Army v Navy match no stranger for England legends
The annual Army v Navy Match is the biggest day in British military sport, and when the 46 players walk out in Navy blue and Army red at Twickenham on Saturday, May 4, 2024, they will be following in the footsteps of some of England's legendary players.
In the 20th anniversary season of England's Rugby World Cup victory, it is worth remembering the role that being a commissioned officer played in Josh Lewsey's career. The full back scored five tries against Uruguay in England's successful 2003 campaign and was a British and Irish Lion in 2005, too.
At the start of his career Lewsey, who graduated from Sandhurst in 2001, combined his rugby commitments with those of a troop commander in the Royal Artillery. It was this military connection which was at the heart of his attempt to climb Mount Everest in 2010 alongside Army comrade, Keith Reesby, to raise money for Help for Heroes and Combat Stress charities.
Eight years before Lewsey wore Lions red, another Army officer, Tim Rodber of the Green Howards, was an integral player in the memorable 1997 series win over South Africa. Rodber represented England at two Rugby World Cups and scored five tries in his 44-cap international career.
He remained in the Army throughout a rugby career which also included winners' medals in the 1993 Rugby World Cup Sevens and - memorably - in the Heineken Cup at Twickenham with Northampton in 2000.
A familiar opponent for Rodber was the Navy's Spencer Brown, a Royal Marine for 13 years from 1990 who played for seven seasons at Richmond, two at Bristol and three more at Bedford. Brown represented England Sevens, the Combined Services and won two caps for England in 1998.
In a 2018 interview he recalled the similarities between the military and rugby union, telling The Times: "In the military there's camaraderie. You're a close-knit unit, a team. When I left the Marines and became a professional rugby player, they're different domains, but the culture, the camaraderie, was the same. The sense of belonging was similar."
More recently, a cult hero at Bath graced the Twickenham turf regularly with England and the Army during his career. Semesa Rokoduguni was a try machine for club, country and his Service, but it was a tour of Afghanistan which put life into context, when a marine on his patrol lost both legs after stepping on an improvised explosive device.
"Every single time I join the England camp, or even at Bath, I always think about this stuff," the Royal Scots Dragoon Guard said before winning his first cap against New Zealand in 2014.
"When I think about that incident, and how that marine soldier was badly injured, it gives me a boost to make the most of every opportunity because you don't know what's going to happen next.
"It could have been you, so you have to give everything that you have."
Rokoduguni's last outing at Twickenham was a successful one in 2022, the winger playing a key role in creating the try which put the Army on the way to a 35-27 win at the end of a game which saw the lead change hands half-a-dozen times.
The Inter Service Championship has been celebrating sport and service since 1920, and the Army Navy Match returns to Twickenham on Saturday, May 4, 2024.
The Babcock Trophy is up for grabs, with match tickets including both the Senior Men's and Senior Women's matches.
Prices start from just £10 for Under-16s and £25 for adults, and can be booked by CLICKING HERE.