Credit Neil Kennedy / Alligin Photography

More tries, from Ryan Crowley, Ben Chambers and Setareki Raumakita as well as a Rugby for Heroes score from Johnny Arr meant we went into half time with a 31-12 score line and a lot of anticipation that the second half could be as exciting.

Connor O’Reilly quickly got UK Armed Forces on the scoresheet in the second half with a lovely try to cap off some flowing rugby. The winger is currently plying his trade for Colchester but on this evidence could do a job in the Championship or perhaps even higher, he’s been a threat all evening.

UK Armed Forces Rugby v Rugby for Heroes, 17th November 2021, Kingsholm Stadium – Photo Credit Neil Kennedy / Alligin Photography

A wonderful, leaping, intercept by Craig Duncan propelled UKAF even further ahead and the team in purple were looking completely dominant at this point. They kept possession well, working the phases and patiently building their possession and 15 minutes into the second half the Army’s Nathanael Tichard-Jones ran as only a prop can to power over the line.

Delon Armitage, who spent the entire game playing on the edge, finally got Rugby for Heroes back on the scoreboard with a deft touch to control and down the ball. From there a period of end-to-end rugby where neither team could capitalise and the skill of the Rugby for Heroes team was neutralised time and again by UKAF’s fitness and tenacity and they’d capitalise through Rob Bell to add another to the purple side of the scoreboard.

With just under ten minutes on the clock Rugby for Heroes struck again, Matt Jess creating some space for Kotobalavu to score. Ryan Lamb, increasingly showing his flair threw a huge, winding, (possibly forward?) pass that referee Tom Foley, sensing the joy in the crowd and wearing a beaming smile of his own, deemed legal for a try that Lamb quickly converted. A Barbarians-esque moment and a good reminder that charity and entertainment are the keywords for this game.

UK Armed Forces Rugby v Rugby for Heroes, 17th November 2021, Kingsholm Stadium – Photo Credit Neil Kennedy / Alligin Photography

With the clock in the red UKAF decided they weren’t quite finished, Ryan Crowley picking up a dropped ball, zipping through to the try line and landing the ball with a big splash. The metronomic boot of James Dixon giving UK Armed Forces a final score of 62 to Rugby for Heroes’ 33. A fantastic game, a great spectacle and some players we need to keep an eye on ahead of the inter-services games in the spring!

UKAF 29 Rugby for Heroes 26 – Match Report

On a wet an gloomy November night at Ashton Gate Stadium, home of Bristol Bears, the U.K. Armed Forces Rugby men’s team took to the field for their annual Remembrance fixture. This year the opposition came from Rugby for Heroes and they produced a team littered with ex internationals and former Premiership players.

The first half kicked off and the Rugby for Heroes put the UKAF lads on the back foot with some unpredictable and expansive BaaBaas style rugby. Both sides made huge defensive efforts which forced errors, the horrendous weather conditions and high tempo of the game saw the ball turned over repeatedly but it was R4H that managed to crack their opposition’s defensive line first with their quick off loads and international class. They backed that up with another quick try and put themselves 0-14 ahead within the first 10 minutes . It looked like it was going to be a rough night for the UKAF boys as R4H racked up more points and pushed themselves further ahead, but the never quit attitude from the UKAF lads saw them get back in the game and go into half time with some points on the board.

Half time UKAF 7 – 26 Rugby for Heroes

The second half was a different story and the UKAF team emerged from half time with a new outlook on the game and met the R4Hs BaaBaas style with their own inventive and expansive rugby. Both teams stepped up their defensive efforts and the tackling just got more brutal. UKAF had R4H on the back foot now, they dominated the scrum and started making good yards down field with some hard running and quick hands. R4H eventually cracked under the pressure and UKAF starting adding more points to the score board. It was now a case of experience vs stamina and the UKAF’s military fitness and resilience kicked in as they managed to claw their way right back into the game. The last 10 minutes was a display of free flowing creative rugby which saw the UKAF score in the dying minutes and sealed them the hard fought victory the deserved.
The entire game was a pure spectacle of rugby enjoyed by both teams and supporters alike.

Final score UKAF 29 – 26 Rugby for Heroes

We would like to say a huge thanks to JP Doyle and the rest of the match officials who helped make this remembrance game the show piece of rugby that it was.

The Dell Technologies Man of the Match went to AB Gareth Rees Royal Navy

We could put our players out onto the field without the support from our amazing sponsors

Dell Technologies
Fujitsu
SecureCloud+
Collins Aerospace
Legation Strategies

And our charity partner SSAFA the Armed Forces Charity.

UKAF Team for 2019 Remembrance Match

Lee Soper, UKAF Head Coach, names his side to face Rugby 4 Heroes in the 2019 Remembrance Match

  1. Gareth Smith (Army)
  2. Joe Brown (Army)
  3. Ken Dowding (Army)
  4. Scott Makepeace (Navy)
  5. Edward Pascoe (Navy)
  6. Stuart Cross (Army)
  7. Matthew Dawson (Army)
  8. James Miller (C) (Army)
  9. Gareth Rees (Navy)
  10. James Dixon (Army)
  11. Ben Chambers (Navy)
  12. Setareki Raumakita (Navy)
  13. Brad Janes (Navy)
  14. Conor O’Reily (Army)
  15. Greg Loydall (Navy)
  16. Matthew Harris (RAF)
  17. Viliame Kotobalavu (Army)
  18. David Manning (RAF)
  19. Robert Heath (Army)
  20. Alex Stanley (RAF)
  21. Lloyd Wheedon (Army)
  22. Viliame Waqaunidrola (Army)
  23. Toby Evans (RAF)

Always Looking Forward…………………

Though the International Defence Rugby Cup may have finished the World Cup had yet to reach the end of round 1 with Wales due to play their first match in the competition later that night.  Obviously there was a small but (as always with the welsh) vocal contingent from the Principality in the 2019 UKAF Touring squad.  They will have been pleased with the result against Georgia if not necessarily the second half performance from their team.

UKAF Rugby 17 Republic of Fiji Military Force 31 – Full Match Report

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 fulfil 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”.

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.

Republic of Fiji Military Forces Retain Arthur Harrison VC Trophy

Despite two second half tries through the RAF’s Rob Bell and the Army’s Ross Parkins, UK Armed Forces were unable to rest the trophy from RFMF’s grasp.  The Fijian side produced a powerful performance to win a very physical match 31-17 through three first half tries and two in the second.

The game had been moved from the Kashiwa Noha due to high winds damaging the posts and was effected by the wind all evening, however it was RFMF who adpated the better.  An early James Dixon penalty was responded to through three well taken tries, the second of which was converted.  17-3 the lead at half time which was extended to 24-3 in the second period.  Bell’s try gave UKAF a glimmer of hope with 15 minutes to go before RFMF crossed for their fifth and final try.  In the gathering gloom Ross Parkins seemed to be under a pile of UKAF players for a consolation try.  Dixon’s conversation brought the final whistle and once again the Republic of Fiji Military Force were crowned IDRC champions.

Full match report to follow:

RFMF Lead 17 – 3 at Half Time

A postponed start and a change of venue, due to high winds and broken posts at Kashiwa Noha led to a dsitruptive start to the IDRC 2019 final.  James Dixon landed an early penalty to give UK Armed Froces and perfect start and  an early 3 – 0 lead.  However the Republic of Fiji Military Forces responded with three tries with one converted to lead at halftime 17-3.  Craig Duncan has been forced off with an ankle injury, repalced by Nathan Huntley.

The Tinkermen – The Final Adjustments

The team selected for the IDRC final shows few changes from the team that defeated the French in the semi final  In all there are just two changes to the starting line up plus one positional change.

Up front the RAF’s Dave Manning brings all his experience into the front row at Tighthead Prop where he joins Navy hooker Ben Priddey and the Army’s Bombhead Smith, still buoyant from his try scoring performance last time out.  The rest of the pack remains the same with an unchanged back five led by skipper Jamie Miller at Number 8.  Head Coach, Lee Soper, has made one adjustment though with his options for the forwards with the inclusion of UKAF’s top try scorer, Rob Bell, on the bench.  The inclusion of Rob gives the UKAF side plenty of variety from the bench with a number of players who are real specialists at winning turnovers at the all important breakdown area.

At halfback the Navy’s Gareth Rees will once more link with the Army Flyhalf James Dixon.  If Rees has his name on the try sheet it is Dixon who has been so assured in managing both games so far, whether with ball in hand or with his tactical kicking.  His 90+% accuracy from the kicking tee has also ensured that UKAF have captialised fully from opposition transgressions whilst also seeing nearly all of their 14 tries converted.

In the back five Army flyer Connor O’Reilly comes in on the left wing, with the Navy’s Brad Janes moving across to the right and Ben Chambers dropping to the bench.

You can view the full team slected earlier today by clicking here.

The match will be streamed live on Facebook by Forces News.  Kick off is 06:30 Monday morning UK time.