There has been only one show in town in the lead up the King’s Coronation.
But as we put away the ceremonial set piece, it’s time to switch sights to the next big event in the calendar – albeit in a sporting sense.
The Army v Navy match has taken place pretty much every year since 1907, with some exceptions such as the pandemic.
In excess of 50,000 spectators are expected to pack into Twickenham for the 2023 Babcock Trophy on 13 May and a family zone packed full of fun activities will also be in place in advance of the men’s game, to be then followed by the women’s match.
Ahead of the fixtures, players have been looking ahead to the challenge of putting on their best performances as serving personnel, families and veterans all come together to enjoy the occasion.
Men’s captain Stuart Cross said the Army v Navy game represented the “pinnacle” of their rugby careers in the forces.
“The traits required for both sport and soldiering are hugely similar,” he said.
“The competitive nature of serving in the military translates seamlessly onto the rugby field with a warrior-like determination to not take a backward step.
The scale, passion and emotion behind playing the Navy is something quite hard to beat. Stuart Cross
Mens' team captain
“There’s a camaraderie that exists within the side, borne from the wider esprit de corps of the Army. The team is cap badge, rank and background agnostic, with each member solely playing for this team rather than diverse, wider purposes. It is humbling to have the honour of leading this group.
“This match is the pinnacle of most of the players rugby careers – certainly that is the case for me. It has taken years to build it into what it has become and the RAF (Royal Air Force) game is certainly heading in that direction, now being played at a professional stadium. But the scale, passion and emotion behind playing the Navy is something quite hard to beat.”
Staff Sergeant Jade Mullen, captain of the women’s team and outside centre, said the foundations of both the men’s game and women’s game being played on the same day at Twickenham were now firmly in place for all to enjoy.
She said: “Sports plays a huge role within the Army and it has helped push me and challenge myself to get better and strive towards playing high-level civilian rugby.
“This has all been reinforced by being a soldier first and always wanting to get better, be fitter and continue challenging myself.”
“Sport, and rugby specifically for me, have very similar values to us in the military, which has not only allowed me to excel as a soldier, but also as a rugby player. The combination of the two has elevated me to the position I am today in work and on the field.
“We are very thankful to the past players laying the foundation for us in order for us to play at Twickenham. We as a squad take every game seriously, but obviously on the stage at Twickenham we want to showcase what a positive force rugby is and what a spectacle women’s rugby can be.”
Sports plays a huge role within the Army and it has helped push me and challenge myself to get better and strive towards playing high-level civilian rugby. Jade Mullen,
Women's team captain
The themes for this year’s event are #BringYourAGame and #BeTheBestSupporter, with the men’s fixture kicking off at 2 pm and the women’s at 4:45 pm with both matches a celebration of top-level Service sport.
Sergeant Sarah Batley, a loose head prop, said the Army v Navy match offered a “unique” experience.
“The competitive nature of soldiers naturally offers itself well to sport, because of the soldier-first ethos, both mentally and physically,” she said.
“Sport in the Army is a unique experience. I have been lucky enough to find the balance between both life as a soldier and then life as a sports person.
“The confidence I have gained through playing rugby in the forces has had a positive impact both on and off the pitch.
“There has been a lot of work from a lot of people to get Service rugby where it is today, and so the journey continues and we are grateful to wear the shirt with an enormous amount of pride.
“It’s an added bonus that we get to play on a stage like Twickenham, to put on a spectacle that Service rugby is all about and it’s finally where it should be.”
Men’s fullback Will Reeve, said there was a sense of growing excitement at performing at the headquarters of English rugby on 13 May in front of a bumper crowd.
He said: “Naturally, our preparation is of huge importance, but that started months ago. Now it’s about the last five per cent, the polish and the shine because the hard work has been done – we cannot get much fitter, bigger or stronger, nor can we individually become much better players.
“However, in the build up we can come together to become a better squad who are gelled together, ready for 80 mins of battle and can become a squad of players who have no doubt about the plan and what we will do on the field.
“The fixture is always exciting. It’s a big stadium with a lot of media build-up a huge sense of occasion. The risk, of course, is overdoing it and taking focus away from our primary roles of going out there and playing rugby.
It’s an added bonus that we get to play on a stage like Twickenham, to put on a spectacle that Service rugby is all about and it’s finally where it should be. Sergeant Sarah Batley,
Loose head prop
“The challenge of playing and beating the Navy is a huge source of fuel for the squad – nobody wants to lose. However, as we routinely approach the game as the favourites, it’s hard to shake the ‘what if we lose?’ catastrophising.
“That said, we saw the RAF hold the Royal Navy to a draw on a wet and muddy day in Plymouth and we beat the RAF by 48-17, despite our fairly poor opening 10 to 20 minutes.
“We are confident, but of course we will never underestimate opposition as they have some great talent and they benefit massively from a more fixed squad who are together for such an extended season.
“Sport means so much more than just playing rugby – it’s friendship, brother and sisterhood, excitement and fun. For some it is the reason they get out of bed and put a uniform on.
“It is all too easy to say that team sports and contact sports develop you as a soldier, and vice versa, but it’s easy because it’s true.
“There is never a pre-match speech which doesn’t remind us of the fact we are soldiers first, we are warriors. We fight for each other and we never give up.
“We know what it’s like to be tired and to keep going and we understand what putting our bodies on the line is all about and and it all makes us better rugby players.
“The red jersey binds us.”
Industrial action on the rail network will mean there will be significantly fewer trains operating than usual and you will need to leave additional time for your journey.
London Underground and Overground will be operating as normal but are expected to be busier than usual. Please check National Rail Enquiries and Transport for London before starting your journey.
As well as securing additional train services before and after the matches, thanks to support from South Western Railway, significant additional car parking and shuttle bus capacity has also been provided.
Ticket holders are asked to consider using car parks, particularly those travelling from the West as there are no train services beyond Staines to Ascot and Reading all day. Car parking options and bookings are available.
Below is a summary of the transport provision both before and after the matches.
There will be a core service of two trains per hour into Twickenham Railway Station from Waterloo up to 6:30 pm. Between 11:10 am and 1:35 pm a total of 14 trains will run from Waterloo to Twickenham.
Two trains per hour from Windsor and Eton Riverside to Twickenham.
There is no train service beyond Staines to Ascot and Reading all day.
20 RFU shuttle buses from both Hounslow and Richmond to link up with London Underground and Overground services.
Additional car parking
Please note that kick off for the women’s match is 4:45 pm, with an approximate finish time between 6:20-30 pm.
A total of 18 trains between 3:45 and 6:30 pm from Twickenham Train Station to Waterloo. At 6:30 Twickenham Rail Station will close, to assist with this bars will close at 5.30 pm.
Two trains per hour from Twickenham to Windsor and Eton Riverside until 6:30.
20 RFU shuttle buses to both Hounslow and Richmond to link up with London Underground and Overground services.
Details are available of the train provision during the strikes on South Western Railway which runs the service into Twickenham and Richmond stations.
Thank you for your co-operation and support. We look forward to seeing you at Twickenham Stadium for the game.