The inaugural Ambassador's Shield rugby match was played in July 1997, following a meeting between a group of New Zealander's playing rugby in the Washington Area, and the New Zealand Ambassador to the USA, John Wood.
The idea behind the match was to promote New Zealand's culture in the Washington area by pitting a team of expatriate Kiwis against a local select side. Following the game the players, officials and supporters would be invited back to the Embassy to talk about the match and enjoy some New Zealand hospitality.
The first match fifteen years ago was watched by a small but enthusiastic rugby-loving crowd of Americans and New Zealanders. On a blazing hot day the Kiwi's came away with a 43-7 victory over a Washington Barbarians team. This score remains the largest winning margin to date and was the start of what is now a widely anticipated Washington rugby event.
The second event in 1998 saw the Kiwi team play the full Potomac Rugby Union (PRU) representative side. The 29-17 score line in favor of the New Zealanders reflects the high quality of opposition they faced in the PRU. It also indicates that the event was catching on with the Americans keen to field a team that could win the Shield.
1998 also saw a Kiwis come to play in the Ambassador's side from as far away as Los Angeles and New York. Attendance at the event also increased 100% with a crowd of around 150 on hand at both the game and ensuing after-match function.
In 1999, the event was moved from early July to early November so the game could be used as a trial match to help establish which players from the PRU could be selected for the Mid Atlantic Rugby Football Union (MARFU) team to compete at the National Tournament. The score was again close with the Kiwi's scoring a last minute try to come away with a 22-18 victory. After only three years the event had started to become a focal point of rugby in the DC area.
2000 brought about further change with the full Mid Atlantic Rugby Union (MARFU) select side team named to challenge for the Shield. The kiwi's proved to strong and came away with an accomplished 38-22 result from what may have been the strongest side the Kiwi team had ever fielded.
2001 and 2002 brought another two victories for the Ambassador's team although the game in 2002 was only won in the final few seconds.
Perhaps the biggest develop came in 2002 when the Embassy partnered with Hyde School (now Perry Street Preparatory Public Charter School) in Washington DC to raise funds for their rugby program. Tal Bayer, Director of the Hyde athletics program, is a strong promoter of rugby in the Washington area and has done a great job in establishing a rugby program for the students at Perry Street Prep. Rugby has not only provided the boys a sporting avenue to channel their energies but also a means for them to develop as students. Since 2002 the Ambassador's Shield has been a key fund raising event for Perry Street Prep with money donated from many generous corporate and private contributions as well as some good old-fashioned fund raising. The following articles which appeared in the Washington Post provides an insight into the challenges these students faced and the rewards rugby has provided. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A42057-2003Aug10.html
Going into 2003, the Kiwi's were riding high on a 6 year winning streak. This however came to an end when MARFU pulled out a thrilling 33-28 win. And a well deserved win it was with the MARFU forward pack putting on a dominate performance capped off by some great back-line play. The Kiwi team managed to come back twice in the match and took the lead with under five minutes remaining. This effort however was all in vain as an excellent run by the MARFU left wing resulted in a try in the corner to steal the victory in the last minute.
With the loss behind them, the 2004 Kiwi team assembled with the tough job of winning the Ambassador's Shield back. In the best of conditions and before a record crowd, estimated at 1000, the Kiwi team came out determined and after a seesaw battle came away with a 30-20 victory.
2005 saw a similar result with the kiwi's winning 16-12. The 2006 match was however a defining moment for MARFU who steamrolled to a comfortable 30-18 victory which proved to be the platform for them to go on and win the National Championship later that year.
With a restructuring of US regional select rugby in 2009, the MARFU select side was no longer able to provide the opposition to the powerful kiwi team. This lead to an opportunity to enhance the event further when it was announced the US Military Combined Services rugby team would provide the opposition to the Ambassador's XV in 2010. This would bring a truly international flavor to the event.
In what was a physical but highly entertaining encounter, the kiwi's managed to pull away at the end of the inaugural match against the US Combined Services to win 51-24. A new rivalry was born.
Since 2009, part of the funds raised from the event have gone towards a six week visit to New Zealand for two Perry Street Prep students who are immersed in New Zealand education, culture and rugby. This initiative has only been possible through a partnership formed with the Auckland University of Technology (AUT) who have been instrumental in the growth on the Ambassador's Shield in recent year.
Over the years the event has continued to evolve as has the quality of the rugby in the US, as evident by the US Eagles fantastic performance in the 2011 Rugby World Cup. The match now showcases some of the best rugby you will see in the USA and the New Zealand Ambassador, Rt Hon. Mike Moore, is pleased to again welcome the US Combined Service's to the 2011 event and the continued support of the Perry Street Prep school.
This year's event is set for Sunday 20 November, 2011 and we hope you can make it out to watch will be a great day of rugby. For further information on the event please contact Jason Frost at the New Zealand Embassy.
In 2002, the Embassy partnered with the Hyde Leadership Public Charter School in Washington, D.C. to benefit its rugby program. Tal Bayer, Hyde School Athletic Director and Rugby Coach, is a strong promoter of rugby in the Washington area and has done a great job in establishing a rugby program for the students at Hyde School. Rugby has not only provided the boys a sporting avenue to channel their energies but also a means for them to develop as students. To learn more about the Hyde School go to www.hydedc.org.
Rugby in New Zealand
Football had been played in various forms in New Zealand, but the first match using rugby rules was played in 1870 in Nelson, between Nelson College and Nelson Football Club. The game spread quickly and in September 1875 the first inter-provincial match took place in Dunedin, between Auckland clubs and Dunedin clubs. In 1879, the first Provincial Unions were formed in Canterbury and Wellington.
In 1892 the New Zealand Rugby Football Union (NZRFU) was formed to administer the game of rugby at the national level. It was a year later that the first side took the field under the NZRFU. Since then, New Zealand has sent teams to every major rugby country and to countries where rugby wasn’t so popular, hosting players from all over the world.
In 1893, the NZRU formally adopted the black jersey as the national playing strip and selected the first NZRU-sanctioned national team, for a tour of Australia. However, the earlier New Zealand team selected to tour New South Wales in 1884 is recognized as a New Zealand team and its players recognized as All Blacks.
In 1905, the All Blacks swept through Britain and Europe surprising many nations with their style of play. Never before had a team from “the colonies” beaten the “home unions” in such a fashion.
The All Blacks have become one of the most successful teams in the world. The Rugby World Cup tournament has been held every four years since 1987. New Zealand has won one World Cup title, but this is hardly an indication of their strength. In 1995, following the Rugby World Cup tournament in South Africa, international rugby turned professional with the IRB’s repeal of all amateurism regulations.