The Royal Navy scored a Pyrrhic victory by denying Semesa Rokoduguni a try against them for the first time, but it was not enough to prevent the Army reclaiming the Inter-Services Championship after a three-year gap.
Rokoduguni, the Bath and England wing, had scored 10 tries – including three hat-tricks in the previous five meetings with the Navy, but this time he settled for the role of provider.
He was given a roaming role as a full-back and played a pivotal role in victory by featuring in all three Army tries, two of them scored by right wing Junior Bulumakau.
Although Rokoduguni is a professional rugby player, the Army still have first call on the tank driver with the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards for this tournament, which is why he was in action here rather than playing for Bath against Gloucester today.
“Roko is fantastic and he was great against the RAF. He’s a game-changing player,” said Army captain Rob Lennox. “He bamboozles defences in the Premiership and at international level.” Playing for Bath at Sale next Saturday will probably be a come down for Rokoduguni after another 82,000 sell-out crowd packed Twickenham for this historic fixture that has become more than a rugby match.
The Army v Navy match has always been a huge party and beer festival but over the past five years it has become an event that honours and celebrates servicemen and women across the world and the sacrifices they make.
This was the 100th occasion that the sides have met but the day was made even more special by the presence of athletes and the choir from the Invictus Games Foundation, which was established by Prince Harry.
“It was lovely today that the charity was Invictus and to see them on the pitch beforehand was another thing for us,” Lennox said.
“You realise that the guys here have given so much for the forces and to represent them was a huge honour.”
The Prince was introduced to the teams before kick-off and he presented the trophy to Rob Lennox, who is about to swap military for civilian life.
The Army’s 61st win in the fixture made up for the disappointment of missing out last year when a draw allowed the Navy to pip them to the title.
“It took a long time to get over the hurt of last year. It was painful but we have come back this year so strongly,” Lennox said.
“That’s motivated us this season. I said to the boys at half-time, ‘remember last year, remember that feeling’. They came back at us last year so we knew we had to perform.”
The Navy again hit back hard with tries from replacement wing Seta Raumakita and No 8 Dave Fairbrother, but this time it was too late.
Rokoduguni drew in defenders to create space for Bulumakau, a Scotland sevens international, and also popped up twice in the sustained attack that led to wing Chris Leathem scoring just after half-time.
But the Army still required penalties from James Dixon to open up a 19- point lead and cushion them against the Navy’s late barrage.
“We are very disappointed. This match only comes once a year. We gave our heart and soul and put a lot of time and effort into this one game so, when you lose, it’s that little bit more disappointing,” said Navy captain Ben Priddey. “It takes another year before we can get another chance to go at them.”