Shock and awe! A phrase familiar to the players of the UKAF Women’s rugby team in their professional roles was also apt for an opening period of rugby where Wales monopolised possession, scored two well taken tries and played a game of variety and pace that was too hot to handle for a side that had only just come together. It set the tone for a convincing 43-5 victory which was deserved, as the international side stepped up a gear from their recent victory over Scotland.
The UKAF side took to the field full of confidence after a good week’s training at HMS Temeraire and were a team determined to build on last season’s dramatic draw in the annual Remembrance Match. The pre match observance of Remembrance was poignant with the game falling on Armistice Day itself. However the period of calm reflection was a prelude to an opening ten minutes where the Wales team, taking heart from a passionate rendition of mae hen wlad fy nhadau ,started the far stronger and this time ensured there would be no UKAF recovery. With their backrow of Butchers, Harries and impressive Number 8 Powell-Hughes bossing the breakdown scrum half Bevan was able to dictate the early tempo with fly half Snowsill either using her long kicks to good effect or releasing a back division where left wing Taviner was a continual danger as she roamed off her wing to appear late in midfield. Quick fire tries from full back Hywel, lock forward Clay and flanker, Harries were a fair reflection of their early dominance and meant that UKAF were 19-0 down after six minutes and chasing the game.
It was to their credit that the Armed Forces team rallied well, led from the front by their skipper Mitchelson, who had earlier announced her retirement from representative rugby. However too often promising moves broke down through either a little misunderstanding or resolute Wales defence. It was the understandable lack of cohesion that prevented UKAF getting on the score board in the second quarter. A period of sustained possession in the Wales 22 promised much but the red wall of Wales defence held firm and eventually a wayward kick to the corner allowed Wales to lift the pressure having kept their line intact.
The failure to score seemed to distract the UKAF side and they were clearly frustrated when a couple of moments of loss in concentration, along with slipping off some midfield tackles allowed Wales flanker, Butchers , to grab a fourth try in the five minutes before half time. 24-0 and Wales were in control as the teams left for the changing rooms, and for UKAF the opportunity to re-group.
The opening period of the second half proved to be a more even contest. UKAF, at last, were getting some parity at the breakdown, and though they remained under pressure from Wales defencive line speed they were able to control a little more possession. With the game ebbing and flowing there was just a glimmer of hope for UKAF that a score may give them a toe hold in the match. With their forwards beginning to make some of the needed hard yards around the fringes of the breakdown, scrumhalf Stonebridge-Smith had a little more time on the ball to release the UKAF backline. A few half breaks lifted the spirits of the vociferous UKAF support but even the most ardent UKAF supporter would have had to have applauded Wales’ fifth try; that effectively finished the game. From under their posts they secured possession and produced a free flowing length of the field passage of play where subtle passes and support runners aplenty allowed them to break UKAF hearts as replacement Moore crossed under the posts for the try of the night. With less than twenty five minutes to play a 31 point deficit was always going to be too much for the UKAF team.
Going in to the final quarter the game lost a little of its previous fluency as both teams made a number of changes. Two further tries from fly half Snowsill, who was deservedly also named player of the match, and replacement Elen Evans, had extended the lead to 43-0 with Wales looking determined to nudge the scoreboard to the half century.
Earlier in the day the UKAF women had received their shirts from Olympic double gold medallist, Maj Heather Stanning MBE. May be it was her words about short term goals in adversity that resonated with UKAF in the last five minutes of the game. Though the match was lost the determination of Mitchelson’s team to finish with something was still clearly evident and it was fitting that as the game entered its final play fullback Murray was able to squeeze over in the left corner for a well-deserved try. 43-5 was a fair reflection overall and for UKAF a clear indication of what is required next year when they will surely once more test themselves against international opposition as the Women’s annual Remembrance Match cements itself in the Services sporting calendar.
With Wales having been presented with the trophy in front of a record crowd for this growing fixture, the final presentation was left to Paddy McAlpine, Chairman of UKAF Rugby, who had the honour to present eight UKAF caps to the debutants on the evening.
Congratulations go to Heidi Silcox, Alex Hardy, Kate Hancock, Beth Dainton, Paula Robinson, Kate Edwards, Jess McAuley-Roberts, Fran Athawes and Maria Waghorn who all received their first UKAF cap. And finally a thank you to Army and UKAF skipper, Sarah Mitchelson, who has contributed so much to the success of Service Women’s rugby.
Wales: Cerys Hale, Carys Phillips (C), Amy Evans, Siwan Lillicrap, Mel Clay, Alisha Butchers, Sioned Harries, Shona Powell-Hughes, Keira Bevan, Elinor Snowsill, Adi Taviner, Rebecca De Filippo, Kerin Lake, Jess Kavanagh-Williams, Dyddgu Hywel Reps: Lowri Howells, Gwenllian Pyrs, Catrin Edwards, Charlie Mundy, Rachel Taylor, Sian Moore, Robyn Wilkins, Elen Evans, Jodie Evans, Nia Elen Davies
UKAF: Sarah Batley, Rae Metters, Bianca Dawson, Ellie Gattlin, Heidi Silcox, Erica Mills, Sian Williams, Alex Hardy, Gemma Stonebridge-Smith, Kate Hancock, Beth Dainton, Sarah Mitchelson (C), Gemma Rowland, Jade Mullen, Charlie Murray Reps: Paula Robinson, Maria Waghorn, Fran Athawes, Kat Dale, Kate Edwards, Charlie Fredrickson, Maz Claassens, Chrissy Siczowa, Caz Roberts, Jess McAuley-Roberts