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.
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.