From his high character to his accomplishments on the pitch, Mike Saunders’ impact on the game of rugby is unmatched. He began his rugby career at the United States Naval Academy in 1979. It wasn’t until he left the academy in 1981, when his rugby career began to hit its stride. While taking a one-year hiatus from academics he played for his hometown club, the Monterey Rugby Club. Then in the fall of 1982, he became a San Diego State University Aztec, where he earned Most Valuable Back honors in 1983.
In the spring of 1983, Saunders was recruited by none other than Bing Dawson to tour Fiji, Australia, and New Zealand with the Old Mission Beach Athletic Club. Mike found a home at OMBAC and continued to play for the club for another 10 seasons. During his tenure at OMBAC, he captained the club from 1985-1993. Throughout that decade, he played nearly every first side match for OMBAC. His name is forever etched in the OMBAC record books, as part of the side that won the first-ever U.S.A. Rugby Club 7s National Championship in 1985 and leading a star-studded OMBAC club to four national 15s championship titles in 1988, 1989, 1991 and 1993. He earned multiple honors as a member of OMBAC, including Most Valuable Player in 1988 and 1989, and Most Valuable Back in 1990 and 1991. Rugby Magazine honored his play with back to back U.S.A. Rugby Club Championships Most Valuable Back nods in 1988 and 1989.
Mike’s representative honors include appearances with the Southern California Jr. Griffins from 1982-1983, Pacific Coast Jr. Grizzlies in 1984, Southern California Griffins from 1983-1990, and the Pacific Coast Grizzlies from 1986-1991. During his tenure with the Grizzlies, he was named to the 1986 Grizzly tour of Argentina, eventually earning the starting scrumhalf spot and tying for leading try scorer on tour with four tries. He was named captain of the Grizzlies in 1988 and led the 1988 Grizzly touring side to South Africa, which included wins over Orange Free State and Natal.
Saunders earned the greatest honor of all representing the United States of America on multiple occasions. His first selection came in 1985 for the Jr. Eagles tour of Europe, playing matches against Paris Universities, Belgium, Germany, and Holland. He captained the Jr. Eagles in 1986 versus the touring Japanese National team in Dallas, Texas. As a member of the U.S. National 7s Team, Mike made his debut at the Sydney 7s Tournament in 1986, and had further appearances at the Hong Kong 7s in 1987, and Moscow 7s in 1988.
Mike made his debut for the U.S. Men’s National Team in 1987 against Tunisia at Pebble Beach, CA, scoring a try in an Eagles win. He earned 12 caps in total for the Eagles and played in all three Eagles matches at the first-ever Rugby World Cup in 1987 in Australia and New Zealand. He captained the Eagles in 5 matches and was the Eagles captain on its successful tour of England, France and the Soviet Union in 1988.
In 1993, Saunders relocated to Boise, ID and it was there that he transitioned to the role of coach, revitalizing and leading the Snake River Rugby Club to many highlights. Mike took the club from a social side to a championship caliber program recognized nationally, which include a record of 265-59, 15 Pacific Northwest League Championships, 5 Final Four appearances, and a 1996 U.S.A. Rugby National Championship. Year after year, Snake River continued to earn notable accolades in the U.S.A. Rugby National Championships under his guidance.
He also had coaching stints with the Grizzlies in 2007, U.S.A Falcons in 2008, and the U.S.A 7s National Team from 1993-1996. He served as the inaugural Chairman of Idaho Rugby from 2009-2010 and Director of Coaching from 2009-2011. He still actively contributes through clinics and coaching seminars and is currently the 7s Head Coach for Boise State University.