A USA Islander team is set to face defending European Cup Champions Saracens August 10th in Bermuda and this will be a huge opportunity for some of these players to showcase their talent and skill.
The game will benefit Beyond Rugby, an initiative to benefit youth in Bermuda. The initiative was founded by John Layfield, retired professional wrestler and current WWE commentator.
"This is 100% about reaching at-risk kids," said Layfield. "Everything we do is about that. We use rugby to allow us to influence kids lives."
Called the Atlantic Rugby Cup, this event has normally been a post-season tour for pro teams. This is the first time it's been set up as a pre-season game for the pro team. The Saracens should include Chris Wyles (pictured above), who captained the USA at 15s and 7s and has been a longtime and valued back for the professional English club.
"Getting this team together was a challenge," said Tui Osborne, former USA 7s player who, along with former 15s Eagle Vaha Esikia, will be coaching the USA Islanders team. "I know a lot of the guys, and Vaha knows the others. What's good is that we've got some guys who are trying to get into that higher level, and we've also got experienced leaders like Shalom [Suniula] who can bring them together. But these young guys are hungry, and I think that hunger's going to be good for us."
Players for the USA Islanders team have to have some heritage from island nations. Most have a Tongan, Samoan, or Fijian background, but players from other island nations have been scouted, as well. Perhaps one of the more surprising names is North Carolina native Colton Cariaga. The former Life University All American is of partial Philippines ancestry, and therefore qualifies.
The coaching staff has an outstanding pedigree. Esikia was a star for San Mateo and the USA, playing center in the 2007 Rugby World Cup. Osborne is currently the Head Coach of St. Bonaventure University and led Riverside to two national 7s championships before making the USA 7s team. Paula Fukafuka was a superstar prop for the Hayward Griffins when they were one of the top clubs in the nation. Benny Mateialona was a star at Life University and with the USA selects - he will be the strength & conditioning coach. Alatini Saulala was Esikia's precursor, playing center for San Mateo and the USA in the late 1990s and playing in the 1999 Rugby World Cup.
Bruce McLane, who is Head Coach at Iona College and has no Islander heritage (really, none; if it's possible to have negative Islander blood, that's McLane) has been enormously supportive of the project and is the team manager.
As for the players, several former Eagles are on the squad. They include Seattle Saracens prop Olive Kilifi, Seattle Saracens flyhalf/scrumhalf Shalom Suniula (pictured above) (who was captain of the USA 7s team), current USA 7s team-member Matai Leuta (pictured at top), former USA lock forward Tai Tuisamoa (pictured below), former USA 7s player Gerson Blaise, and No. 8 Langilangi Haupeakui.
In addition, new Houston Strikers signing Pagopagohokma Haini is in the USA 7s team player pool, Jojo Tikoisuva played for the USA U20s, Cariaga was a collegiate All American and USA age-grader, and Alex Taefu was also on the USA U20s.