BRISBANE, Queensland, Australia -- Looking across the field at their opponents, the mismatched unit of Marines and Sailors could recognize their defeat was imminent. But that couldn’t wipe the smiles from their faces.
Marines and Sailors with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit and crew of the USS Bonhomme Richard played rugby against the Brisbane West Bulldogs here, July 12.
The match was orchestrated weeks prior to the units’ arrival in Australia as a way for the service members to embrace some of the culture and build camaraderie between the sister services.
“After playing a rugby match in Guam awhile back, we realized it was a great way to build a strong ‘blue and green’ team between the Marines and Navy,” said Capt. Matthew C. Kelly, the adjutant of the 31st MEU and a native of Carver, Mass. “This match introduced many of the Marines and Sailors to a new sport and let them interact with and meet the players from the Aussie team.”
The teams started by playing three periods of 25 minutes each to allow all of the 38 service members a chance to play. Wearing green and yellow striped jerseys provided by their Australian hosts, the Navy/Marine Corps team fought tirelessly to keep up with their experienced opponents, who wore a checkered green and yellow uniform.
The Bulldogs, a local Australian Rugby Union Team, dominated the scoreboard throughout the match with superior tactics and teamwork.
“The Australian team played a tough game, but it was a great experience to get out there and experience the camaraderie on the field,” said Sgt. Rian D. O’Shea, a chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear defense non-commissioned officer in charge for the 31st MEU, and a native of Eugene, Org. “I can’t wait to get to the next port and play another team.”
After everyone had their chance on the field, the teams mixed players, swapping jersey for jersey to blend experience with exuberance for another 25 minute period. The change resulted in a more competitive show, much to the approval of the more than 100 spectators in attendance.
The two teams ended the two-hour rugby competition with handshakes, songs, and a short presentation of gifts. The U.S. team provided the Australian team with a plaque to commemorate the visit and the Bulldogs let the service members keep their jerseys.
“We all know you aren’t the best rugby players in the world,” joked Robert Rutledge, the Bulldogs’ team captain. “But we appreciate you guys coming out here to play us and the effort you put forth.”
The end of the match also marked the end of liberty for the Marines and Sailors in Brisbane as they prepare to participate in the multi-national exercise Talisman Saber 13. Over the next few weeks, the Marines and Sailors of the 31st MEU and the Amphibious Squadron 11 will conduct integrated training with their Australian counterparts in order to improve their cooperative ability to plan, communicate and conduct complex operations.
The 31st MEU is the Marine Corps’ force in readiness for the Asia-Pacific region and the only continuously forward-deployed MEU.