The USA Islanders are one of the best ideas hatched in American rugby in a long time. The USA Islanders are intended to be an elite team made up of U.S-eligible players of Pacific Islander heritage. To get more on on the team we spoke with Vaha Esikia, one of the brains behind the squad.
TIAR: What are the USA Islanders?
Vaha Esikia: USA islanders are a new development team for Islanders who qualify to play for USA Eagles. It a USA version of the Pacific Islanders team (consist of Tonga, Samoa, Fiji.. Polynesians descendants)
TIAR: How did the idea come about?
VE: A few years ago I post on Facebook of forming a USA Pacific Island Team to take back to islands to play Tonga, Samoa and Fiji. Rob Holder of Spearhead Academy and a good friend and Bruce McLane were big supporters of it but back then it was just an idea.
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TIAR: What fixtures does the team have coming up?
VE: The only match we have set up for this year is in Bermuda vs Saracens.
TIAR: Outside of the Saracens match in Bermuda, are there any other plans to play matches?
VE: Yes, we would like to set up more and this match vs Saracens will be the kickoff of the campaign to get Islanders identified and give them another pathway to the Eagles or professional contract.
TIAR: About about an Eagles vs. Islanders match?
VE: That would be the ultimate goal. USA Islanders vs USA Eagles but certain steps and strong commitment must be met before giving the Eagle a shot. But yes we would love to take on the USA Eagles in the future
TIAR: Have you worked in coordination with U.S.A. Rugby?
VE: Our management has stayed in communication with Dan Payne and USA Rugby making sure we take the correct steps to make this a very successful team and pathway for development
TIAR: How is the team recruiting players?
VE: We started by reaching out to players we already know (USA pool players, USA 7s, U20) and then reached out to island coaches and other coaches throughout the country and ask for their recommendations. We also sent a google form through social media from that we got over 150 players registered.
TIAR: What has the response been from the community so far?
VE: Very good. A lot of positive support and lots of people wanting to help.
TIAR: What do you envision for the team five years from now?
VE: A strong development program for islanders, giving them the opportunity to be an eagle or get a contract overseas. We would like to be what the NZ Maori is to the All Blacks.