• DENVER (July 23, 2011) Pj Vaifale, a Soldier from 212th Fires Brigade, and a Team Bliss Stryker Rugby player, latches onto an opponent at the 44th Annual Denver 7s Rugby Tournament in Denver, July 23.

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    DENVER (July 23, 2011) Pj Vaifale, a Soldier from 212th Fires Brigade, and a Team Bliss Stryker Rugby player, latches onto an opponent at the 44th Annual Denver 7s Rugby Tournament in Denver, July 23.

  • DENVER (July 23, 2011) Benjamin Matthes, a Soldier from 2nd Special Troops Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team (AETF,) 1st Armored Division, at the 44th Annual Denver 7s Rugby Tournament in Denver, July 23.

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    DENVER (July 23, 2011) Benjamin Matthes, a Soldier from 2nd Special Troops Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team (AETF,) 1st Armored Division, at the 44th Annual Denver 7s Rugby Tournament in Denver, July 23.

  • DENVER (July 23, 2011) A Team Bliss Stryker Rugby player (in yellow) lays into an opponent at the 44th Annual Denver 7s Rugby Tournament in Denver, July 23.

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    DENVER (July 23, 2011) A Team Bliss Stryker Rugby player (in yellow) lays into an opponent at the 44th Annual Denver 7s Rugby Tournament in Denver, July 23.

  • DENVER (July 23, 2011) Matt Windham, right, a Soldier from 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, at the 44th Annual Denver 7s Rugby Tournament in Denver, July 23.

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    DENVER (July 23, 2011) Matt Windham, right, a Soldier from 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, at the 44th Annual Denver 7s Rugby Tournament in Denver, July 23.

DENVER -- While Fort Bliss fence lines may help ensure force protection levels, the bond between Team Bliss Soldiers and El Pasoans continues to be borderless. An example of this could be found on the rugby pitch as Team Bliss Stryker Rugby Soldiers and Scorpion players from El Paso Rugby Football Club both wore Stryker yellow in competition during the 44th annual Denver 7s Rugby Tournament at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Denver July 23.

As some of his players from 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team and 4th Heavy BCT had to withdraw from the trip, sponsored by Bliss FMWR, due to deployment responsibilities, Sgt. Maj. Galu Satele, an instructor from the U.S. Army Sergeants’ Major Academy, and the Strykers’ head coach, contacted Scorpion players in hopes that they could join forces while in the Mile High City. Scorpion players jumped at the chance and were shoulder-to-shoulder with the Soldiers by kickoff.

Denver 7s was not only a showcase of almost 60 of the best Rugby 7s teams from across much of the country, it was also one of three Western Rugby Football Union super-regional qualifying tournaments this year. Winners of WRFU qualifiers continue on to the USA Rugby National Men’s Club 7s Championship Tournament, and the matches are ripe recruiting grounds for players who will represent the United States in the Pan American Games in Mexico City in October, world rugby championships in 2012 and the Summer Olympics in 2016.

Team Bliss had staunch competition in the qualifying bracket as they were matched up with some of the best in the West, most of which were professional clubs. Satele said regardless of Team Bliss’ amateur standing, he said taking the field against some of Rugby 7’s elite was the best way to spend their time in Denver.

“I wanted some of these guys to be exposed to a higher level of the game,” he said. “We have a good team in terms of El Paso and the Rio Grande Rugby Union (a sub union of WRFU,) but we don’t have the game experience of the players who are playing here.”

With garish losses to Houston Woodlands Rugby Football Club Exiles, the eventual 2011 Denver 7s champion, and the Glendale (Colo.) Raptors, two professional squads, and increasingly better matches against the Gentlemen of Aspen and the Kansas City Rogue, progress was evident for a team with not only two new players to the game of rugby, but which was also a mix of two different teams who hadn’t trained together for Denver.

Jonathan Gil, an El Paso Scorpion turned Team Bliss Stryker for a day, said while the scoreboards may not have bent in their favor, coming out for the Denver 7s with the Strykers was a worthwhile weekend.

“It was a tough day,” he said. “We’re out here in limited numbers with guys that aren’t familiar with each other and [familiarity] is key in this game. [From an experience standpoint] it was a great day overall and a great learning experience. Off the field, it was great spending time with these guys and we built some great camaraderie. You can’t ask for any more than that.”

Benjamin Matthes, a Soldier from 2nd Special Troops Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team (AETF), 1st Armored Division, had only two weeks of rugby experience coming into the weekend and already considered himself “hooked” thanks to the opportunity to play for the Strykers. He said win or lose at Denver, the chance to get to the Mile High City via Bliss Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation has only added to his new love of the game.

“Denver was a huge learning experience,” he said. “I came out and tried my best, and with everything considered I thought we did pretty well. We played with the best of the best out here; it was great to see Denver and come out and play rugby all day.”

Page last updated Wed July 27th, 2011 at 14:35