The Australian Services Rugby Union’s International Defence Rugby Competition campaign came to an abrupt but gallant end in the quarter final at Portsmouth on 19 October when the team faced the competition winners, Republic of Fiji Military Forces team.
The Fijians' speed, agility and ball handling was impressive from start to finish. They were relentless in the tight contest in the forwards and their outside backs attacked with flair. Their 62-8 victory reinforced them as favourites for the title which they won on October 29 with a 30-19 win over British Army.
The scoreline against the Australians might suggest a one-sided contest with the fleet-footed Fijians running in a decent bagful of tries, but there were numerous occasions Australian Services Rugby Union had Fiji on the back foot, deep in the attacking zone.
Unfortunately the Australians' ball retention was not at its best and it was only able to cross the line for one try, scored by lock, Sub Lieutenant Josh Friend, who had another solid game.
"We came up against a team that was very fast and very strong," Sub Lieutenant Friend said.
"They played the game at a higher intensity than what we have probably seen before from Fiji, so it was hard to keep up.
"We were on the back foot from the start, so every time something went wrong, they punished us severely on the scoreboard."
He said Fiji had a couple of players penalised, but it didn't affect their strength.
"Even when they were one or two men down, it didn't slow them down at all because of how fast they are on the ball and how quick they are able to move it around and counter-attack."
Before this match Australia and Fiji had only played three times in their 52-year history, in 1984, 1996 and 2006. The ledger was 2-1 in favour of Fiji. Australia’s only win was in 1984 at the Sydney Cricket Ground, with a score of 18-14.
Despite bowing out, the Australians won four out of their six games while in the United Kingdom.
The only two games lost to were to the two teams that met in the grand final.
With Australia, South Africa and Tonga all out of the running after the quarter finals, they agreed to take the opportunity to compete in a couple of friendly matches.
Australia's head coach Warrant Officer Tony Doherty said it was important to take these opportunities to play on the international stage.
"Australia has never played against South Africa so it was a massive bonus for us," Warrant Officer Doherty said.
"The opportunity to tour to South Africa is very limited for Australia, so to play international matches in a short timeframe is great for services rugby and also international defence rugby."
Australia played South Africa at RAF Halton on 23 October winning a close game 35-31.
It is a credit to the players they were able to overlook the quarter final loss and still come out and play good football," Warrant Officer Doherty said.
Australia got out to a 21-7 lead midway through the first half, courtesy of excellent work by the backrow trio, but South Africa was quick to respond through their fleet-footed outside backs, scoring three unanswered tries.
South Africa led 28-21 at the break, and the Australians had to dig deep to re-establish ascendancy. Australia dominated possession and territory for most of the second half, scoring two converted tries to regain the lead, 35-28.
The final 10 minutes of the match were tense, with South Africa piling on the attacking pressure. A penalty goal to South Africa narrowed the margin to 35-31, but Australia was able to withstand the final barrage to secure an historic victory.
Nine tries were scored, five to Australia and four to South Africa, in an entertaining display of fast and adventurous rugby.
Sub Lieutenant Friend was again outstanding and Private Siaka King was awarded player of the match.
"It was a good close encounter and probably closer than it should have been," Sub Lieutenant Friend said.
"But in the end the right team won so it was good."
The friendly against Tonga was going to be a physical encounter.
The game was held at Maidenhead Rugby Union Club on 27 October and was expected to be tough, but Australia came out with a 27-24 victory.
The two teams have played seven times over the past 10 years, making Tonga Australia’s most common international defence opponent, so a close friendship and competitive rivalry exists between the two teams.
"The Tongans, regardless of what is on offer, will always be out there to win the game, so we had to at least match that and exceed what they brought against us," Warrant Officer Doherty said.
"We won, but it wasn’t as convincing as we would have liked noting that we dominated possession of the ball.
"It is nice to finish on a win from the tournament and having four wins against notable teams is a pretty good effort," Warrant Officer Doherty said.
There has never been more than eight points between the teams, and this year's result was no different. Australia now leads the match tally, four wins to three.
As was the case in the South African match, the performance the backrow trio, along with the two locks, proved instrumental. Sub Lieutenant Friend was awarded player of the match.
Able Seaman Marine Technician Dale Hood said the match was tough, physically.
"It was more of a bashfest," Able Seaman Hood said.
"But it was a good feeling to get another win, and the game was a highlight for me because we finally all played really well together and played as friends."
With a bit more time together the team would have performed better.
"We only came together nine days before leaving for the UK, so I would have liked to have had more exposure to the players and longer together as a squad to further gel," Warrant Officer Doherty said.
"Unfortunately it is a short period of time to achieve a massive outcome and the teams that gelled better and were more successful in the competition had longer periods of time together."
He said it was not just about developing individual fitness, but also about gaining an understanding of each others games.
"The team had people from totally different backgrounds with different levels of skill and exposure," he said.
"With geographical distances in Australia, it is hard to bring the team together on a regular basis.
"We hadn't even finalised our starting 15 when we arrived in the UK, whereas other teams had already played a number of games with their starting 15."
He said during the game against France the team dug deep and the win buoyed them, giving them self-belief.
"With four wins and two losses, and with the only two teams to have beaten us being the two in the grand final, the boys can walk away with their heads pretty high," he said.
"We seem to have come together more at the end of the tournament."
In the tussle for the bronze position, the French beat New Zealand 24-19.