Despite a continued spell of British like autumnal weather, the Semi Final of the IDRC 19 between the UK Armed Forces Rugby Team and France National Military Rugby Team, the defence version of Le Crunch was played in another hot and humid stifling atmosphere. Although preparations for the UKAF team had gone well, early match nerves led to both sides making mistakes, leading the game lacking any fluidity over the first 20 minutes.
UKAF expected a hard game up front and so it came to pass with the French scrum dominating and their defence limiting the UKAF back line to marginal gains.
The first breakthrough however came from continued pressure from the forwards and a bulldozing run from AET Brad Janes, picking up where he left off from the first game, down the right wing, stretching the French defence and allowing some quick passing out wide to see Mne Craig Duncan score under the posts on his UKAF Debut. The French responded quickly and only by UKAF killing the ball where they repelled, but a difficult kick missed led to a 7-0 scoreline.
French perseverance paid off however, with their forward domination allowing gaps appearing in midfield and a well-deserved try reduced the deficit to 7-5.
UKAF reverted to their strengths and a lineout in great field position led to a catch and drive, patiently building to enable Sgt Gareth ‘Bombhead’ Smith give UKAF a hard fought 12-5 lead with 10 minutes to go.
A penalty opportunity from LCpl James 'Dicko' Dixon went amiss and with the French capitalising on key UKAF errors, their swift backline quickly brought the scores level at 12-12. With the nerve’s tangible, from the kick off, UKAF steadied the ship, drove into midfield and poor French discipline lead to another penalty opportunity for Dicko which this time he landed to give a close but reflective 15-12 half time scoreline.
After Head Coach SSgt Lee Soper’s half time strongly worded direction, UKAF were a different team in the second half. Early match nervousness was transformed into an assured forward platform, led by LPT Ben Priddey and the engine room of AET Scott Makepeace and Sgt Ross Parkins. With flyhalf Dixon orchestrating field position and the back line moves with more fluidity and wider field vision, UKAF began to find both space, time and more importantly points. The first try of the second half came from a typical scrum half steal after the forwards pummelled the French line, wearing down their defences and allowing AB Gareth Rees to touch the ball down from two metres out for his second try of the tournament. 22-12 to UKAF and a crucial double score deficit for the tiring French to make up.
With continued and sustained pressure, Dicko drew on all facets of his exceptional game and a chip over the French defence again led to them killing the ball giving him the opportunity to further extend the lead by another 3 points.
This was the turning point for the French as their structure and, more importantly, discipline began to falter. With the UKAF making key substitutions, every player adding significantly to the ongoing effort on the pitch, the standard of rugby was, in places, exceptional.
The French, with traditional gallic flair and in desperation, tried to run the ball from their own 22 but in doing so they failed to spot Flt Lt Stu Philpot who grabbed an interception and was unapposed to score under the posts.
With 7 minutes to go and the game won, the French admirably kept attacking the UK line but a breakout from Mne Ratu Vakalutukali supported by Mne Seta Raumakita gave Sgt Dave Manning clear open space in which he, bizarrely, placed an exquisite grubber kick (from a prop!) which allowed Dicko the time and space to place a wonderfully chipped ball into the corner which saw AET Brad Janes grab the last try of the game. Dixon made the difficult conversion from the touchline to give UKAF a well deserved 39-12 final winning score.
As before there were some stand out performances to give Mr Jeff Portlock, Defence Lead for the key sponsor SecureCloud+, a real headache. He noted the contribution from the pack as a whole and James Dixon for his game management but outright Man of the Match with some incredible turnovers and sheer work rate throughout was Sgt Matt Dawson who, at openside flanker was immense.
Head Coach Lee Soper said “I’m glad we have made the final and we now have a challenge to overcame some knock as and scrapes to prepare the players for the big game against Fiji”.
UKAF Director of Rugby, Lt Cdr Doc Cox added “The UKAF squad should be commended for their stoic performance and sticking to the Head Coaches’ game plan, despite the dogged French team continually pushing the boundaries of fair sportsmanship, leaving 3 players with eye gouge marks and various off the ball incidents. We now look forward to the final with Fiji and I know that Lee Soper, his coaching team and our medical staff will prepare the players during the remaining days for the final of the IDRC 19, bringing to fruition a wonderfully organised tournament thus far by the Japanese Ministry of Defence”.
The final of IDRC 19 with be between UKAF and The Republic of Fiji Military Forces Rugby at the Kashiwanoha Park Stadium, an amazing 20,000 capacity venue on Monday 23 Sep 19 with Kick off at 1430(L) (0630 UK Time).
UKAF Team: Smith, Priddey, Dowding, Parkins, Makepeace, Vaaklutukali, Dawson, Miller (C), Rees, Dixon, Chambers, Raumakita, Fatiaki, Janes, Janes, Duncan Reps: Philpott, Harris, Manning, Heath, Cross, Huntley, O'Reilly, Pascoe
Tries: Duncan, Smith, Rees, Philpott, Janes Cons: Dixon (4) Pens: Dixon (2)