If you go
What: 19th annual Pacific Northwest Army-Navy Rugby Championship
When: May 19 at noon
Where: Rainier Field, McChord Field
Nick Punimata, Joint Base Lewis-McChord rugby team’s head coach, is confident that he can bring together the talent needed for a strong rugby team for the 19th annual Pacific Northwest Army-Navy Rugby Championship May 19 at noon at Rainier Field on McChord Field.
Having experience with rugby not only at JBLM, but with All-Army clubs and other regional clubs, Punimata is aware of the potential talent service members have.
“The idea here is to field the best team we can and bring the cup back (to JBLM),” Punimata said. “There are experienced guys who can be anchors in key positions.”
JBLM’s rugby club leads the overall series 16-2, and it has become synonymous with JBLM’s Armed Forces Day — which will be held at Heritage Hill on McChord Field this year.
For most of the previous 18 games, Punimata has entered the practices leading up to the game with the Kitsap Bangors rugby club out of Bremerton with the cup in hand. But now is a unique situation — the cup is with the Navy team.
Last year was only the second time the Navy team defeated JBLM on the rugby pitch, 42-31. The other time the Navy won was back in 2009.
Punimata said the team strayed a little from the strategy of wearing Navy down in the first half and being more physical in the second half. He also added that the JBLM players were breaking down in positions they shouldn’t have.
“We didn’t put a strong front line at the points of contact,” Punimata said. “We were allowing them extra yardage; we weren’t gang tackling. (Navy) built up momentum.”
There are a few experienced players that Punimata is hoping will be available for the May 19 game; there are potential deployments, trainings, transitions and other factors to consider.
However, there are players returning who were new to the sport last year. Staff Sergeant Kevin O’Neill, 1st Special Forces Group, was part of Punimata’s Joint Base Lewis-McChord team in the annual JBLM Rugby 7s tournament in July.
O’Neill’s athletic experience included playing football, basketball and track in high school. He never played any sports at his previous duty stations — Fort Campbell, Ky., and Fort Bragg, N.C.
While having key players is going to be a big benefit, O’Neill believes the entire group will make the difference this year.
“In football, you can solely rely on a gifted quarterback or running back; but in rugby you need all 15,” O’Neill said. “I know if we get the same group of guys (as last year), it’ll be a different outcome.”
Other players are just excited to play on the field against a sister service; regardless of who comes out to the practices leading up to the game.
“It will be interesting to see all of the new players (we get), but it’s always good to play rugby,” said Sgt. Fineasi Polaulu, 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.
Practices are currently planned for Wednesday and Friday nights at 7:30 p.m. at the Lewis North Athletic Complex before the May 19 game. All athletes, regardless of rugby experience, are welcomed to try out.