RNZN Rugby – The Warmest of Welcomes!
When the Royal New Zealand Navy hosts their second Commonwealth Navies Rugby Cup, and the inaugural Four Nations Maritime Cup, there will be two certainties. The first is that the US Marine Corps, the Royal Australian Navy and our Royal Navy touring party will be afforded the warmest of welcomes. Off the pitch this will start with the traditional Maori welcome of Pohiri with guests and hosts joining as one. Whilst on the pitch the Pohiri’s Wero (or challenge) will be replaced by the Kiwi’s performing their RNZN Haka to lay down a familiar but still very powerful challenge to the opposition. And it is through these proud cultural and sporting routes that the second certainty surely has its origin. In 2003, as hosts, they failed to record a win on home soil; despite pushing the Aussies close and staging a concerted fight back against the Royal Navy. It is not something they will wish to repeat in 2014.
The Kiwis will enter the tournament buoyed by a very successful season. Like the RAN Breakers they have finished their domestic Inter Services tournament as champions. A win over the Army on day one, 15-6, was backed up with a draw against the RNZAF, 29-29 on day two of the championship. Former Royal Navy referee, Stu Clarke, was the referee for the deciding match with the unusual situation of matelots cheering for an Army win. The NZ Army duly obliged and their 27-6 victory delivered the Navy the title. The 2014 tournament success build on their 2013 championship win which shows how the RNZN representative side have been gradually building as a team to be reckoned with.
They will be hosting the international tournament on their Ngataringa Sports Ground. Rather than take the matches to a bigger venue, they clearly feel the home of Kiwi Navy sport will give them the best chance of being victorious. For many of the Kiwi team it is their home pitch and a venue that this season saw them, under the guise of RNZN PRS, reach the North Harbour Premier 3 Final before losing out in a hard fought contest to Silverdale Seahawks 27-15. With the club having made the knockout stages of the North Harbour domestic season it means that most of the RNZN players will enter the tournament with a good foundation of recent first class rugby and just a long enough respite to allow the bumps and bruises to heal.
The Kiwis are the only side to have beaten the Royal Navy in the six editions of the Commonwealth Cup that have taken place. Their 20-10 win in Simon’s Town was over shadowed by a loss to the Breakers that allowed the Royal Navy team to retain the cup. No doubt this year they will wish to go one better in the CNRC and obviously would be striving to win the inaugural Four Nations Maritime Cup. To assist in their preparations, their final warm up match was arranged against Bay of Plenty. This is a step up in terms of the standard of their usual opposition but obviously a sign of intent on the part of the Royal New Zealand Navy.
It is clear that the Kiwi squad have had a well structured and thought out preparation period for their hosting of the 7th Commonwealth Navies Rugby Cup and will no doubt provide a strong challenge to the other three sides. The competition on the pitch will probably be the fiercest ever as the three Navy teams continue to develop and this year the US Corps bring their own brand of ‘warrior’ rugby to the competition. However off the pitch I am sure the Maori culture, now totally engrained in the Royal New Zealand Navy, will leave a lasting impression and bond of friendship through rugby and maritime tradition.
Whāia te iti kahurangi Ki te tūohu koe, me he maunga teitei
Article by Geraint Ashton Jones
Images ©NZ Defence Force (Courtesey of Paul Stein)