- Army retains Babcock Trophy
- 72,471 fans turn out to support the armed forces
Photo: Getty Images
Wing Semesa Rokoduguni was again the star of the show in front of a record crowd for an amateur match at Twickenham as the Army retained the Babcock Trophy and won the Inter Services Championship for the tenth time in 11 years.
Rokoduguni scored a hat-trick of tries in last year's one-sided affair, which helped him to secure a professional contract with Aviva Premiership club Bath.
He repeated the feat this time around but in very different circumstances as the Army recovered from going 19 points down inside the opening 17 minutes to overcome a spirited Navy side.
“We have never been in that position before since I have been playing,” said Army captain Darrell Ball.
“We knew they were going to come out all guns blazing and the first 40 minutes is always close and tough but I certainly didn’t expect it to be 19-0 to them after that period.
“You just have to stick to your game plan, go through the phases, get a bit of territory and look after the ball, which was the main thing.
“When we had the ball we gave it to the wingers and it proved difficult for them to get back into it after Roko and Sam Speight scored tries in the first half.”
Two tries from centre Dale Sleeman and one from number eight Gaz Evans had the large contingent of Navy fans in a 72,471 crowd on their feet but the experience of Exeter Chiefs prop Chris Budgen and Ospreys hooker Matt Dwyer helped the Army pack to establish control.
Wings Speight and Rokoduguni benefited from a plentiful supply of possession and by half time the Army were back on level terms.
Full back Ceri Cummings kicked the Army into the lead with a 50th-minute penalty and once they were in front the Army were ruthless.
“We almost got off to too good a start,” said Navy captain Dave Pascoe. “The momentum seemed to shift their way and we didn’t win it back.
“But it was an amazing spectacle, not just the crowd but the whole occasion. The fleet far and wide. We were receiving emails, texts and videos of the support behind the team.
“It gives us as a fleet something to focus on where we can come back together for this one occasion. It was a privilege and honour to be able to lead the team out on such an occasion.”
The Army’s preparations included an emotional visit to the Defence Medical rehabilitation Unit at Headley Court in Surrey.
“We all know somebody who has been injured and not made it home,” said Ball. ”We knew some of the boys down there and it’s a leveller because that is our job. First and foremost we are soldiers and to go down there and pay them a visit was something nice for them and something positive for us.”