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YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Sailors from the USS George Washington faced down a fearsome band of Maori warriors near Yokosuka on Saturday.

There were plenty of big hits as the U.S. aircraft carrier’s rugby team took on the crew of the Royal New Zealand Navy Frigate Te Mana in the final of a 10-a-side tournament.

Some 180 New Zealand sailors from the Te Mana were ashore in Yokosuka Naval Base this week after stopping there on the way to Guam. The warship, which left its home port in June has already visited Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Inchon on a deployment aimed at building defense ties in Asia, according crewmember Sub-Lt. Trent Nancekivell, 22.

The Yokosuka tournament is the third rugby match for the Te Mana sailors during the cruise. They’ve already played the Singapore Cricket Club and the Hong Kong Rugby Football Club, Nancekivell said.

However, it was the first time that the Kiwis, who also played a team from Misawa Air Base during the tournament, had faced Americans.

Te Mana rugby captain, Able Communications Operator Keyn Nepe, 21, said he was impressed by the hard hits dished out by the U.S. players.

“They were a lot more physical than we thought they’d be,” he said. “There was a lot of passion.”

One of the U.S. Navy players, Petty Officer Sean Gehrold, of Ramtown, N.J. said he was excited to be on the field with Kiwis.

The George Washington team challenges rugby clubs at ports all over Asia during deployments but they don’t often face foreign military players in Japan, he said.

However, Gehrold said he wasn’t surprised to see the Kiwis dominating the other teams at the tournament – winning the final 36-7.

“I was expecting the way they play because it is their national sport,” he said.

The New Zealand All Blacks are the reigning world champions of rugby, which will return to the Olympics in 2016 and hold its World Cup in Japan in 2019.

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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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