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CAMP CASEY, South Korea — Hundreds of rugby players showcased running, tackling and ball handling skills here Saturday in the first of eight military tournaments planned for 2005 in South Korea.

Military teams attending the event, organized by 2nd Infantry Division rugby team, included camps Casey and Humphreys and Osan and Kunsan air bases. Two teams from the Seoul Survivors Rugby Football Club — a mostly civilian rugby club from Seoul that includes Yongsan Garrison troops — and the Seoul National University Old Boys also took part.

The tournament marked the reemergence of a Camp Casey team in hibernation since many of its players left for Iraq with 2nd ID’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team in August.

Camp Casey captain Sgt. 1st Class Ray Hernandez, 31, of Moorpark, Calif., started playing rugby when he came to South Korea on his first tour in 1996.

“I fell in love with it the first game, and I wanted to play for Camp Casey again on this tour,” he said. When Hernandez arrived for his current tour he set about reorganizing the team.

Another 4-7 rugby player, Sgt. 1st Class Chad Utz, 34, of Allen, Texas, said 28 players signed up for the Camp Casey team.

Englishman Joe Day, Combined Forces Rugby Association organizer, said the U.S. military rugby league has run for seven years in South Korea.

“Because of the increased pressure on the military, having a league where teams play every other weekend is not possible. So instead, we spread it out with these big tournaments,” he said.

The three remaining spring tournaments will be at Yongsan Garrison and Kunsan and Osan air bases, he said. Dates on those tournaments, and dates and locations of the fall tournaments, are undecided.

The Seoul Survivors, which played in Manila earlier this year, have tours planned to Beijing, Shanghai, Mongolia and Cambodia and will welcome any U.S. troops or civilians who want to tour, said team captain Ted Gray.

U.S. servicemembers who play rugby in South Korea have an opportunity to win selection on an All-Korea team that’s to travel to the U.S. military rugby championships later this year; they also can compete for places on the service teams. The All-Korea team has been to the military championships four times and made it to the finals three times, Day said.

Seoul Survivors - packed with a large contingent of civilians from traditionally strong rugby nations such as New Zealand, Australia and South Africa - won Saturday’s tournament.

Camp Casey was the best of the military teams, beating Kunsan in the last game of the day. Seoul National University also put in a strong performance, beating everyone except Kunsan and Seoul Survivors.

Those interested in joining the Seoul Survivors can e-mail Gray at: montuna@hanafos.com. Anyone interested in playing rugby in South Korea should contact Hernandez at: ray.hernandez1@us.army.mil.

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.
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