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Story and Photos By: Mark Janzen
In celebration of the 100-year anniversary of the British Royal Air Force, the RAF’s rugby union team travelled to Canada for a three-match centenary tour, culminating with a contest against the BC Bears in Vancouver.
The Bears, who will look to defend their title in the Canadian Rugby Championship this summer, took the match 23-19. However, it was a day to remember for both sides as the tourists, who featured senior RAF players, developmental players, and U23 players, put together an impressive show on a sun-drenched afternoon at the Gerald McGavin UBC Rugby Centre.
A spine-tingling belting out of God Save the Queen begat a boisterous rendition of O Canada. Then rugby was played and beers were consumed. Alas, it was a good day.
SGT Andy Byrne:
“It means a hell of a lot to wear this jersey. When we put on the jersey, it’s not just playing rugby, it’s representing the whole Air Force back in the UK. We never want to let the Force down.
“It’s been unreal and how welcoming the BC Bears have been has been second to none. We’re obviously gutted that we couldn’t pinch it at the end, but that’s a credit to the Canadian side. They’re a provincial side for a reason and they’re very physical.”
Ollie Nott (BC Bears captain)
“It’s definitely very special. There’s a certain pride they have wearing that jersey. It’s an honour for them to wear their jersey and I think our boys were thinking the same thing.
“I thought it was a good game overall. It was a pretty good RAF team and they fronted up and they weren’t backing down. I think it’s a step in the right direction for us.
“Obviously they have a culture and a certain standard to uphold being a military team. We knew they were going to be tough, and we knew they were going to be aggressive up front, so we had to front up ourselves and dig deep."
CPL Toby Mann (RAF captain)
“Their defence showed absolute character, teamwork, commitment and professionalism, but our willingness to fight and get to the end was good to see for sure.
“As a country, the welcome has been the highlight and I couldn’t have wished for more.
“I’ve never seen a university like this. The facilities are second to none. The professionalism is what we aspire toward because we don’t have anything like this. It’s really been nice to be welcomed here.”
“Obviously, we took way too many penalties but for our first run, it was pretty good. Once we clean some things up, we’re going to look pretty good for CRC.
“They were committed to tackling and did a good job of it. They’re a tight group of guys and they really play for each other, and you can tell on the field they were making hits for each other.”
From BC Rugby
The RAF Rugby Union Team is a tradition as old as the force itself, exactly 100 this year. Formed toward the end of the First World War in 1918, the RAF rugby team was created almost immediately after. They won their first Inter-Services title in 1922. The RAF compete against the other armed forces rugby teams, professional club teams, and universities in the UK. This year, they won their first Inter-Services title since 2015. There is great interest for Inter-Services matches in the UK among the forces community, among both serving and retired members.
Aside from many players famous for their service, including the likes of Sir Douglas Bader, many have gained fame for their rugby exploits on a national level. A notable example of this is Rory Underwood, who played wing for England from 1984-1996. He appeared 85 times for England and became the country’s all-time leading try scorer.
The RAF Rugby Union tours once about every three years, frequently travelling to Australia and New Zealand. The last time the RAF came to Canada was in 1995 when the team played games against Ontario and Toronto. The opportunity for the BC Bears to be part of this year’s RAF tour is a great honour. As the current Canadian Rugby Championship title holders, the BC Bears will aim to present the visiting side with a physical and challenging match to wrap up their tour.
BC BEARS TEAM
BRITISH RAF RUGBY UNION TEAM