The Rugby World Cup continues to charge on, a couple of weeks into the extravaganza that happens every four years. The United States National Team has a lot of pride on the line if they want to show improvement over their 2007 World Cup nightmare, where they lost every match. They are two games in, and surprisingly the Eagles have shown more than just a strong heart and a desire for “a good showing.”
Ireland 22, USA 10
It’s hard to tell which narrative is more true in this game – was the U.S. that inspired, able to hold #8 Ireland to a 12-point victory, or was the Irish play really that off, not able to score more than 22 points against a nation that is still (as I’m sure many rugby nations are truly thrilled with) just a small moon in the great Rugby Universe.
(“That’s not a moon… it’s a space station.”)
As is usually the case, it’s a little bit of both.
The Eagles, led by captain Todd Clever on the openside flank, anchored a pesky defense against Ireland in the first half, holding Ireland to a 10-0 lead at halftime despite the fact that Ireland’s forwards dominated the U.S. at each set peace. Clever was a one-man swarm around the ball in the first half, stuffing Ireland’s rucks and backing up U.S. runners on the rare occasions they had the ball.
But this was the case where a team that had more time training together would eventually prevail – Ireland’s pace, fitness and working as a unit eventually ground down the U.S. pack, who fought this losing battle almost completely inside their own side of the pitch in the second half, and the three Irish tries came out of forward play.
USA 13, Russia 6
This tenacious US defense continued when they faced Russia. In their most recent game, the Eagles squeaked away their third victory ever in the Rugby World Cup with a 13-6 win over the mighty Russian Bears – the lowest scoring World Cup match since Australia’s 12-6 win over England in the ’91 finals, and a far sight from New Zealand’s 145-17 victory over Japan in the ‘95 World Cup.
“Delighted with the win and the performance of the team. We retained our intensity and work rate from the Ireland game. We knew Russia would play to the very end, and we prepared for that eventuality. We had Russian under pressure on numerous occasions, but they defended really well and made us work for every score we got,” said Eagles Head Coach, Eddie O’Sullivan.
The only try of the game came from Eagles’ scrumhalf Mike Petri, off of a pass from first five Roland Suniula and who crossed the try line 20-minutes into the game, carrying a Russian tackler on his back.
This was an important game for both sides, not just because it was seen as the only game that either team might win, but also because the two teams are ranked right next to each other in the IRB World Rankings – with the USA ranked 18th and Russia 19th. In recent matches where the US was ranked just above their opponent, such as Georgia and Tonga, the US came out on the losing side, then flipping places with their opponent.
The Eagles now have to prepare for their toughest match of the tournament, their Sept. 23 showdown with Australia in Wellington. A game that the United States is not likely to be competitive in, while Australia is expected to rest some of their starters.