Joe Mano wrote his name into USA rugby folklore earlier this month when he became the first Men’s Eagle in the professional era to score a hat-trick on his test debut.

In marking his first appearance for his country with three tries, Mano emulated the achievements of Gary Hein in 1987 and Dick Hyland in 1924, and also helped propel the USA past Brazil and into the La Vila International Rugby Cup 2023 final. 

Mano had needed less than two minutes to open his test account in Villajoyosa, while his third arrived before half-time. It was quite an introduction to international rugby, yet the Utah Warriors winger was quick to deflect praise for his achievement onto his team-mates.

“It feels amazing,” Mano told World Rugby about making his test debut.

“All glory to God for bringing me this far. You know, it's a dream come true to represent my country and this was a very unique opportunity that not everyone gets to experience.

“Those three tries, man, were all team tries. Those big boys were dominating the middle and the speed guys were setting up those tries for me on the edges.

“You know, it was very special because it's anything and everything that a player would ever want on your debut.”

Family motivation

Mano’s performance in southern Spain was the latest step on a long and winding journey that has taken him from his family home in American Samoa to Alaska and onto Utah and his place in the Men’s Eagles squad.

Members of the winger’s extended family have represented Samoa, but Mano has never been short of motivation for making his own name in rugby.

Although his family hail from American Samoa, Mano himself was born in Hawaii, where his mother had travelled while pregnant so that his eldest brother could receive cancer treatment.

His brother, Joe, died shortly after the family returned to Pago Pago and so the younger sibling was named in his honour.

“They named me after him,” Mano said. “I’m trying to continue that [legacy].”

Having played for his village team in American Samoa, Mano’s quest to do just that took him to Alaska in 2013, where another brother was stationed in the military.

Mano worked in a warehouse while playing for the Alaska Green Dragons and his dream of representing the USA looked a long way off before he moved to Utah five years later and his partner urged him to try out for the Warriors.

Even then, Mano had to display resilience as he failed to make the cut until earning a place on the Warriors’ development team in 2020 and a year later in the full squad for the 2021 Major League Rugby (MLR) season.

“She (his wife) kept telling me that she feels I can do it,” Mano, 28, explained. “COVID hit and in 2021, I gave it a try one more time, and then I got signed.”

Working hard

It would prove to be a big year off the pitch for Mano as he got married and welcomed his first child, a son called Joe, to the world.

“Your mindset is everything,” he said. “I've had a few setbacks and where my mind was doubting me.

“Fast forward to 2021, I had my son and got married to my beautiful wife and I have a beautiful family now and it woke me up. You know, I not only work on myself physically, but also mentally and spiritually.”

That new outlook helped Mano cope with the ACL injury he suffered during his first season in MLR and has enabled him to return to the pitch stronger than ever.

“That woke me up to just push myself and to keep going and working hard. Because I was thinking about stopping playing rugby because of that injury and my son was my motivation after that.”

With his family and the lure of a first test cap at the forefront of his mind, Mano redoubled his efforts on his return to fitness and the new approach has clearly paid off.

Mano has scored 21 tries in as many matches since making his comeback last season and was rewarded for his fine form with a place in Scott Lawrence’s USA squad for the trip to Spain.

Having also scored in the final against Spain, Mano has four tries in just two test appearances.

On the back of his achievement in Villajoyosa, Mano is determined to ensure that this is just the start of his journey in test rugby.

“I found [his call-up] an encouragement to keep on working hard, you know, for what I want out of rugby. And this team has done nothing but shape me up and I will continue putting in the work,” Mano said.

“By all means, I'm not stopping here. I am determined to reach more goals and I will continue to put in the hard work.”

Having worked so hard to get here, Mano won’t let his opportunity slip by lightly.