FORMER Cork Cork and UCC scrum-half John Poland began his professional rugby career with the New England Free Jacks’ in the USA Major League Rugby recently.
The talented Munster rugby player joined the Boston based professional rugby team after he concluded his academic studies last year.
"I landed in Boston in late December. I have settled in really well. I went straight to Dartmouth College in New Hampshire for a team bonding camp. I then came back to Boston and did medical tests before straight into training and fitness,” revealed the rugby ace.
Following the completion of his academic studies, John was keen to sample professional rugby overseas. He was delighted to agree terms and move to the New England Free Jacks’.
“I graduated last October. I did a BSc Finance degree in UCC. Having finished the degree, I was able to travel. I was looking for an opportunity to play professionally again when the Free Jacks contacted me to know if I was available for this season.
"My agent Niall Woods was a great help. I have been impressed by the standard so far. There is a big rugby community in the New England region.
"We also have a lot of very good US-born players in our squad. The Free Jacks have assembled a strong squad with a lot of international players. We have a real mix of nationalities with Irish, Kiwi, Fijian, Samoan, Japanese, Australian, French and Tongan players.”
They began their season with a game against the New York team who included a number of top-class rugby players. They are scheduled to play 16 regular-season games in the league.
“It is great to challenge myself against some of the top rugby players in the world. There are a number of big signings in the league this year such as Mtwaria (the Beast), Ma'a Nonu, Basteraud, Leguizamon, Digby Iona, Rene Ranger and Adam Ashley Cooper. We played New York in the first game.
"We played against the likes of Mathieu Basteraud and Ben Foden. They also had a number of good Irish players which added to the occasion. It will be great way to see America.
"Our first five games are away. We have two games in Vegas, San Diego, Seattle and then Louisiana. We then play our first home game on St Patrick’s weekend. The remaining games are in our conference. This ensures we will also travel to New York, Washington, Atlanta and Toronto.”
There are a number of former Ireland underage internationals currently plying their trade in the Major League.
“I caught up with a few Irish lads during our pre-season games. I recently met up with Lee McSherry one of my good friends who I played with last season for UCC in the AIL. Boston is a great place.”
Representing Munster was a proud moment for the talented rugby player and his family. John was also a key player for Presentation Brothers College during his secondary school days.
His great form for his club sides also led to international recognition when he played for the Ireland U20 team.
“I have loads of fond memories from playing with Munster and underage with Ireland. A few memories, in particular, stand out. One would be my Irish U20 debut in the Six Nations against Wales.
"It was a great night. I was awarded man of the match in front of all my friends and family. Another great memory is winning the B&I Cup with Munster A in Musgrave Park. We came back from 18 points down. It was a special night.
"Getting my first appearance for Munster in the Pro14 in Thomond Park was a special moment. It was a dream come true. As a kid I had been to so many Munster games.
"I always wanted to be a Munster player from a young age.”
The 23-year-old Cork rugby player also enjoyed a very successful club career with Cork Con and UCC.
“I have dozens of fond memories from playing with Cork Con and UCC. Getting promoted to Division 1 A with UCC for the first time in the club’s history was great. Staying up the following season against all the odds took a lot of grit.
"We had a really talented team. Winning the AIL, Senior Cup, Bateman Cup with Cork Con and the B&I Cup with Munster A all in the one season was amazing. It went like a whirlwind. I am very proud of my days with both Cork Con and UCC.”
The ambitious scrum-half has very specific aims he hopes to achieve this year.
“My personal targets this season are to play consistently well for the Free Jacks and impress coaches both here and outside of the States. Hopefully more opportunities will present themselves going forward.”