Australian Defense Force battles women’s Norwich rugby

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An Australian team member cuts back to avoid three Norwich women’s rugby players.

The Norwich University Women’s Rugby team found it was not easy to play the unstoppable Australian Defense Forces (ADF) team. The Australians won a match by a landslide, 54-5, due to their unbeatable tactics and fast-paced play during the Oct. 7 match on the Dog River Pitch. But for the Norwich women’s team, it was a great experience to go up against the physically fast and tough military team.

Rugby has been quite a popular sport at Norwich, on both the men and women’s side. The chance to play female military personnel all the way from Australia was a significant opportunity coordinated in a joint effort between Thy Yang, the assistant vice president for international education, and Austin Hall, Norwich University Women’s rugby coach.

“The Australian Defense Force first contacted me last summer about getting this organized,” said Hall. “This game was in the works for a while, but picked up speed quite fast.”

Yang, who started her current position at Norwich in July after serving as the director of International Center at St. Cloud University, undertook the bulk of this coordination as her first project of the year. The Australian Defense Force submitted a formal request to Norwich requesting a match as part of an ADF tour of the United States.

They asked Norwich if they wanted to play against them and it all started from there. “It all happened so fast, but it was great” said Yang. “This is Australia’s military team, they aren’t part of a school,” said Yang. As part of the ADF tours, the team will play a mix of military academies and civilian schools, as well semiprofessional and amateur teams.

“They’re not just playing us, but other schools as well while in the United States,” said Yang. “After they play us, they’re going to play West Point and then the Naval Academy.”

Of all the schools on their tour, Norwich is the first one they play. Yang expressed how nervous her staff was when they learned they were selected as the first United States stop, as many of the player have never been in this country before. “We were the first school to receive them and give them their first impressions of the United States,” said Yang. “Many of the players have never been to this country, so it is a brand-new experience to them.”

During the team’s stay in Vermont, the Australian Defense Force rugby team spent their nights at Vermont Technical College in Randolph Center while preparing for the game against Norwich; however, the team did dine and tour Norwich’s campus during their free time here. The Australian Defense Force rugby team arrived on campus with personal staff and trainers in addition to the athletes.

Upon their arrival, Norwich coach Austin Hall served as the representative for both the school and welcomed the team to our country. “We met them where they were staying at two in the morning, right after they left the airport,” said Hall.

The highlight of Hall’s week was the opportunity to meet with Australia’s head coach Aaron Callister. Callister, originally from Sydney, Australia, is currently a warrant officer second class in the Australian Defense Forces with 26 years of service. Now in his second year with the team, he recently took over as the head coach before the nationals in Australia for the team in 2015.

“Coaching this team has been fantastic, they’re a great bunch of girls,” said Callister. The Australian team has 23 players, all of which are active duty personnel and are from all over Australia.

Once the ADF team arrived in the United States, the two programs spent every waking moment together. “We’ve spent this week becoming friends with them, sharing culture and stories,” said Hall. “After that ends, we can go back to the good vibes and friendships.”

After the game, both teams took part in some seasonal activities with Norwich rugby, including getting into the Halloween spirit. “We get to go carve pumpkins tomorrow and we’re pretty excited since Halloween isn’t too big in Australia,” said Trudy Cahill, an eight-year veteran of the Australian Defense Forces team from Sydney, Australia.

From the Norwich perspective, Danielle Richards, 22, a senior political science and sociology major from West Brook, Maine, also enjoyed the game and visit of the opposing team.

“They got see the Ben & Jerry’s factory while they were here and had a lot of fun with that,” said Richards. “The Australians have got to learn a lot from [Norwich], but Norwich women’s rugby has learned a lot from [ADF] during the visit,” said Hall.

“All of us have been having a ball since we got here,” said Callister. The Australian team and staff said that the school is beautiful and that the welcome was fantastic. The team was also enjoying the fact that they got to arrive in the fall when foliage was reaching peak colors. “We couldn’t have picked a better time to come to Vermont,” said Callister.

Originally the game was supposed to take place on Norwich’s football field to ensure a bigger crowd, but due to rugby not being played on turf it was held at the rugby pitch. Still the game was considerable excitement for both sides and the students of the university.

Players on both sides were excited for the match as well as the time spend between the teams. “I love it here, it’s so pretty with all the trees and colors,” said Cahill.

Norwich players like Courtney Sullivan  said they were “going to give it everything we’ve got and have some fun.” Sullivan, 20, a junior cyber security and information assurance major from Orchard Park, N.Y., said, “I thought it was a really good experience; they came here with a lot of drills we’ve never done before.”

“Even though we did lose, we learned a lot from them,” said Sullivan, “We learned new drill and tactics that they did which will definitely help us in the future.” After all, rugby is Australia’s home sport and it showed on the scoreboard. Still in the end both teams had a great time on the field with each other during practice and the game.

“They run a different style of play than what we run,” said Sullivan. “They showed us ways how we could lay out our defense and offense.” The Australian team also showed different styles of playing the game. Norwich was still able to show how hard they could play the sport during the practice sessions with each other. “They were really surprised with some of the athleticism that we could bring to the pitch; this was a great chance to show them that our school has a high standard that we want to keep,” said Sullivan.

“We helped give them that first positive outlook on American culture and rugby which is very important to us,” added Richards. “I hope this is something they can definitely take away before they head to other schools; we hope that we gave them a great welcome to the United States.”

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