Tryless trench warfare on the Twickenham front

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The Independent Online
TIM GLOVER

Royal Navy 9 Army 6

It was, said Captain Corin Palmer, a "real war of attrition, like two sides in the trenches." Military metaphors have a long and distinguished history in sporting battles and the Willis Corroon Inter-Service Championship comes equipped with an arsenal.

Capt Palmer, captain of the Navy XV, attached to HMS Warrior and one of nine Royal Marines in the side, might have added that no prisoners were taken. The Navy, champions last year, won by three penalties to two and now train their sights on the RAF.

Nearly 19,000 people enjoyed the Twickenham experience, most of them from the buoyant Senior Service. The Army, after all, has personnel in Northern Ireland and Bosnia. Even so it was the biggest crowd for such a match (first played at the Kennington Oval in 1878) since 1948.

Security was intense and when the stadium and its surrounds was searched, police found the body of a man who had been sleeping in a ditch. He had been dead for some time. Unaware of this macabre discovery, the crowd did what most crowds do for a big match at Twickenham: they ate and drank themselves silly in the car parks. The services, though, do it better than anybody, erecting regimental and unit mess tents complete with full silver service and candelabra.

The Army - beaten 75-5 by the Navy in the morning in the first ever over- 35s match - were without the internationals Rob Wainwright and Tim Rodber, who were playing for their countries in the Hong Kong Sevens, and Garath Archer who was on duty for Bristol. The services have always recognised that international calls have precedence but traditionalists question the morality of star players, who go Awol with increasing frequency, not only taking the Queen's shilling but also being paid by club and country.

The lung-bursting rendition of the National Anthem served as a reminder that this was no place for a republican. "The RN and Army ask spectators to remember service traditions of sportsmanship and to refrain from the sort of crowd behaviour which is, sadly, creeping into other sports," they announced.

The booing that coincided with a kick at goal was deafening. First, though, there was a pitched battle between the sides. Stewart Piercy, the referee, clearly an experienced campaigner, simply stood and watched, hands behind his back, as Aldershot took on Portsmouth in what looked like a re-enactment of chucking out time on a Friday night. When the shelling stopped, Piercy had a word with the captains and showed a yellow card: no names, no pack drill.

The Navy concentrated its attack on the Marine corps of scrum-half and back row while the Army attempted to open up a number of fronts but the tackling, of a never-say- die intensity, kept both lines intact. Kurt Eyre kicked the winning penalty three minutes from the end and the East stand raised the White Ensign to a chorus of Rule Britannia.

Royal Navy: Penalties Eyre 3. Army: Penalties: Knowles 2.

Royal Navy: K Eyre; R Williams, D Sibson, C White, S Brown; I Fletcher, P Livingstone; N Bartlett, M Wooltorton, D Parkes, G Harrison, D Cross, R Armstrong, M Hewitt (R Readwin, 78), C Palmer (capt).

Army: R Abernethy; B Johnson, A Sanger, L Douglas, H Graham; P Knowles, S Pinder; D Coghlan, J Brammer (capt), M Stewart, D Dahinten, A Newsham, R Hunter, G Powell, N Richardson.

Referee: S Piercy (Yorkshire).

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