On one of the world's most famous vacation islands, one of rugby's most popular teams is suiting up to play an opponent that has yet to play a game. How could this be and why does it matter?
The current European champion and perennial powerhouse Saracens are taking on the newly formed USA Islanders in the Atlantic Rugby Cup on August 10 in Bermuda. The Islanders were created to forge a new pathway for elite-level USA-based players of Polynesian heritage to gain high-level experience and exposure and hopefully start a tradition that honors the contribution that Americans of Polynesian descent have made to rugby in the USA.
Experience Plentiful On USA Islanders Squad https://t.co/0oHKp5lmyT— Vaha Esikia (@VahaEsikia) July 25, 2017
The smart money would be on the full-time professional Saracens team to have an easy time with this new venture, but anyone who has spent time playing or coaching with the Islanders players would warn you that these boys will be there to play and bring the fierce brand of power rugby that is the hallmark of Polynesian teams. The USA Eagles squad in the 2015 Rugby World Cup boasted 10 players that fit the bill, and every representative team seems to have its fair share of players who will hopefully play for this Islanders squad in the future.
The Islanders will play for not only pride and heritage but also the opportunity to be seen by the Saracens and teams of similar vision that have been looking to the USA's depth of athletic and rugby talent to continue to push the game forward. A positive showing, either in Bermuda or in future matches, could be another path to increasing the number of USA eligible players who gain professional experience. And with the number of young Polynesian players coming through the USA age grade teams, the Islanders can provide the perfect environment to showcase up-and-coming players mixed in with household names.
All this being said, it should be obvious that this game holds more importance than might meet the eye. The Saracens have chosen the Islanders as the opener for another winning season, while the Islanders will be looking to make a statement to the rugby world. It should make for an interesting 80 minutes.
-- John Broker
The USA Islanders have confirmed their final squad:
|USA Islander Roster|
|Gerson Blaise, Old White (GA)|
|Jeremiah Colton Cariaga, Life U Men's (GA)|
|Paul Eteaki, Denver Barbarianss (CO)|
|Veuki Saputa Taumoefolau, Las Vegas Irish (NV)|
|Pagopago Haini, Santa Monica RFC (CA)|
|Sione Tone Tuihalamaka, Tempe RFC (AZ)|
|Ekapatelisio Saipeni Veamatahau, Spearhead Academy/Metropolis RFC (MN)|
|Joeli Baleiwai Tikoisuva, Spearhead Academy/Metropolis RFC (MN)|
|Alexander Tai Taefu, Tempe RFC (AZ)|
|Martini Talapusi, Life West (CA)|
|Saia Tautahi Uhila, Utah Selects (Utah)|
|Lote Tuipulotu, Utah Selects (Utah)|
|(Tana) Misitana Fuofuapau Afeaki,Utah Selects (Utah)|
|Lolenisi Paeasiokivaha Veimau, OMBAC (CA)|
|Faafetai Te'o, OMBAC (CA)|
|Devereaux Francois St Bruno-Ferris, Life West (CA)|
|Payton Telea, St. Mary's College(CA)|
|Langilangi Ohaaluma Haupeakui, SFGG (CA)|
|Mataiyasi Tabu Leuta, USA Eagles|
|Viliami Vainikolo Samuel Huihui Jr, SFGG (CA)|
|Huluholo Etueni Lopeti Moungaloa, Life West (CA)|
|Tesimoni Saiasi Tongauia Jr, Life West (CA)|
|Sani Taylor, Austin Huns (Texas)|
|Kirk Hamilton, NYAC (NY)|
|Olive OneLani Kilifi, Seattle Saracens (WA)|
|Andrew Tui Joseph Osborne-Staff (St. Bonaventure University-NY)|
|Benny Mateialona - Staff (Detroit Catholic-MI)|
|Alatini Saulala - Staff (Google Rugby-CA)|
|Paula Fukofuka - Staff (SFGG-CA)|
|Vahafolau Esikia-Staff (Las Vegas Rugby Academy-NV)|
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