JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. – Though the weather was gloomy and wet, members of the Flying Tigers brought a little sunshine with their victory over the Seattle Rugby Club Nov. 6. This marks the team’s first win in a XV SERIES.
“Usually, we are facing each other in the championship, but this is the first time we’ve come together on a team to reignite the flame for Air Force Rugby’s XVs,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Saleem Razvi, general manager, from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. “It’s important not only for the community, but for the military as well to see that we can come together and form this powerhouse of an athletic team.”
In rugby, seven players on each team move the ball down the field by either passing, running or kicking the ball to score. A score is called a try and is worth five points. After a try, the team can score two extra points by kicking the ball through the goalposts.
XV SERIES is a nonprofit program with the goal of developing and supporting amateur American rugby athletes, referees and support staff. Each player on the Flying Tigers was hand-picked based on his skill and competitiveness for this high-level game. Some came even as far as from Tokyo to compete.
Four players were selected from Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
“Playing on the combined team is always an incredible experience” said U.S. Air Force Maj. LeRoi Edwards, prop, from JBLM’s 627th Logistics Readiness Squadron. “There is a different language and rhetoric amongst service members that makes playing together so special. We expect to win every day in our jobs and that culture doesn’t get pushed to the side when we put on our jerseys. If anything, that tenacity is amplified.”
Endurance and passion were high as this was the last game for many of the players.
“I’m going to get emotional,” said U.S. Army Sgt. John Cullen, 8-man, from Camp Williams, Utah. “It’s an amazing feeling playing on this field, having started my career in Seattle after college and now completing my career here as well.”
Cullen has been playing rugby for 17 years all over the world, and Saturday’s game was his last one as a service member.
“I probably can’t tell you which games I’ve won or lost, but the moments you have on the field with your teammates are what counts,” he said. “What it feels like at the 70-minute mark when you’re tired and you’ve been playing defense, to look over and see the guys next to you working hard: you keep going.”
With only three days of preparation and practice, the newly-formed, combined-services team kept the crowd on its toes during the two, 40-minute halves. The Seattle Rugby Club had its fair share of fans, but the Flying Tigers’ fans made their pride known by battling the rain and high winds to cheer on the team.
At one point during halftime, fans had to shelter at the top of the stadium, due to the heavy rain, while the two teams took cover in nearby trees. However, that did not dampen the passion from both groups.
“I love this game with all my soul, and military rugby combines my two greatest passions,” said U.S. Space Force Sgt. Anthony Kisiday, open side flanker, from Chantilly, Virginia. “We have the opportunity to create something that could last for generations: the Space Force Rugby Team. I always tell the guys my dream job will be to coach the Space Force Academy Team.”
Kisiday, who has played for a combined 15 years, said it was an honor to play alongside the likes of team captain and World Class Athlete Program player, Will Holder.
“It was an honor to play alongside someone of his caliber; I'm constantly humbled by our legacy,” Kisiday said. “This rugby community is unlike any other in the military, and it’s our responsibility to make sure Space Force Rugby steps up to the plate and keep that standard.”
The team plans to assemble every other year, following 2021.
“What I love about military rugby is that no matter who comes out to play and how long we have, no one can handle the heart and work ethic we bring every time,” said U.S. Army Capt. Will Holder, flyhalf and captain of the Flying Tigers, from Fort Carson, Colorado.
William’s father started rugby camps for him and his friends when he was a third grader. He has competed and served as captain on the All-Army team for five years, winning the Armed Forces Championship each year, and made 14 international appearances for the USA Eagles.
“I’ve coached Army rugby before, and with 10 veterans in our program, it’s important for them to be connected back to events like this,” said Kevin Flynn, president of the Seattle Rugby Club and director of rugby for the Army Rugby Union. “This is our first time hosting a military team, but it was time to show everyone the potential of military programs to succeed.”
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