By John Van Winkle, U.S. Air Force Academy Public Affairs
/ Published March 16, 2016
Zoomies' flanker Hunter Hancock advances the ball against Colorado State University March 12, 2016, after finding space between CSU defenders. The U.S. Air Force Academy men’s rugby team defeated CSU 51-28. (U.S. Air Force photo/John Van Winkle)
Air Force Academy men’s rugby goes international with matches and clinics in New Zealand for spring break.
The Zoomies start their trip by training with the Royal New Zealand Air Force Colts rugby team March 20, competing in a practice match against the Colts March 21 at the Canterbury Crusaders practice stadium, spending one day learning from professionals in player and coaches’ clinics with the Crusaders.
In 19 years of Super 12, Super 14 and Super Rugby, the Crusaders won seven titles and are the only Super Rugby team to go undefeated in a season.
“New Zealand is essentially the best place for rugby in the world,” said James Paterson, Zoomies assistant coach and a New Zealand native. “Rugby is everything in New Zealand.”
The Zoomies take this momentum into a March 23 match with Lincoln University, New Zealand’s oldest university rugby, and round out the competition portion of their visit March 24 with a match against the New Zealand National Police.
The cadet athletes will visit facilities and get briefings from the Royal New Zealand Air Force and New Zealand Police Force to further their understanding of international partnerships and build relationships from military and rugby standpoints, said Col. Gary Helfeldt, director of Air Force Academy men’s rugby.
When they return to the U.S., the Zoomies will focus on their April 2 match against Central Washington University, in Ellensburg Washington. A week later, they begin tournament play in the Varsity Cup.
“We’re really looking to take the momentum from our New Zealand trip and transfer that to our stateside contents and go into the Varsity Cup,” Paterson said.
The Varsity Cup is America’s top collegiate postseason championship; its mission is to grow American rugby by harnessing the strength of collegiate rugby and collegiate sport. The Cup features 14 of the most well-known U.S. collegiate rugby programs vying to be named the Varsity Cup National Collegiate Champions.
The Academy men’s rugby team began in 1968. In 1980, Air Force began competing in collegiate rugby under USA Rugby. Since then, Air Force made 13 appearances in the national tournament, earning national championships in 1989, 1990, and 2003.