KAILUA-KONA — You didn’t have to look further than the goal posts at Old Kona Airport Park on Saturday afternoon to get a lesson about the passion that comes with the game of rugby.
On the eve of hosting the Volcano Sevens Tournament, the Kona Hawks had to do some construction, moving and rehabilitating the dilapidated uprights on the field behind Kekuaokalani Gymnasium to make the venue up to code to host a tourney.
Much like a rugby ruck, everyone came together — for more than 12 hours — using their specialized skill-sets to get the task done. When tournament time came around, the posts stood tall, bright and white, and teams from around the state were ready to roll for the inaugural edition of the Big Island tournament.
“For the love of the game,” Kona Hawks captain Moa Noble said with a laugh.
The Hawks A and B squads represented the Big Island, as well as the Hilo Reign women’s team. Other clubs in attendance were the Harlequins men’s and women’s squads, as well as Marist from Oahu. Teams from Maui and Kauai were expected to come over, but were last minute scratches.
“We have had some youth tournaments, but not anything for the adults really,” Noble said. “It’s something new and something we felt we needed here. There’s an alive rugby community in the state, particularly Oahu, but we are still building it here in Kona.”
The Volcano Tournament is the first in a series of three to decide the rugby state sevens champion. The next two are slated for Oahu in June.
“It’s nice to have more teams to play against and to see some new faces,” said Jenny Matheson, who wears many hats in the rugby community, the most notable being the Director of Competition for the Hawaii Rugby Union and the President of the Hawaii Harlequins. “When trying to grow the game, exposure to the sport is No. 1, which makes hosting this tournament huge for this community. We want to make the game more state wide.”
There’s certainly some momentum to build on when it comes to growing the game locally in Kona. Kealakehe graduate Psalm Wooching, a former college football standout with Washington, turned away a chance to play in the NFL, recently signing a pro deal to play with Viadana in Italy. He’s also played with the top US National Team.
Fellow Waverider Tama Paogofie-Buyten had a successful college career at Lindenwood University, and his sister, Nika Paogofie-Buyten, is currently a key contributor for the Lions. She helped the program win the USA Rugby D-I Elite 15s National Championship earlier this month.
Further interest could be generated from the Olympics, where the sevens version of the game — which features seven players on the field as opposed to the 15-man version — has become an official sport, debuting in Rio in 2016.
“Educating is the main thing when growing the game,” Matheson said. “There are a lot of terrific athletes in Hawaii and lots of people who move here that are familiar with the game. Hawaii has huge potential to grow elite athletes in the sport.”
Rugby is in Noble’s blood as a New Zealand native who has played at nearly every level. But even he understands, from the outside looking in, rugby can be an intimidating game to pick up. Not only because of the contact, but because of the terminology and rulebook. Ruck, hooker and maul aren’t exactly terms that translate to other sports.
But Noble assured, the passion isn’t hard to find once you pick up a ball.
“A lot of people think rugby is a violent game but it’s not as bad as people imagine. There’s tackling and it’s tough, but it requires a lot of skill, especially in the sevens game,” Noble said. “Out here, we have a variety of guys. Some played in college and high school, but a few that have come out just picked up the game. We come from all kinds of different backgrounds and a lot of us work 9 to 5. We just try to find time to come out here and get in some rugby.
The group practices on Monday and Friday from 4:30 to 6 p.m. Training usually takes place directly behind Kekuaokalani Gym, although sometimes improvisation is needed to find an open field.
“We just need some open, green grass,” Noble said.
For more information, find Hawaii Island Rugby on Facebook.