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Defence battle sets up intriguing Challenge Cup clash

18 Jan 22, 3:27PM 0 Comments

Written by Stuart McLennan

Photo by Army Rugby League

Since it’s beginning in 1896, the rugby league Challenge Cup has provided the platform for amateur clubs to test themselves in the wider rugby league world and see how far they can push through, some reaching the point where they are pitted against semi-professional and professional clubs who join the competition in later rounds.

A Betfred Challenge Cup Round Two match up will see the British Army up against the Royal Navy in an all defence service contest and there is plenty of pride hinging on it for both sides.

In 2020 the British Army reached the 4th round eclipsing the third round record achieved by the Royal Navy in 2010.

British Army coach Mike Thompson said the match to be played at Aldershot Military Stadium will be a huge moment for his side.

“It’s absolutely massive, of all the teams we could have drawn in the Challenge Cup we drew another service team in the Royal Navy!

“The guys are ecstatic and can’t wait for it. We haven’t played them for over two years due to Covid and other varying reasons, so to get back onto the field with them, I am sure it will be a feisty encounter. We absolutely love being the top side, it gives us pressure from all sides, but mainly to compete and stay at the top and to keep winning to call ourselves Inter Service Champions.”

While the British Army were pushed all the way in their Round 1 encounter with Orrell St James, finally winning 18-10 after being down 0-6 at half time, the Royal Navy enjoyed a big 60-0
victory over Bridgend Blue Bulls.

Thompson is anticipating his opposition will not take a backward step as they look to topple the army side.

“There is no doubt they will come at us all guns blazing. No team is a push over and to keep another team to zero is exceptional and not an easy task over 80 mins. Scoring big points comes off the back of a well-rounded and well drilled side so we will need to be ready. They are a big side and like to muscle up, they have some new talent that’s commanding them around the field and controls their football. Their bonus was that they got to watch us play on Saturday whereas we are going in blind with them.”

Being a defence service with competing priorities, Thompson acknowledges it is not always easy to manage the logistics of entering and running a team in the Challenge Cup competition.

“We’re all soldiers by day and all have busy roles. Many are on notice to move and can be called back to the respective regiments at any given notice. We have soldiers from all parts of the UK across all cap badges and even personnel deployed in other countries.

“We don’t have the luxury of training 2 to 3 times a week on a regular basis like most community teams. We meet a few days before games, get as much training in as we can and then enter the arena. Were fortunate this round as the Royal Navy are pretty similar to us so will have had about the same prep time together.”

Rugby league was banned in the British armed forces from 1895 until the order was finally lifted in 1994. Services teams were invited to enter the Challenge Cup from 2000 onwards.

Thompson has a goal to equal or surpass the Army’s 2020 record of reaching the 4th round of the competition but is conscious of not jumping too far ahead.

“Fourth round again would be a dream come true, but we’re taking it one game at a time. Some of the League One teams have come in earlier this year so it’s already a bigger test for all the community sides to go further. The Challenge Cup is the most prestigious trophy in our sport, even just being able to compete in it is an honour, and to go as far as we can and test ourselves with some well-respected and big name clubs is special.”

The Round 2 Betfred Challenge Cup clash between the British Army and the Royal Navy will be played on the weekend of 29-30 January. Day TBC.

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