Guam Rugby visited the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana (CNMI) Island of Saipan recently to help raise the awareness of the sport.
The opportunity also provided both sides competitive experience as they prepare for the Asia Rugby Championship and Pacific Games respectively.
Despite being part of different regional associations (Asia Rugby and Oceania Rugby) the two neighbours spread the love of rugby.
CNMI is smaller than Guam but rugby is starting from a small passionate foundation. Guam Rugby donated some of their own Get Into Rugby balls to help their development.
Guam captain Rob Leon Guerrero and Joe Mateo presented Mahonri Schwalger with a Guam Rugby shirt in appreciation for his work in Saipan with Northern Mariana Islands rugby.
Schwalger is a former Samoa captain, having led his side at Rugby World Cup 2011, and is currently Executive Director of Rugby Academy Samoa.
Schwalger came to Saipan to introduce rugby into some schools and work with the CNMI rugby sevens team ahead of the Pacific Games in Samoa later in the year.
“Guam Rugby has always had a close association with the small rugby community in the Northern Mariana Islands just north of us. We have played matches in Saipan and on Guam over the years but the game has only recently started to blossom, driven by the recent return of Stanley Iakopo to the islands. Stanley is President of the newly formed Northern Mariana Rugby Union and he recently invited the players of Guam to Saipan to play against his fledgeling national 7’s side in preparation for the Pacific Games later in the year. Guam player’s jumped at the opportunity to help and they, along with Guam National Men’s Captain as guest referee, played the CNMI team last weekend. “ Guam Rugby Union President Stephen Grantham said.
Grantham added that “Guam would continue to support our nearest neighbour with donations of Get into Rugby balls and materials as well providing competitive and training opportunities for the growing rugby family on Saipan.”
A Brief History Guam Rugby
Rugby was first played in the South Pacific Games (SPG) in 1995 in Tahiti while Rugby 7’s were played in the 1997 Mini Games in American Samoa. When Guam won the right to host the 1999 South Pacific Games, the organizers had not intended to include rugby. Stumped as to our sport’s omission, questions were asked. We learned that as the host Guam could add or delete any sports it wished and, after much discussion, Rugby 7’s was also accepted as a participant sport for SPG 1999.
In the first quarter of 1998, the Guam Rugby Football Union (GRFU), was established to take responsibility for national team development, international fixtures, refereeing and judiciary, and island-wide schools, age group, women’s and senior rugby development. In April 1998 Guam was elected as the 83rd member nation of the iRB.
For some time a small triangular area of grass behind Wettengel Football Field had served as the venue for touch rugby. GRC “adopted” and set about building an international rugby field for SPG 1999. GRC built Wettengel Rugby Field through the private sector, in co-operation with the related departments of the Government, in time for the SPG and continues to develop it and adjacent areas for additional fields.
The SPG tournament was held over June 2-5, 1999. with teams from the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Guam, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Vanuatu and Wallis & Fatuna. Guam’s National Team joined the international ranks with a baptism of fire – getting to play the mighty Fijians in this tournament.
Fiji won the Gold Medal with a 40-12 victory over Papua New Guinea but the highlight for Guam was it’s 7th place finish after defeating Wallis & Fatuna. SPG had definitely put Guam Rugby on the map and Guam joined the Oceania rugby family.
After consideration by World Rugby (IRB at that time) of the difficulties of Guam travelling to the South Pacific nations, it was decided that Guam should be a member of the Asian rugby family and, in 2003, Guam joined Asia Rugby
Since joining Asia Rugby, Guam has competed in Rugby World Cup qualifying matches in 2005 against India (8-8), Kazakhstan (6-51) and Malaysia (15-44) and has competed in the RWC Sevens qualifying tournaments
A Guam Women’s Seven’s team play regularly in Asia Sevens tournaments and played in the Asia Rugby Sevens Trophy in Brunei last year and Guam men won the Asia Rugby Championship Division 3 east