Written by Joe Harvey Photo by USA RUGBY
“Doing the national anthem, I was thinking ‘I always wondered what it would be like to do the national anthem at Sandy Park’,” Kate Zackary said.
“It was great to see a lot of converts and a lot of people supporting us at our home field.”
For the past two years, Kate Zackary has called Exeter in England home. During her time over the North Atlantic Ocean, the 33-year-old has become one of the Allianz Premier 15s’ star players.
Having made 41 appearances to date for Exeter Chiefs Women, the back-row forward has scored 22 tries and was co-captain of the side in the 2021/22 season as the club reached the final for the first time.
Lining up in the backs when called upon by her head coach, Susie Appleby, the former USA Sevens player speaks to Major League Rugby after playing England at her adopted home of Sandy Park.
There were plenty of supports for the USA in England at the start of September, some being friends and relatives of the players, others those that have become friends with the American contingent of Hope Rogers, Rachel Johnson, Megan Foster, Gabby Cantorna and Jennine Detiveaux that all turn out for the Chiefs.
Completing the USA Women’s Eagles preparation for the 2021 Rugby World Cup in Europe, after several weeks in Atlanta, Georgia, it was a tale of mixed fortunes in the United Kingdom.
Beating Scotland in Edinburgh was no doubt a highlight, the 21-17 victory coming a week before their Test in Devon, where England won 52-14.
“We got through the camp weeks where the focus was all on us and we were working on some set-piece things, out back plays and how that would all mix together,” Zackary said.
“So getting a big victory over Scotland last week was a huge confidence boost, and then taking on the top in the world – you don’t learn what you are able to accomplish until you take on the best.
“I think walking away today, that second half was only 19-14 [in favor ofc England], that is a huge victory for us and at set-piece time and lineout time, we have seen a lot of great changes since the fall.
“I am really proud of the team for that, and it just helps set the standard and allows us to improve for that World Cup.”
Introduced to rugby while studying at Benedictine College, initially attending the school on a soccer scholarship, rugby has helped the back-row forward become a professional athlete.
In 2014 Zackary quit her job at a gym to go full-time in sevens but did balance full-time work in America with her rugby schedule in England for a time.
Just prior to the Premier 15s final in June, Zackary revealed she would focus wholly on rugby again.
Beginning just prior to the Pacific Four Series in New Zealand, where the USA beat Australia but lost to Canada and New Zealand, Zackary said that she has been able to “reset, refocus and be ready for the World Cup”.
An important player for both club and country, part of what has allowed Zackary and some of her teammates to become such influential players is their time spent overseas.
With the Women’s Premier League out of action for a significant period of time as a result of Covid-19, the national team not even playing a game for two years until a winless Fall in 2021.
Now numerous USA players call the Premier 15s home, with 17 of the matchday 23 that took on England having played in the competition in its most recent season.
“In the first year over 70% of our team wasn’t playing,” Zackary said. “A few of us came [overseas] and this year we have had this huge influx.
“We have got 20 overseas players, so I think what you see is just what it means to us daily, and rugby has to go for women. Just like the men, you have to play rugby so showcase it the best.
“For myself, it was just getting on the pitch every single day, having the support, having the medical like we did, a head coach, forwards coach, three or four times a week before a game it just helps encourage our game.
“Also, it helps us as individuals coming across and playing the best; your Marlie’s [Packer, England], your Poppy’s [Cleall, England], Fleetwood [Vicky, England], getting to play against them just builds confidence for what I can do for the USA.”
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