Anzac rugby – a 100 year test

This article has photo gallery Published on Lieutenant Kirsti Burtenshaw (author), WO2 Rob Nyffenegger (photographer), LCPL Kyle Genner (photographer)

The Australian Services Rugby Union team and the New Zealand Defence Force Rugby team compete as part of the curtain raiser event for the Anzac Eve ACT Brumbies Super Rugby game, at GIO Stadium, Canberra. (photo: LCPL Kyle Genner)
The Australian Services Rugby Union team and the New Zealand Defence Force Rugby team compete as part of the curtain raiser event for the Anzac Eve ACT Brumbies Super Rugby game, at GIO Stadium, Canberra.

The Australian Services Rugby Union team came into camp the week leading up to Anzac Day with the primary purpose of preparing themselves for an Anzac Centenary Showdown against the might of the New Zealand Defence Force Rugby Union team. 

“The lads got to experience some pretty special activities in the week leading up to the game,” Team Manager, Lieutenant Brendan Dumbrell said.

“They spent time at the Children’s Ward at Centenary Hospital; played touch footy with some kids at the Bimberi Detention Centre; got involved with an ACT Brumbies session and participated in a special Last Post Ceremony at the Australian War Memorial," he said.

Vice Captain Leading Seaman Shayne O’Reilly said that the hospital visit was a really special experience. 

"I hope that we were able to put some smiles on their faces in times that they are doing it tough. 

"It was an incredible opportunity and one I didn’t think I would be able to experience as a service member,” he said.

On the eve of the Anzac Centenary the team lined up to play the match against the New Zealand team that, for all involved, would be a once in a life time opportunity.

“Being able to represent my country and the Australian Defence Force in a match on such a significant date was such a privilege and I feel honoured to have had the opportunity,” Leading Seaman Shayne O’Reilly said.

After a stirring Haka from the Kiwis and an advancing line of Australians with arms linked in solidarity the game kicked off at an intense and passionate pace.

The Australians put points on the board first with a penalty awarded in centre field. This was coolly struck by Private Mahn Darley and it sailed over the cross bar. New Zealand gathered the troops in-goal and whatever was said had impact as they immediately had the Aussies on the back foot. The Australian team held on admirably but the onslaught mere metres off their own line became too much and the Kiwis crossed for the first try of the night and successfully converted, 7 – 3.

The New Zealand team scored one more try in the first half and Private Darley managed to skilfully slot another penalty for ASRU. Despite this the Kiwis went into half time break with a 15 – 6 lead. It was still any one’s game.

Australian Head Coach, Warrant Officer Tony Doherty, pulled positives from the first half, but identified some work that needed to be done.

“The highlight for ASRU in the first half was the scrimmaging of the forward pack that provided the backs with opportunities to attack," he said.

"The standout player of the first half was Captain Jason Squires who dominated his larger opponent particularly in the scrum.

"The New Zealand team were more urgent to win the ball at the breakdown and were able to capitalise on their opportunities," Warrant Officer Doherty said.

A quick five minute half time turn around and the game restarted at a more controlled pace. The Australians managed to execute their game plan more and this resulted in a try to winger Flight Lieutenant Arthur Iconomou.

“I was pleased that the team executed the game plan in the second half, resulting in space for Flight Lieutenant Arthur Iconomou to score a try. 

"This was on the back of some spectacular one handed lineout takes by Able Seaman Aaron Loudon, resulting in good driving mauls from the forwards,” Warrant Officer Doherty said.

As the game wore on fitness became an issue and the New Zealand team capitalised on this. 

“We started to tire and the Kiwis took advantage of this and extended their lead. If we work on our fitness on the field, and in the gym we should be able to match it with them by the time the International Defence Rugby Competition in the UK roles around in October,” Leading Seaman O’Reilly said.

The game ended in a 25-13 win to New Zealand. Warrant Officer Doherty echoed Leading Seaman O’Reilly’s sentiment. 

“The take home message from the game is that there was improvement from when the ASRU team last played in Darwin, last year. 

"This was evident in the players’ understanding of the game plan and ability to execute it at times during this match. Working on our fitness in the lead up to the IDRC and the ability to have a few extra days in camp will assist the players knowing each other and learning to play together," he said.

Australian Services Rugby Union's best player was awarded to Corporal Craig Rogerson. Private Mahn Darley kicked one conversion and two penalties. Flight Lieutenant Arthur Iconomou scored one try. Half Time Score 15-6. Full Time Score 25-13.