From the Islands to the States, a Rugby Player’s Adventure

By: Patrick Madden | Dec 6, 2018

Siaosi Veimau was 11 when he and his family of 12 made the drastic decision to move from the pacific island of Tonga, to America in search of a better life. 

“The hardest part about the move was that my dad and I were learning all these new things at the same time, in terms of life and culture. There wasn’t a place or person I could look to for guidance, but there was one thing that remained the same: rugby,” said Veimau. 

Moves like this aren’t uncommon for many Pacific Islanders, but some look to America as their chance to make it in professional sport. 

“I knew from a young age that sport would always be my ticket out of American Samoa. My family and friends always looked up to me. They believed that through either American football or rugby, I’d make a name for myself and get me out of the islands,” said Faafetai Teo, who played for the USA Islanders, a team consisting of the best American rugby players who are of Polynesian descent. 

Athletes and mentors such a Siaosi Veimau, Tai Tuisamoa and Faafetai Teo all started playing rugby for different reasons, but what they all have in common is why they couldn’t picture their lives any other way. 

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Tai Tuisamoa (left, in white and blue) and Faafetai Teo (right, in white and blue) in action playing for their local club in San Diego, Old Mission Beach Athletic Club (OMBAC).

Rugby does not only connect people from all around the world, but more importantly, it has provided a home away from home and a second chance for many. 

The Pacific Island Rugby Culture

If we took a look at the different USA National Teams and cast our eyes around rugby powerhouses in the USA, we cannot help but notice a strong Pacific Island influence. However, this pattern is not something just in America. If we take a closer look across the top teams around the world, there are an overwhelming number of players of Polynesian descent.

Island culture represents a group of people who are intelligent, spiritual, determined, adaptable and proud of their roots but most importantly benevolent, which flows through rugby culture like a main artery. Now we are seeing them as rugby super stars and with it comes the price of adaptation to other cultures and responsibilities.

In the Pacific Islands, rugby is family, and on a deeper level some consider it tribal. Rugby stands at the core of tradition, and a culture that carries with it the heritage and a dominant history. We can see the transcending influence of successful players from the Pacific Islands that echos inspiration throughout the world. We need to follow suit, and begin to further sport cultures into the melting pot of American football, baseball, wrestling, basketball and so on. 

Do You Have What It Takes?

What goes into making it as a professional rugby player in America

By: Patrick Madden | November 2, 2018

Major League Rugby (MLR) is preparing to kick off its second season and teams around the country are beginning to hold scouting combines. As the popularity of the league continues to grow, so does the thirst for athletes to make it as professionals. Players are looking for their opportunity to play at the highest level of rugby in America. The path to achieve this goal still seems a bit ambiguous, so what does it take to make it at this level?

Zack Test, San Diego Legion

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Zack Test has represented the USA in both 15s and 7s, including a Rugby World Cup and the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Photo: San Diego Legion

Zack Test, USA Olympian and current San Diego Legion Backs and Attack Coach, said that to make it as a professional in a sport, you need a good work ethic. Throughout his notable career, Test believed that one of his greatest assets was his ability to outwork his competitors. At the end of the day, the raw talent of an athlete can only take them so far. In today’s game, professional sides are looking for players of good character, who bring something more to the team than just athletic ability.

The biggest takeaways? Study the game and selflessness. The Legion and Test believe that being able to understand the game at its finite point, is what separates the great players from the good. A student of the game will have the opportunity to grow as a player, as well as within the team culture.

“We want guys who are going to give blood, sweat and tears for the guy next to him. That’s what it’s going to take to win championships, it’s not going to be 15 individual stars, it’s going to be 15 men who will literally go to the darkest place ever to make sure they can pull out a win for their brothers,” said Test.

So, what do you think? Do you have what it takes to make it as a professional rugby player in America? Listen to the short phone interview that I had with legendary USA Eagle, Zach Test, below.

Fueling Up for Match Day

What key foods to focus on before the big day

By Patrick Madden | Oct 26, 2018

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It’s important as a player to have a nutritional plan that prepares you for match day.

When it comes to match day preparation, knowing what to eat should be close to the top of your list of priorities as rugby requires high levels of energy to perform. It’s important to learn how to eat correctly, which can ultimately improve your game.

Nutrition plays a huge role in sporting performance. Each player should work to have nutritional plan that works for them. Learning to eat the right foods that enable you to achieve peak performance is not hard, but the routine takes discipline just like any other diet.

Here are few things to keep in mind:

Proteins

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Ground turkey and black beans are key sources of protein, then bell peppers for some vegetables.

Protein intake needs to be high to maintain mass and to aid recovery. Typical protein sources such as chicken, turkey and tuna are all excellent at providing an adequate amount of lean protein.

Fruits and Vegetables

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Although bacon might not be best before a game, green beans and bell peppers provide a solid source of nutrients.

Fruit and vegetables are a great source of vitamins and minerals, as well as fiber and complex carbs. As a rugby player, it is key to include large quantities of vitamins and minerals to your diet, which will also expedite the recovery process. Foods such as broccoli, bell peppers, carrots, apples, bananas and green beans are all key things to include to your diet.

Goes without saying, but hydration is always critical.

On Match Day

Pre-Match Preparation

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EGGS! A go to meal on match day and a great source of protein.

Consume a large breakfast. eggs, cereals, fruit and high quality meats provide good levels of carbs, protein and fat. Try to avoid salty foods at least 24 hours before a game as this causes dehydration, which can lead to cramping. Also try to avoid dense foods such as heavy/fatty meats that will settle in your stomach and take hours to digest.

For those players who suffer from nerves and as a result have trouble eating on game day, it is important that you try to eat something. A lack of food will only make you feel worse during the game. A high fiber breakfast can help with an upset stomach caused by nerves.

Cal Poly Sevens Strength and Conditioning Coach, Ben Green, has a recommended eating regimen for his players before games.

“90 minutes before the game you should have 40g of all four kinds of carbs and about 30g of protein. Then five minutes before the game a high glycemic carb (sugar). Additionally, no fat two hours before,” said Green.

After Match Meal

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Potatoes are a starchy vegetable that is high in carbs, but adding some veggies is always a nice touch.

This meal should be both high in protein and high in carbs in order to replenish energy and to commence recovery. Healthline, a nutrition website, has tips on what foods to focus on after a workout or sporting event. A small amount of salt also helps prevent the cramping of muscles. Lots of water should be consumed as dehydration can set in quickly.

If you’re over the age of 21, feel free to indulge in a drink or two. Always remember that hydration is the most important part of any rugby player’s diet, but try to get some water down in between the beers.

Women on the Rise

The steps taken by powerful women in a predominately male sport
By Patrick Madden | Oct 19, 2018

Billie Jean King may have not been a rugby player, but many look to her as the pinnacle in the fight for women’s equality in sports. She empowered women to be leaders, innovators and change makers through tennis. Today, women around the world are attempting to do the same through the sport of rugby.

Every year, women’s rugby continues to make strides towards closing the gap between itself and men’s rugby. Most recently, in 2017, we witnessed a giant leap forward with the 15-a-side Women’s World Cup final shown live on prime-time television on a Saturday night.

We’ve seen women representing their countries on the international stage in San Francisco, California, where they played alongside the men’s tournament during the 7-a-side World Cup. Not only did these events take the sport to a wider audience, but it was recognized as high quality rugby, regardless of the gender of the players.

“She’s strong, she’s powerful, she’s courageous.”

Being a woman who plays rugby does not come without challenges. The popular notion that women’s rugby is but a pale imitation of the men’s version is one that is heard all too often, but things are changing fast. As evidenced by the ferocity of the top women’s teams, the argument that women are not designed for rugby is clearly dead or deserves to be. No longer can anyone deny the athlete that is a female rugby player.

According to World Rugby, women’s rugby is growing fast (if not faster) than men’s rugby, and it is estimated that by 2026, 40% of the total number of rugby players will be female.

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Graph made by Patrick Madden, data supplied by World Rugby.

Growing up with many powerful women in my life, I learned from an early age the enormous impact that girls and women can have on the world. As time goes on, we should expect a dramatic increase in brave little girls and women getting out on the pitch and making rugby their sport.

The beauty of our sport is that anyone can play rugby, no matter their age, gender, sexuality, height or weight. They just have to be willing to make a tackle or two.

Interested in hearing why the young girls in your life should play rugby? Learn more about how to get involved at Girls Rugby Incorporated.

 

The Transition from 15s to 7s

A change in focus for USA players

By Patrick Madden | Oct 10, 2018
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James (in white) playing for the North American Lions select side this past November in Dubai.                        Photo: Allison Bradfield

What is 7s?

Wondering what it takes to play rugby at an Olympic level? The new-found emphasis of rugby sevens will continue its blaze as the US begins to keen in on Tokyo, Japan 2020.

Since its assumed inception in 1823 by Englishman, William Webb Ellis, the sport of rugby has been played generally as a 15-a-side game. It wasn’t until the end of the 20th century, that the anomaly of seven aside rugby started paving its away into the hearts of rugby goers and players around the world. Rugby sevens is a contact sport contested by two teams of seven players who compete over two seven-minute halves, most frequently played in a tournament style.

In 1999 the inaugural World Rugby Sevens Series, helped kick-start a style of rugby that put an emphasis on a different kind of player. The physical demands of rugby sevens include a variety of high-intensity intermittent running, physical collisions, along with the key aspects of both technical and tactical abilities.

After rugby was reintroduced into the Olympics 2016, the global profile and participation in the game has seen a dramatic increase. Many rugby sevens players concurrently compete in the traditional 15-a-side rugby union. The growth of the game will likely see the emergence of strictly only sevens players, so the crossover of athletes will become less common. Top players from around the country are making career changes to improve their chances of fulfilling their dreams of playing in the Olympics.

The Leap

Up and coming USA Rugby player, Ryan James Jr. (pictured above), said that he turned his focus to sevens in hopes of giving him the best chance of competing for a spot on the Eagles roster for 2020.

“Personally, my rugby career started with 15s that had been my main sport, leading me to move to Colorado in hopes of perusing a professional 15s contract with the Glendale Raptors. However, I have recently attended three of the men’s USA Sevens Camps and have been working on that craft specifically,” said James.

We should expect to see more players like James to make the leap from 15s to sevens as we get closer to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan.