CNMI rugby team off to Guam

Members and officials of the CNMI rugby team run a play during a training session yesterday at the CPA Airport Field. (Roselyn B. Monroyo)

Rugby players in the CNMI will compete in the 2017 Heineken Guam Rugby Sevens that will be held later this month.

NMI Rugby Federation president Stanley Iakopo, in an interview with Saipan Tribune yesterday, said 15 players will head down to Guam to participate in the Aug. 26-27 tournament that will take place at the University of Guam. These players are part of the 20-man pool and are vying for slots on the CNMI National Rugby Team that will compete in the 2017 Pacific Mini Games in Vanuatu this December.

Iakopo added that the tournament in Guam will feature several squads from the host country and teams from the Philippines, Japan, and China.

“The tournament in Guam will be a good test for our team. It will gauge how far have we gone since we started training early this year,” Iakopo said.

The squad began training last March and since majority of the players are new to the sport, Iakopo said they started from the basic.

“We went back to the fundamentals and then gradually work on their skills,” said Iakopo, who is counting on coach Viliame Kaitabu in handling the squad’s training sessions and is also working with board member John Blanco for the team’s other needs in preparation for the tournament in Guam and in Vanuatu.

The 2017 Heineken Guam Rugby Sevens will be the first actual competition for Iakopo and company and he is hoping that the games will give the team the needed confidence.

“Right now, they are uncertain on what it will be like to play in an official game. So, once we get there and play, somehow they would realize that it’s just the same thing as what we’ve been doing in our practices. The matches in Guam will give them confidence to go out there and prove that we belong to this sport because we’ve been training and working hard to get better and keep up with top teams,” Iakopo said.

“The games in Guam will prepare us for the tough grind ahead in the Mini Games. We may get get run over, but we will stand up and fight back to represent our island well,” he added.

Meanwhile, Iakopo and Blanco are spearheading a fundraiser on Aug. 22 at Naked Fish with the entire proceeds from the event going to the team’s expenses for its Guam trip. Tickets to the fundraiser are only $25 each with free drinks and entertainment.

The local rugby group also welcomes companies and individuals who would like to support the CNMI team’s participation in the Mini Games that will be held from Dec. 4 to 15. Besides the Commonwealth, 12 other countries, including powerhouse New Zealand and Australia, and 2016 Olympic gold medalist Fiji, will join the rugby 7s competition in Vanuatu.

Roselyn Monroyo | Reporter
Roselyn Monroyo is the sports reporter of Saipan Tribune. She has been covering sports competitions for more than two decades. She is a basketball fan and learned to write baseball and football stories when she came to Saipan in 2005.

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