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The rugby community in Guam showed their True Grit in every sense of the word by hosting their annual tens tournament in early February.

News photoA member of the Japan-based Tsunami Teetotallers is surrounded by players from the Guam Rugby Club during action at this year’s True Gift tens tournament.
PHOTO COURTESY OF GUAM RUGBY CLUB

Despite the still evident damage from Typhoon Pongsona, which hit the island with 290-kph winds on Dec. 8, the sixth annual True Grit Tens attracted eight teams from South-East Asia and Oceania and once again helped to promote the sport on the Pacific island, with the tournament getting plenty of coverage on local radio, TV and in the local newspaper.

“Unfortunately a couple of teams pulled out because of the uncertainty of whether the tournament would take place,” said Guam Rugby Club president Peter “Pedro” Walls. “But I think those that came enjoyed themselves and will hopefully be back for more.”

Besides the three local clubs, there were three teams from Japan — the Sumitomo Samuraiz, the Tsunami Teetotallers and the Zenkai Beers, one from South Korea and one from Hong Kong.

Players and referees started arriving on the island on the Thursday and were soon indulging in the hospitality that the island is famed for — with Mac and Marti’s being a particular favorite for some of the ex-pats, while the Samuraiz and their Samuraizettes seemed to enjoy the “cultural dancing” at Club USA — though the horror stories of what the island had been through on that fateful day in December put a few things in perspective. It also explained the sorry state of a number of buildings on the main strip, not to mention the numerous telephone poles that had snapped in two as a result of the strong wind.

The Guam Rugby Club is in the process of developing a second field, in the hope that corporate teams from Japan may start using the island as a preseason training camp. It had hoped to have lights installed on the main field, but all that had to be put on hold as a result of the storm and it was to the organizing committee’s credit that the field was in such good condition.

The pre-tournament meet and greet enabled the majority of players to either catch up with old friends or in the case of the Teetotallers — who had been hard hit by late withdrawals and injuries, which got worse as the tournament progressed — recruit the various rugby mercenaries that had turned up from outlying islands such as Saipan and Pohnpei hoping for a game.

The Kowloon players arrived on the island at 6:00 a.m on the first day of the tournament and were immediately asked to play the first game. However, they showed no signs of jet lag and set the tone for the rest of the tournament by beating Guam handsomely.

By the close of play on the Saturday, it was fairly clear that the final would see Kowloon take on Sumitomo, though that didn’t stop players from those two sides joining all the others in making the most of a $30 all-you-can-eat steak and crab and all-you-can-drink Budweiser buffet put on by the Outrigger Resort, one of the sponsors of the tournament. However, hosting such an event for an army of rugby players in the general restaurant was not the greatest idea, and will have to go down as a lesson sorely learned.

Sunday saw more of the unusual weather the island has been experiencing with sudden squalls making conditions difficult for those in the bleachers, though for the players it was a welcome respite from the heat that played such a prominent role in last year’s tournament.

The final of the Dick Pacific Bowl saw local team Para Todu edge the Seoul Survivors in a hard fought game with the winning try coming in the last minute, though the Survivors had to call upon a number of reserves to help them through the game.

That set for the scene for the final and the Kowloon side showed its class with an emphatic 29-7 win over the Samuraiz, to claim the Budweiser Cup, with the gallant losers taking the Glimpses of Guam Plate.

“It was a great tournament,” said Kowloon captain Dean McLachlan.

“The teams were good, the hosts were outstanding, and there was the right number of teams. That way we did not have to get up too early in the morning.”

The lights should be up within the year, typhoons permitting, and plans are underway to attract even more Japanese teams to the island, courtesy of a video featuring a well-known former All Black now plying his trade in Tokyo.

However, the organizers of the True Grit Tens are keen that the tournament remains one for club teams, rather than go the way of tournaments such as the Hong Kong Tens, which are being dominated by teams containing players on the verge of international honors or recently retired internationals. The Kowloon club knows only too well the imbalances (potentially dangerous in a sport such as rugby) that this can cause as a team of fit highly tuned professional athletes comes up against players for whom the whole touring experience is just as important as what goes on on the field, and it has set up its own social tournament, which this year will be held on March 26.

Gregory David, president of the Guam Rugby Union summed the tournament up best.

“While True Grit is undoubtedly a friendly tournament, no quarter is ever asked or given on the field. However, whether players and their supporters experience the joy of victory or the disappointment of defeat, the new friendships forged on and off the field, the famous Guam hospitality and the enjoyment and celebration of a unique game reflects the real success of True Grit.”

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