The New Zealand Ambassador’s XV defeated a Combined Services XV 24-20 Sunday to cap off an exciting day of rugby in Washington, DC.
The Ambassador’s Shield was begun in 1997, when then New Zealand Ambassador John Wood recruited some local rugby players with New Zealand roots to play a game as a way to build bonds with the local community and promote New Zealand sport and culture.
Over the last 15 years, the Shield match has become one of the great sporting events in the DC area, and certainly a must-be-there event for Kiwi rugby players.
In addition to showcasing an excellent day of rugby, the event has created quite an impact on the local youth rugby scene with its partnership and support of the Perry Street Prep Public Charter School rugby program (Formerly known as Hyde Leadership PCS).
With partly sunny skies, temperatures in the mid 60s, and a beautiful field on the campus of Trinity University, the venue proved to be an idyllic backdrop for this year’s encounter between the Ambassador’s XV and the US Military Combined Services Select Side. In addition, the buildup to the big match included a series of youth, high school and old boys rugby matches.
The first match of the day was a boys high school 7s match between TC Williams of “Remember the Titans” fame and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba(GTMO) U19s. The TC Williams side has recently entered the Metro Area Varsity Rugby Conference (MAVRC) following three years of competition in Rugby Virginia. The GTMO side is comprised of military and contractor children who live and go to school in Cuba (see the Spring, 2011 edition of RUGBY Magazine.
The GTMO program also brought their girls 7s team, which entered their first ever tournament, the Exiles 7s, on Saturday. They emerged champions.
In the TC/GTMO boys matchup, despite a late comeback, TC’s size and power proved to be too much as they rolled to a 27-12 win.
The next matchup was a gray-haired affair between the Washington Poltroons and the Alexandria Roosters, a predominantly French embassy and ex-pat side. In this Masters match, the smell of Ben Gay and Icee Hot wafted through the morning air. In a physical game of classic rugby that at times got a little chippy, it took the Poltroons until the final minute of the game to even the score with a well-earned try. The ensuing kick sailed wide and the game ended with a deadlock at 22-22.
The following game pitted old boys powerhouse the Virginia Cardinals against a US Military Combined Services/DC area old boys side. In a high scoring match that proved to be exciting in both its pace and ferocity the Cardinals showed why they are a class outfit by besting their opponent 44-20.
The next match of the day featured High School U19 rugby with The Rugby Academy side versus the Eastern Pennsylvania Rugby Union (EPRU) All Stars. In a rematch of the previous year’s encounter (won by the Academy) the game started off with both sides trying to find their rhythm. Ultimately it was the Academy side that struck first and continued its dominance with a 45-24 besting of the EPRU side.
The next matchups were the Alexandria Youth Rugby U9s and U11s vs the Exiles U9s and U11s. In addition to some exciting rugby and lots of smiles from kids and parents, the games were an opportunity to promote the opportunities for youth touch rugby throughout the DC metro area.
The exhibition game prior to the main event featured Pride Rugby versus TC Williams for one 10-minute period, and Pride Rugby versus Guantanamo for one 10-minute period. In the first half, TC attempted to establish its strength and power but the Pride remained patient, defended well and quickly converted stolen balls and TC mistakes into points, ending the first period up 28-7. Guantanamo came on for TC Williams in the 2nd half but the Pride side continued its dominance in a showcase of speed, passing and footwork with the Pride adding another 26-0 score to its tally.
The main event:
The opposing teams were led onto the field by their nations flags. Following a moment of silence for a New Zealand Embassy staff member who had passed away the night before, each team’s National anthem was sung. The New Zealand side then stoked the intensity of the ensuing match up and excitement of the crowd as they offered their challenge to the US Military Combined Services, in the form of the Haka.
The match kicked off with both sides trying to establish dominance and physicality over the other. The US Combined Services side surprised the crowd and the Kiwis by running up a 10-0 lead 20 minutes into the game. The match continued with both teams battling back and forth, pressing into each others 22 only to be repelled by a indomitable defense.
That defense was, at times, a little too aggressive, and that gained the attention of the referee. But the Ambassador’s XV couldn’t convert, as numerous shots at goal had the distance but sailed wide. As the game wore on, the Combined Services looked close to pulling off a rare upset of the Ambassador’s XV. The boys in black were frustrated by their lack of continuity and differing opinions with the ref and his interpretation of legal play at the breakdown.
With ten minutes left to go and down 15-10, the NZ side finally began to see payoff for its hard work, scoring a well-earned, eight-phase try to take the lead 17-15. The Kiwis stuck again two minutes later to create a little breathing room and take the lead 24-15 with minutes to go. The US side did not back down and continued the fight until the closing minute to bring the game to a final score of 24-20, Ambassadors XV for the win.
Following the match, a reception was held at the New Zealand Embassy with 200+ people in attendance. While the event was a smaller scale than previous years, it was once again a highlight of the day. Traditional New Zealand lamb, wine and drinks satiated an appreciative crowd.
Speeches were given by the New Zealand Ambassador Mike Moore, as well as team representatives from the US and Kiwi side. Speaking on behalf of the Ambassador’s XV, Jason Frost, used his humor and self deprecating style to thank event supporters such as Neil Matheson, Anzco Foods, Auckland University of Technology (AUT), Godek Rugby, Wild Haggis and Kiwi Kuisine. The US Combined Services representative spoke eloquently and passionately about the impact of the worldwide rugby community in his life and this provided a perfect segue way for the following speakers.
Being that the event serves as a primary fundraiser for the Pride Rugby program, Tal Bayer, and two of his players who recently spent the summer in New Zealand, then spoke about the impact of the program and relationship with the Embassy and AUT. Bayer thanked them and the crowd for their support over the years. The night finished with lots of new friendships, shared stories and commitments to come back next year for the 16th installment of the series.
2011 Ambassador's Shield
Photos by Tal Bayer - games from the 2011 Ambassador's Shield, November, 21, 2011. U9, U11, U19, and Old Boys matches set the stage for an exciting game between the New Zealand Ambassador's XV and a Combined Services select side.