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Airman From Nelson Keen to Test Skills at Military Rugby World Cup

11 September 2019

It’s not just the All Blacks who are playing in a rugby world cup this month.

Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) Logistics Specialist Ethan Bartle, from Nelson, is in Japan with the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) team to play in the International Defence Rugby Competition (IDRC), the military equivalent of the Rugby World Cup.

The NZDF team, known as the Defence Blacks, comprising servicemen from the Royal New Zealand Navy, New Zealand Army and RNZAF, plus one civilian, will play in the competition against military teams from Australia, United Kingdom, Fiji, Tonga, Papua New Guinea, Canada, Georgia, Japan and France.

Leading Aircraftman Bartle, 24, joined the RNZAF in 2014 after finishing at Nelson College and taking a year off.

“Both my parents are ex-Army, and my grandfather is ex-Navy,” he said. “The military lifestyle appealed, because it was quite similar to boarding school, with everyone doing everything together.

“It was also a great chance to travel and see parts of the world you wouldn’t see otherwise, so it was an easy transition to make.”

He played for the college First XV as a prop and said a high point was beating fierce rival Marlborough Boys’ College in his first televised game.

While at RNZAF Base Woodbourne he joined the Renwick Rugby Club, then played for the RNZAF against Navy and Army.

“I was selected for the Defence Blacks in 2018, then was picked again this year. I was absolutely rapt to get the phone call.”

He is revelling in the opportunity to represent the country in sport, as well as in service.

“It’s the highest level of rugby I have ever been involved with.”

He said the RNZAF was an awesome career choice, taking him around the world for work.

“You just get such great opportunities. I absolutely recommend it.”

The Defence Blacks flew to Japan on Tuesday, and will play Australia Defence Force in the first round on Sunday.

This will be the third IDRC competition, with the British Army winning the first in 2011 and the Fijian Army winning the second in 2015.

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