SYDNEY, New South Wales, Australia -- The fields on which the Marines and Sailors fought were nearly identical, but the battles were drastically different. One field featured brutal collisions in a continuous struggle for ground, while the other featured complicated maneuvering to gain the advantage for a rare offensive strike.
On both fields, the teams of the Royal Australian Navy handily defeated the combined teams of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit and the USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) in friendly matches of rugby and soccer here, Aug. 19.
The matches were played simultaneously on parallel fields, pitting the newly assembled teams of U.S. Marines and Sailors against the official teams of the RAN. The rugby and soccer teams fielded by the 31st MEU/USS BHR were formed less than three weeks from the date of the games, with many of the players having little experience.
The lack of experience was evident on the field early and even more evident on the scoreboard, as the rugby match quickly became a one-sided affair. The score was 42 – 0 before the Australian team let up a little to help their American counterparts learn the game. The final score of the match was 52 – 20.
“They certainly outclassed us,” said Sgt. Kenneth J. Schopp, systems control watch chief for the Command Element, 31st MEU, and a first-time rugby player. “Rugby is a game of endurance and strength, but watching them line up and work together showed us the importance of technique as well.”
The Americans began the soccer game strong, fighting to a 0 – 0 score through most of the first half. However, a lack of substitutes and a number of inexperienced players eventually overcame the efforts of the Marines and Sailors, who were bested by the Australians 6 – 0.
“It wasn’t too bad in the beginning, because we were able to coordinate and fill gaps by using our experienced players in key spots,” said Sgt. Aquiles N. Ruiz, assistant team leader for the signals intelligence support team, CE, 31st MEU. “But they were good, some of the best I’ve played against, and we were outplayed.”
Despite the disparity in scores, the play on the field remained spirited throughout. The rugby match was riddled with hard tackles from both sides and the soccer game saw furious exchanges in front of the net.
What the American teams lacked in experience, cohesion, , and knowledge of the game, they replaced with fitness, aggression, and determination.
“The Americans never give up, they played a tough game,” said Able Seaman Deckhart, a RAN rugby player. “There was a lot of rivalry on the field and you always want to beat the other team, but we’re friends off the field.”
Both games ended within minutes of each other, allowing the players to gather for presentations. Coaches and captains from each team exchanged plaques, hats and t-shirts after expressing gratitude for the opportunity to play.
For most players, both U.S. and Australian, the international competition against one another was the real prize.
“That’s why I came out to play,” said Ruiz, a native of New Port Richey, Fla. “I figured I’d never have a chance like this again.”
Every U.S. service member left their respective match with the memory of participating in an international “friendly” and some left with a newfound love for a sport.
“I loved rugby,” said Schopp, a native of West Bend, Wisc. “I definitely want to play some more when we get back to Okinawa.”
The 31st MEU is currently deployed on the three ships of Amphibious Squadron 11 and recently completed exercise Talisman Saber 2013, a bilateral training exercise between the U.S. and Australian forces.
The 31st MEU is the Marine Corps’ force in readiness for the Asia-Pacific region and the only continuously forward-deployed MEU.