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Rugby team conducts inter-squad tournament

Army-Navy match postponed because of schedule conflict

Published: 11:12AM December 13th, 2012
Rugby team conducts inter-squad tournament

Scott Hansen/Northwest Guardian

The JBLM Dragons scrimmage during a recent inter-squad tournament at Cowan Stadium.

When James Duff arrived at Fort Lewis more than a decade ago, a friend introduced him to rugby.

The Soldier quickly took to the physical sport and for the last 10 years has played for the Fort Lewis rugby team, now the JBLM Dragons, in the annual Army-Navy rivalry game. But for the first time in nearly 11 years, the annual matchup was postponed because of conflicting club schedules and lack of Navy players.

The Joint Base Lewis-McChord team had 29 ruggers during its last week of practice before the 14th Annual Army-Navy game, originally scheduled for Dec. 1. JBLM coach Nick Punimata apologized to the team when he found out the game they’d been training for was reschuled until April or May 2013.

“I apologized but they said they’d still like to play somebody,” Punimata said.

With local clubs not in their off-season conditioning period, there was no other team to invite to JBLM. So team members took matters in their own hands and organized their own informal inter-squad rugby tournament under the nights at Cowan Stadium Dec. 6.

The team divided itself into three teams, evenly splitting experienced players and rookies, and played a tournament of 7s.

“It’s still physical but a lot more wide open running,” Punimata said. “This way these guys will get some fitness in it. At the same time it’s new for a lot of these guys.”

The JBLM Dragons play in the Pacific Northwest Summer 7s league during the warmer months. During the off season the only time the team plays 15s is in the Army-Navy game. Some Dragons also play for local teams in Tacoma and Olympia.

Duff is one of JBLM’s veteran players. He recently returned from a deployment with the 593rd Sustainment Brigade, two months after he returned from a deployment with the 1st Special Forces Group. Duff played All-Army rugby in 2002 and 2004. The master sergeant was present at the inter-squad tournament.

“It gets all the new guys some playing time to learn and get a feel for the game,” Duff said.