This Saturday 11th November is Remembrance Day in the United Kingdom, with poppies set to be worn in the stands of rugby clubs up and down the country. The weekend’s matches will begin with a two-minutes silence, to remember the servicemen and women who have lost their lives in conflict.
Rugby is deep-rooted in the core of the Armed Forces, and throughout the British Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force, there are numerous servicemen and women that have played to the top levels of the sport. A great deal of active soldiers, sailors and RAF pilots have achieved international test caps, or have ran out in the top divisions across the world. Active members of the Armed Forces have taken to the pitch in the Premiership, United Rugby Championship, and across the Southern Hemisphere.
Rugby’s Armed Forces heartbeat is in the Inter-Services competition, that sees the Army, Navy and RAF compete against one another in a yearly tournament. The Army and Navy’s rivalry dates back the furthest, with the first match played in 1878. Twickenham Stadium has been the host of this match since 1907, in what is the best-attended amateur match of the rugby calendar.
The Air Force joined the rugby fray in 1918, following the end of the First World War. This established the tournament for the trio of services, with the Navy winning the first officially recognised competition in 1920. The competition has since been an annual event, yet was understandably cancelled for the Second World Wars and Covid-19 Pandemic.
In this article, we take a look through the current squads of the Army, Navy and RAF, and highlight their rugby stars that have achieved top level caps for club and country. Beginning with the British Army, who have boasted arguably the most famous rugby-playing servicemen throughout history.
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In 2014, former Bath winger and Lance Corporal Semesa Rokoduguini, became the first soldier to represent England at test match level since Tim Rodber in 1999. The hard-hitting Northampton Saints back-row is an icon of inter-services rugby, and even achieved two British and Irish Lions caps, on the 1997 Tour to South Africa. Rokoduguini ended a decade long stint with Bath in 2022, and signed for French second division side US Montauban.
Throughout history, the Army have dominated the Inter-Services competition and have a total of 47 Men’s Babcock Trophies to their name, out of the 84 iterations of the tournament. The Women’s side has been equally dominant, winning 18 of the 19 instalments of the Women’s Inter-Services Competition.
ARMY MEN RUGBY PLAYERS
Lance Corporal Semesa Rokoduguini (Wing) – US Montauban, Bath and England
Rifleman Vereimi Qorowale (Wing) – Newcastle Falcons
Sapper Cameron McDonald (Wing) – London Irish, London Scottish, Germany (15s and 7s)
Captain William Reeve (Fullback) – Kenya Sevens
Lance Corporal Ravai Fatiaki (Centre) – Worcester Warriors and Fiji
Gunner Mitieli Vulikijapani (Centre) – Hull FC (Rugby League), Harlequins Sevens* and Saracens Sevens*
Bombardier Owen Davies (Fly Half) – London Scottish, Wales Sevens and Wales Rugby League
Lance Corporal Llyod Wheeldon (Scrum Half) – Harlequins and Doncaster Knights
Sergeant Nathanael Titchard-Jones (Prop) – Rams, Chinnor, Birmingham Moseley, Coventry
Bombardier Peter Austin (Hooker) – Hawke’s Bay and London Irish Academy
Staff Sergeant Ken Dowding (Prop) – Ospreys, Bath, London Irish and Richmond
Lance Corporal Ifereimi Boladau (Back Row) – Leicester Tigers, London Scottish, Nottingham, Ospreys
Captain Jamie Miller (Flanker) – Bath Rugby, Coventry and Bristol Rugby
Gunner Senitiki Nayalo (Number Eight) – London Irish, Edinburgh and Coventry
Private Viliame Kotobalavu (Back Row) – London Irish and Newport RFC
ARMY WOMEN RUGBY PLAYERS
Staff Sergeant Jade Mullen (Centre) – Harlequins and Wales Sevens
Staff Sergeant Natalie Lewis (Prop) – Bath
Sergeant Heidi Silcox (Second Row) – Bath and London Irish
Private Courtney Pursglove (Wing) – England Sevens
Bombardier Bethan Dainton (Flanker) – Barbarians, Harlequins and Leeds Rhinos (Rugby League)
Guardsman Manuqalo Komaitai (Flanker) – London Irish