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Sports & Fitness // Keeping Score
Bob Hogue

Prep Ruggers Impress On USA Team

In the Academy Award-nominated movie Invictus, Morgan Freeman, who played Nelson Mandela in the film about the 1995 South African national rugby team, recited the famous poem of that title by William Ernest Henley.

“In the fell clutch of circumstance

I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeonings of chance

My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears

Looms but the Horror of the shade,

And yet the menace of the years

Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.” That poem now provides an inspirational theme to so many who follow the international sport of rugby, which was recently added as an Olympic sport starting in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro. In Hawaii, that sport is growing quickly, especially at the youth level. Most recently, Kaiser High School’s Fitou Fisiiahi was named captain of the USA All-American high school team and, along with Lisala Kanongata’a of McKinley, traveled to England to take on the best youth rugby players in the world at a world-renowned U17 (under 17) tournament at prestigious Wellington College.

“The game of rugby is exploding all over the United States, and Hawaii is the untapped populace,” says Hawaii Youth Rugby’s president David Wendt. “To acknowledge the talent we have in Hawaii (and) to be selected as a High School All-American puts you in a pool of athletes that is eligible to represent your country at the next level, either with the USA National Rugby team, or the 2016 USA Olympic Rugby Team.”

The USA team, with the two Hawaii all-stars playing major roles, squared off against teams from Wales and France. In an article posted on rugbymag.com, the Hawaii players drew much praise: “Captain Fisiiahi led by example, slamming into the mid-field defense and setting up the power runners.”

Fisiiahi scored the only points for the American team in a 12-6 loss. “Despite the loss,” the article continues, “a few scouts of English Academies found themselves drawn to the powerful American forwards, namely Lisala Kanongata’a (among others).”

Ultimately, the USA took 11th place out of 105 teams.

“Everyone, including England’s coaches, were very impressed with our players’ fortitude,” says Shelly Nuner, secretary of Hawaii Youth Rugby and Hawaii Rugby Union.

Fisiiahi, who also plays traditional American football at Kaiser, and Kanongata’a are stars for the Titans Rugby Club in Honolulu, and the next step for them is attending a training academy in England in June with the Worcester Warriors. They will then return home before heading off to South America this summer, playing for the USA team against Uruguay, Argentina and Brazil, the home of the 2016 Olympics.

“These boys are future Olympians!” Nuner says.

They are definitely captains of their own souls.

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