The CNMI National Rugby Team made the grade in its test match against the Guam Rugby Club last Saturday at the CPA Airport Field.
“The team played an excellent game. Our players played a higher-level team, consists of national players from Guam,” Northern Marianas Rugby Union president and player/coach Stanley Iakopo said.
The opposing squads split the pair of matches last weekend with Guam taking Game 1, 12-5, and the CNMI settling the score in Game 2, 12-7.
Iakopo called the exhibition a test match, as they have intensified their training sessions early this year in preparation for the 2019 Pacific Mini Games and it came more than a week after the squad had practice times under World Cup veteran Mahonri Schwalger of Samoa.
“The team did well during the game, doing ball offloads and passing, attacking the offense, and having communication. We were able to shut down Guam offensively, which is indicative of the low scoring game…and we came back and won the second game,” Iakopo said.
While he liked what he saw in last Saturday’s match, the NMRU head believed they could not rest on their laurels with the Mini Games in Apia, Samoa just a few months away. The quadrennial meet will run from July 7 to 20. Rugby 7s, where the CNMI is playing, is scheduled for July 12 and 13 at the Apia Park Stadium.
“We still have a lot of work to do. We need to do more rucks and clear the ball and get it out quickly to the faster guys on the backline,” said Iakopo, who saw action in last Saturday’s twin matches along with team captain Paul Manglona, co-captains Soane Pome’e, Mike Salas, and Danny Kaipat, and Ben Jones Jr.
“We are all working very hard day in, day out at 430am and 5pm everyday. We are still learning, developing, and crafting our skills, especially our players who are first-timers,” Iakopo said.
The squad will continue to train under Pome’e and Schwalger with the latter expected to give his recommendation on the players that could make an impact on the team before he leaves later this month.
Then in April, Iakopo and company will be under the watch of another veteran in the sport—Sam Fesulua’i Robinson. The Hawaii-based Robinson was hired as coach of the national team and supervised the squad’s training sessions for nearly a month last year (late September to mid October).
“Coach Sam is coming in April from Hawaii to prep us for Samoa and then finalize the selection,” said Iakopo.
Meanwhile, NMRU would like to thank the following individuals and companies that supported the exhibition matches last weekend: Ed Arriola, Deron Flores, Island Image and Motion CNMI, MARPAC, Latte Built, Rufina Tropicals, Let’s Go Tour Sea Touch, Saipan Apparel, and Hertz Rent A Car.