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Five Ruggers Play Play Against Touring Aussie Team

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. November 12, 2015 – Five members of the New Mexico Tech Rugby Club took the rare opportunity to play in an international match without leaving the state on the evening of Monday, November 9.

Team co-captain John Mark Stiles led the small Tech contingent in a floodlit exhibition at Johnson Field featuring hosts University of New Mexico Lobos versus the Indigenous Australian Invitational Rugby Under 20s team. IAIR's 84-17 victory reflected the disparity between the two nations in terms of player experience, yet the occasion provided a showcase for the international flavor of sportsmanship that exists in the rugby world.

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Members of the Indigenous Australian Invitational Rugby U20 team pose with a combined NMT/UNM side following their match at Johnson Field, UNM on November 9. The Indigenous Australian team won, 84 to 17. 

Photo by Dave Wheelock

 

Seeing that Indigenous Australians often have few positive avenues between high school and adulthood, tour organizer Darrell Morris of the former gold rush town of Croydon in the state of Queensland, struck upon the idea of a rugby tour as a means to an end.

"In July 2014 I was surfing around the internet and ran across the name of Timaris Montano," said Morris, 35, during traditional after-match ceremonies Monday evening. Timaris had established a youth rugby program in Gallup, her husband Chee had done the same for adults throughout northwest New Mexico, and their son Jericho had played at New Mexico Tech. A younger daughter, Kne-bah, also plays rugby. Morris contacted Timaris to propose a historic first match between native rugby teams from the two continents, and the long journey had begun.

The Indigenous Australian Invitational Rugby team includes players under 20 years of age from five of Australia's six states including Tasmania and the Torres Strait Islands. Most if not all have played since childhood and several have considerable rugby bona fides – one prospect stayed behind due to his recent signing with a professional rugby league team.

For prospective members of the touring side, the requirements were considerable and life-impacting. Applicants had to earn their own expenses, pursue post-secondary education, and commit to a healthy lifestyle.

"The guys on this tour are very proud of what they've already accomplished" said an obviously gratified Morris.

A party of 38 including players, coaches, and a few parents arrived in Albuquerque the day before the first of six matches in two weeks on U.S. soil. The team's itinerary includes inter-cultural exchanges, community service, and rugby clinics on the Navajo Nation before moving on for matches and academic and cultural visits to Arizona State University, San Diego State University, Cal State-Long Beach, and Belmont Shore Rugby Club in Los Angeles.

A 6 p.m. kickoff was far from ideal timing for New Mexico Tech students. Only Stiles, Stephen Albritton, Emmanuel Hernandez, Anthony Bernal, and Nigel Ruckhaus were available to reinforce a UNM Lobos team playing between major weekend games against Colorado State University and the U.S. Air Force Academy. All five Pygmies contributed to a fast-paced match and Stiles, playing outside center, scored the first of the combined universities' three tries just two minutes into the match. After UNM inside center Cliff Kindred's try on 15 minutes, IAIR held just a 14-12 lead.

Even as play moved freely around the pitch, the Australians were applying their advantage of experience to assess the Americans' relative strengths (scrums and lineout restarts) and weaknesses (ball skills and field awareness). Gradually the home side found themselves defending more and breaking the Australian line less, and the five-point tries began to flow for the Indigenous team. At halftime IAIR led 53-12 before adding 31 points in the second 40 minutes. UNM's Brad Bedesem's try 24 minutes into the second stanza showed the Yanks had no quit in them, but they were not going to cover a 72-17 deficit and the Aussies coasted in for the final 84-17 margin.

Halfback Bryce Lee was named Man of the Match for IAIR while UNM flyhalf Christian Portilla received honors for the combined university team.

A late-night bus ride brought the tourists to Gallup for their second match in two days, against the Indigenous Warriors of North America. Coach Montano's call for players to participate in the first intercontinental indigenous match in U.S. rugby history fielded 26 young men from New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, New York, Massachusetts, Kansas, and Nebraska, representing several tribal nations. Five sets of brothers took the field for the Warriors, including Timaris and Chee Montano's sons Jericho and Bahe.

Contacted Wednesday while guiding the Australians around the Navajo Nation, Timaris Montano related that "Chee started playing rugby in 1989 in Phoenix and when we moved back to Gallup Jericho and his friends wanted to play. Chee didn't have the time to coach so they asked me. I said I would coach for a few weeks until we found someone. I didn't expect to coach for nine years! This coming spring will be my tenth year of coaching."

Culminating a busy Tuesday that included volunteer work at the Community Pantry and visits with Gallup High School students and Mayor Jackie McKinney, the IAIR team performed their pre-match challenge dance at Gallup High School field, reciprocated by the Indigenous North American Warriors. An early winter front moved in shortly after the 7 p.m. kickoff, dropping air temperatures by 15 degrees and bringing the first snowfall most of the Australians had ever seen. In a spirited match the young travelers overcame the wind-whipped flurries and the Warriors, 41-7.

The NMT Rugby Club will complete their fall campaign with a November 21 road match against their old rivals and new friends, the UNM Lobos. Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. at Johnson Field.

– NMT –

By Dave Wheelock/Tech Rugby Director