Pacific brothers join RNZ Navy for rugby battles against UK and Aussie navies

By Michael Cugley

“It’s an awesome opportunity to be a part of this environment with our Pasifika partners and I’m just honoured to be here at the moment,” player Conrad Kutia says about the upcoming Commonwealth Navy Rugby Cup.

This event began in 1997 and runs every three years with fierce competition between teams from the Royal New Zealand Navy, Royal Australian Navy, and the Royal Navy (UK).

The cup is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year but this time has seen a twist with Southwest Pacific nations’ navies joining the Royal NZ Navy team for the first time. This year Aotearoa is joined by Fiji and Tonga to form Te Taua Moana. The team leaves for Plymouth, England on Wednesday.

They will compete for two trophies, the Commonwealth Navies Rugby Cup and the Stokes-Shelford Shield (which is competed for between Aotearoa and Australia). Players Conrad Kutia (Ngāti Porou) and Paola Ulukai (Tonga) say they’re excited about the opportunity they have been given.


Navies do battle on the rugby field.

Bringing back Buck

“It’s a pretty surreal feeling, I never expected an opportunity like this in the navy, and it’s good to cooperate with the other navies in the Pacific,” Ulukai says.

Sir Wayne ‘Buck’ Shelford, a former NZ Navy personal training instructor, is assisting in this year's campaign and Captain Richard Walker says Te Taua Moana is lucky to have him on board.

“So he’s our patron and, luckily for us, he’s coming with us up to the competition. With him comes obviously a lot of mana but he also brings a lot of technical experience and knowledge.

“He’ll talk to the team, give them some guidance, not just on the technical side of things but also on the way to play, how to deal with those tough situations.”

Ready to beat Aussies

The team is thrilled to have Shelford on the sideline with them, though Walker says there may be a bit of angst amongst the team in the event of a loss.

“The team is just absolutely excited about the opportunity to have him there on the sideline. “I think they’re a little bit nervous about the Stokes-Shelford, trophy just in case we lose it. The bus trip on the way home may not be that comfortable with him there then but I’m sure we’ll beat the Australians to retain it.”

The team is prepared and ready for the challenge.

“Definitely, have to be a bit confident in the team, and we’ve got good players, and definitely confident enough to do well in the tournament,” Kutia says.