Last summer – well, winter here in New Zealand – a ship named the Golden Bear pulled into Wellington Harbor. Aboard were some 300 cadets from the California Maritime Academy.
It was a great visit. The cadets were wonderful, hosting some of Wellington’s fine folks aboard the ship and visiting the sights around the city. But they also played a tough game of rugby against Victoria University. It was tough not only because the students had just disembarked from a cross-Pacific voyage, because some of them had never played competitive rugby before, but also because they ran into a very good Billy Goats side.
The Keelhaulers have a long, proud rugby tradition – one that they have just added to, with the possibility of yet more to come.
Our friend Steven Hiatt, the coach, reports that the Keelhaulers won their Division 3 regional championship last weekend in Nebraska against Wayne State. Yes, he reports, that makes theirs a very large region, as Nebraska is a long way away from California. So, coming up this weekend, the team is off to the Final Four in Glendale, Colorado.
While it’s a little late to hop over for the games, the semi-final games will be streamed on the web. So, go have a look, if you’re keen: Webstreaming as well: The Saturday Semi-Finals, the Sunday Championship game as well as the 3rd place game will be on the web at www.nscro.org and www.usarugby.org . You can read more about it here: http://www.eteamz.com/NSCRO/news/index.cfm?id=5368779&cat=0
A Rugby team from the Golden Bear, the training ship of the California Maritime Academy, took on the Fighting Billy Goats of Victoria University earlier this month. Almost 300 sailed into Wellington aboard the Golden Bear and took full advantage of the sights and sounds of the capital. A large crowd watched the game, won 34-4 by the Billy Goats, at the historic old Basin Reserve ground. Here’s what a couple of the Cal Maritime Keelhaulers’ players and their coach had to say about their time – and the game – in Wellington.
By Adrian Pratt, U.S. Embassy Wellington
The Keelhaulers of the California Maritime Academy gave it their best shot. Again and again.
But in the end the Fighting Billy Goats of Victoria University just had too much fire power. It was a crunching game with hit after hit making some in the crowd wince, but it was a fair game and one contested with great mutual respect. The 34-3 scoreline sounds worse than it was. The Keelhaulers left the game with their heads held high.
After the game – fought so fiercely that you were sure animus was involved – the two teams ate, drank and sang together like old friends. And that is the beauty of sport at its best. It forges an instant bond. You can skip the “how-do-you-dos?” and get on with the important stuff.
The game, played at the wonderful Basin Reserve in Wellington, New Zealand – which has been hosting first class cricket games since 1886 – was attended by a couple hundred vocal – very vocal – spectators who basked in the cold, but sunny conditions.
Keelhaulers Coach Steve Hiaat said he was proud of the team, but that in the end just too many of his players were too new to the game and simply didn’t have the Rugby instincts that the Vic players had. He recently lost about half of his team to graduation and for a few of the Keelhaulers this was their first ever competitive game.
The Keelhaulers had sailed into Wellington aboard the Training Ship Golden Bear on Sunday morning. They leave for Sydney, Australia, today. Wellington put on a good show for the 250 cadets with not a drop of rain during their entire stay. They were also gracious hosts. The cadets drank in the sights of the “coolest little capital in the world,” going on tours of parliament, the Botanical Gardens, and partaking of a few adult beverages on Cuba Street.
They returned the favor with their good cheer, polite enthusiasm and by throwing a reception for a large group of Wellingtonians, even inviting a musical band from the local Scots College to perform on board.
One of the cadets, who had actually lived in Wellington 10 years ago, was reunited with his old neighbors, who took him out for dinner and cheered for him during the game. Many of the cadets will end up as Merchant Mariners upon graduation from the Academy, which is recognized for excellence in the business, science, technology, engineering, operations, and policy aspects of the transportation industries.
The Keelhaulers’ New Zealand Rugby hosts made sure that the visit and the game went off without a hitch. Their captain organized training sessions for them – one of them was even conducted by a former All Blacks player. The Vic team even provided a “loaner” player to the Keelhaulers to cover for some injuries. They called him buddha and, when Coach Hiaat brought him on for the Keelhaulers during the second half of the game a huge cheer rose – from both sets of supporters.
Hiaat said that was a really cool moment and showed what sport is all about.
As the Golden Bear heads out into Cook Strait on her way to Sydney, they will be leaving a lot of friends and good will in their wake.
May they have following seas.
To view photos and videos of the game, visit the U.S. Embassy’s FlickR photo gallery.
And, if you’re in Wellington on May 31, you are invited to come along. The game will be played at the historic River Basin stadium, the site of international cricket matches, and will begin at 3 p.m. It’s free (Note: if it is wet, the game will be held at Kelburn Park, Wellington).
The Keelhaulers will be sailing to Wellington aboard the Training Ship Golden Bear, docking at the Overseas Terminal on Sunday, May 29. On board will be almost 300 students and instructors from the prestigious California Maritime Academy. Located in Vallejo, near San Francisco, the Academy is recognized for excellence in the business, science, technology, engineering, operations, and policy aspects of the transportation industries. They are here at the personal invitation of U.S. Ambassador David Huebner.
He’s looking forward to the game.
“The Keelhaulers are one of the best teams in the U.S. Despite the small size of the school, they have been nationally ranked in club rugby and won the Pacific Coast League’s Western Division Championship in 2009 and 2010,” Huebner said. “I expect it to be a close game.”
The Keelhaulers vs. Fighting Billy Goats is part of the embassy’s year-long RWC celebration that has already seen an exchange of Kiwi and Hawaiian Rugby coaches and the launch of this blog.
The Golden Bear will depart Wellington on June 1, but will be back in New Zealand when she visits Auckland on July 28 for a three-day visit. The Keelhaulers are expected to take part in another Rugby match there as well.
Adrian Pratt, U.S. Embassy Wellington