One of my favorite events each year is the Wellington Rugby Football Union’s club sevens tournament, named the American Ambassador’s Cup because the first presenter (in 1967) was then-Ambassador John Henning. No Ambassador appears to have presented the Cup between 1967 and my first tourney in 2010, and I was concerned to see that the smallish trophy had run out of room to engrave the names of the winners. So, we commissioned a new Ambassador’s Cup of proper Texan proportions that would hold names not only from the first 44 years but for another 100 years to come.

With my Minister for Rugby (Craig, in blue) at my first American Ambassador's Cup tourney in February 2010.

With my Minister for Rugby (Craig, in blue) at my first American Ambassador's Cup tourney in February 2010.

The tournament organizers have now expanded the event to include a women’s division and a colts (under age 21) division. Again, though, the trophies seemed far too diminutive to honor the magnitude of the effort required to best all other teams in the rugby-crazed greater Wellington area. So, we shopped around and commissioned a couple of new trophies about as big as the tournament’s signature cup. I had the great pleasure to present the new prizes just before Christmas to Denys Latham, President of the Wellington Rugby Football Union.

With Denys Latham, President of the Wellington Rugby Football Union (WRFU) .

With WRFU President Denys Latham and the two new cups.

The new trophy for the women’s division is named the Eleanor Roosevelt Cup in honor of this year’s 70th anniversary of the former First Lady’s iconic visit to New Zealand at the height of World War II, as well as her great contributions to gender equality and global human rights. I was honored that the new trophy for the colts division has been named the David Huebner Cup because, I’m told, of the large number and diversity of student programs launched by the Embassy during my tenure.

(L-R): Nathan Bramley, Club Rugby Administrator, WRFU; myself; Denys Latham, and Kevin Pulley, the WRFU Rugby Board Deputy Chairman

With (from left to right) WRFU Club Rugby Administrator Nathan Bramley, President Denys Latham, and WRFU Board Deputy Chairman Kevin Pulley.

Thank you to the Wellington Rugby Football Union, President Denys Latham, Deputy Chairman Kevin Pulley, Club Rugby Administrator Nathan Bramley, and their many colleagues for the superb work they do all year long, particularly in cultivating young players and future rugby stars, and for welcoming Embassy participation in their efforts.

I have thoroughly enjoyed associating with the Union over the past four years, and I look forward to being invited back as a former Ambassador to enjoy the American Ambassador’s Cup tournament — and perhaps to present one of the trophies — in the future.

DH Sig

Last weekend was a busy one. In addition to the Marine Ball and other events, I had the great pleasure of attending the Wellington Rugby Union’s annual club sevens championship tournament where for the past 46 years the winner has taken home the American Ambassador’s Cup.

Upper Hutt, winners of the 2013 American Ambassdor’s Cup

Upper Hutt, winners of the 2013 American Ambassador’s Cup.

As I mentioned in a couple of prior posts, the original Cup was presented in 1967 by my predecessor Ambassador John F. Henning, who shared my love of the sport and attended many matches during his posting here in New Zealand. By the time I arrived in Wellington the Cup had run out of room to engrave the winning teams’ names, so we commissioned a new super-sized Cup that could hold another century’s worth of names.

This year the tournament was held on a beautiful sunny Saturday in Wakefield Park in Island Bay, with hundreds of players participating in three divisions – men’s, women’s, and colts (under age 21). I appreciated the favorable meteorological conditions because I was in a tuxedo for my next gig of the day, the Marine Ball, and two of my prior three Ambassador Cup appearances had been a bit rainy and muddy.

Womens division game between the Oriental-Rongotai club and the Norths club.

During a women’s division match between Oriental-Rongotai and Norths.

Rain, shine, or something in between, the tournament is always exciting. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the perennial powerhouses as well as quite a few spirited underdog teams. The competition was intense and kinetic, and Wakefield Park’s artificial turf seemed to ramp up what is already fast-paced, brutal play. As in prior years, it was difficult to handicap who would take home the prizes, which makes for a great day of rugby.

In the end, it was the Upper Hutt Rugby Club which took home the American Ambassador’s Cup with a win over Wainuiomata, 40-17, in the men’s final. The women’s final pitted Norths against Wainuiomata, both sevens powerhouses, with Norths taking a hard-fought 24-5 victory. Our friends from Scots College, which we know very well from our educational programs, overpowered the Wellington Club team to take the colts title, 35-5.

Men’s Division: Johnsonville vs. Upper Hutt.

Johnsonville vs. Upper Hutt during the tourney.

Congratulations to our friends at the Wellington Rugby Union on such a successful tournament. There are currently 18 rugby clubs in Wellington fielding a total of more than 3,600 players, which is quite an enterprise to manage. The Union does an excellent job growing its programs and making club rugby as inclusive as possible.

Special thanks to Will Caccia-Birch, the Union’s Manager of Amateur Rugby, for his support and friendship during my time as Ambassador. It has been a great pleasure working with him and his colleagues, not only on the Cup but on other sports engagement efforts.

Although I won’t be here in Wellington for the 2014 tournament, I very much look forward to keeping apprised of future American Ambassador’s Cup combat even after my title has passed to my successor (and to a series of future successors). I might even make a guest appearance when I’m next in the country on other business some future November. 

I also look forward to the 31st Summer Olympiad in Rio de Janeiro, since I suspect that some of the players I saw this past weekend will be competing there. Unfortunately, only sevens will be played in Rio, so the United States will not have an opportunity to defend our almost century-long domination of 15-a-side Olympic rugby until some future Summer Games.  ;)

DH Sig

Embracing biting southerlies and the receding remnants of Wellington’s worst storm in decades, Dr McWaine and I spent last Saturday afternoon at the Hutt recreation grounds near our Residence enjoying the last game of USA Rugby Men’s Collegiate All-Americans’ tour of New Zealand. It was a hard-fought, highly entertaining match. Rather than risk misreporting plays myself, I reprint below a short article about the game posted by our friends at Rugby Redefined.

* * *

New Zealand Universities vs. AIG Men’s Collegiate All-American

Wellington, New Zealand — The USA Rugby AIG Men’s Collegiate All-Americans finished their New Zealand Tour with a dominant 34-11 win Saturday against New Zealand Universities, who narrowly won the first meeting between the two teams last Sunday 17-10.

“This was definitely our best performance of the tour and deserving of the victory,” Head Coach Matt Sherman said. “It was pleasing to see the team make significant improvements in the areas we set out to, particularly as it related to playing in the poor conditions.

“Our set pieces improved dramatically, we made better decisions with the ball in hand and were able to retain possession while also speeding up our ruck ball. Defensively, we were organized, committed and very physical.”

New Zealand Universities got on the board first with a penalty kick in the 15th minute, capitalizing on some early ill-disciplined defense by the MCAAs. Patrick Sullivan put the MCAAs in the lead in the 17th minute with a try, and captain Ryan Roundy and Kyle Sumison pressured the home side to give Joseph Cowley a chance to increase the lead with a penalty kick, which he converted.

A Collegiate All-Amercan rugby player breaks away.

Breaking away.

A strong MCAA scrum in the dying seconds of the first half resulted in Roundy adding another try, with Cowley converting for a 15-3 halftime lead.

The MCAAs did not let up, as Daniel Barrett scored a try of his own in the 46th minute after sustained pressure inside the 10. Cowley converted again for the 22-3 lead. New Zealand Universities kicked another penalty in the 51st minute, but John Cullen broke a few tackles on a counterattack to dot down in the in-goal to put the MCAAs up 29-6.

Paris Hollis’ try in the 65th minute negated New Zealand Universities’ 75th minute try, and the MCAAs celebrated their first win of the tour.

Try time.

Try time.

“We learned from the first two games that a good performance wasn’t going to be enough to win down here,” Sherman said. “We had to dominate in most categories, minimize mistakes and capitalize on opportunities, and be fully committed in both effort and focus. I think we got that today throughout the entire team.

“In particular, I thought our forwards played very well and physical. Kyle Sumison, the man of the match, was a monster around the field for the second game in a row. The back row of Daniel Barrett and Ryan Roundy had a lot of impactful moments, second rowers John Cullen and Mike Lawrenson had a lot of strong carries and were physical in the rucks and tackles all game, and the front row had moments around the field and the at the edge of the scrum.”

RugbyRedefined were there today to bring full coverage in very trying conditions for both teams , and the forward dominance by the young Americans showed that they had learned from the past 2 matches.

A NZ Universities player secures the ball in a line out.

Line out.

After the game we managed a quick word with Ryan Roundy the Captain of the USA Team and he had some gracious words to the Fans of Collegiate Rugby and also a very quick review of their tour of New Zealand.

- RR

* * *

Playing for the All-Americans were Paris Hollis, Michael Shepherd, Angus MacLellan, Michael Lawrenson, John Cullen, Daniel Barrett, Kyle Sumison, captain Ryan Roundy, Jacob McFadden, Patrick Sullivan, Jake Anderson, Michael Haley, J.P. Eloff, Madison Hughes, and Joseph Cowley, with reserves Glen Maricelli, Eric Parsons, Shaun Potgeiter, Jordan Badia-Bellinger, Randy Pati, Stephen Tomasin, and Josh Tucker. Unfortunately, I haven’t yet received a list of the NZ Universities players.

The U.S. team at the after match function.

With the All-Americans at the after-party.

After the match we invited the two teams, their coaches, and several intrepid supporters over to our Residence for sausage rolls, meat pies, chips & salsa, and close to two dozen cases of beer. (Just another Saturday evening at Camperdown.) Cold rain thundered intermittently outside, but spirits inside were high and warm as the the players mingled, laughed, systematically depleted our strategic beer reserves, and occasionally burst into song.

As I’ve said before and will say again, in terms of building relationships and fostering understanding these kinds of exchanges and tours are worth their weight in gold. I very much look forward to a return visit by the All-Americans sometime soon.

by David Edginton

Earlier this week I was up in Auckland and had the pleasure of attending a screening of Red, White, Black & Blue at the Documentary Edge Film Festival. The film highlights the journey of two American youth rugby teams from their home in Los Angeles to New Zealand – the spiritual home of rugby. Ambassador Huebner blogged about the trip last year, which saw these forty outstanding boys and girls from the Inner City Education Foundation (ICEF) test their sport mettle against New Zealand’s finest youth rugby players on stops in Auckland, Raglan, Rotorua, Turangi, Wellington, Kaikoura, and Christchurch.

Click through for image source. Red, White, Black & Blue Movie Poster

Red, White, Black & Blue Movie Poster.

Red, White, Black & Blue was directed by our good friend James Brown, the multitalented artist and filmmaker who co-curated the artwork now hanging at the Ambassador’s residence as part of the “Art in the Embassies” program. James has worked in the New Zealand film industry for almost a decade now, and was the principle editor on Annie Goldson’s acclaimed film Brother Number One.  In Red, White, Black & Blue, James uses the two teams’ journey to New Zealand to explore the personal growth that each player experiences through their commitment to the sport and to each other.

During their trip I went with them to a Wellington Hurricanes game and sat with Leodes Van Buren Jr. and boys team captain Asa Garrett, who both feature prominently in the film. In one of the most memorable scenes, Leodes talks about how he wants the world to view him, promising to make “responsible, successful, articulate and positive the words associated with my name.”  I spent only a short time with these two outstanding young men, but I could tell that they were both natural born leaders, focused on deepening their knowledge of the game and helping their teammates realize their full potential in sport and in life.

Click through for image source.

Asa Garrett and the ICEF Boys Rugby Team.

During their stay in New Zealand, the boys and girls on both teams were outstanding Ambassadors for America, and tremendous rugby players. The drive, energy, and character of these young athletes deeply impressed me. Both teams competed well in the Christchurch Boys’ High School Rugby Club Rugby Festival, with the boys clinching the tournament championship with a heroic try-line defense in the final game against St. Bedes College as time expired.

Click through for image source. Asa and Cameron leading the pregame ritual – chanting the team motto: ‘Don’t stop’

Asa and Cameron leading the pregame ritual – chanting the team motto: ‘Don’t stop’.

The Documentary Edge Film Festival shifts down to Wellington May 8-19, and will feature screenings of Red, White, Black & Blue on May 11 & 14 at Reading Cinemas in Courtney Place, and also on May 18 at The Film Archive. You can get tickets and more information about the film here.

- DE