My experience with rugby is limited and my knowledge of the rules even less, but I still found the USA’s performance against Ireland in the teams’ first match of the 2011 Rugby World Cup inspiring. For the first time NBC actually broadcast a Rugby World Cup match. The USA Eagles, as the team is known internationally, gave a terrific account of themselves against a top notch European power.
In the pouring rain of New Plymouth, New Zealand, the Americans went through a minute’s silence before the game in honor of the victims of the 9-11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington DC. Then, Ireland tried to run through them. Showing terrific resilience, the US tackled strongly, a total of 101 tackles in the game, and held a tremendous defensive line until conceding a try late in the first half.
The American’s defense had to be strong, because they rarely crossed midfield with the ball. The Irish easily recuperated possession from American drop kicks and resumed pounding away at the blue wall in front of them. Finally, just before the break, a crack appeared. Tommy Bowe, who had two of the three Irish tries, drove hard to touch the ball down over the goal line.
The Irish will be kicking themselves though, because their kicking was poor. They converted just one of four penalties and only two of three conversions. That would have made for a more convincing score, but would have been harsh on the USA after a brave performance.
In the second half, the Irish simply pushed the USA around. They forced every scrum towards the American goal line and ground out every yard of possession in an effort to wear out the less fit, less experienced American team. Ireland simply concluded that the intensity of the US resistance could only be broken by grinding out the win, yard by yard, scrum by scrum. They forced through two more tries, converting only once to build up a 22-3 lead at one point. Still the Americans tackled hard, never giving up, making the Irish work for every step they took.
In the end the USA did reap the benefits of their determination and will to compete. As time ran down, Paul Emerick intercepted a telegraphed pass and sprinted away forty yards to give the USA a try which was converted by Nese Malifa to make the final score a very respectable 22-10. The whole team celebrated the score as if they had won the game. This final rush should give them some positive momentum to carry into the rest of their first round matches.
The USA Eagles will meet Russia on September 15 and believe that this is a game they can win. If they can put forth the kind of defensive effort they did against the Irish and find some sort of attacking flow, they should certainly have a chance. It would be the first ever World Cup win for a US team. They finish pool play against Australia and Italy. Australia is the favorite to win it all. The Wallabies struggled in the first half against Italy and went into the break tied 6-6, but added 26 unanswered points in the second half. Italy will not be a pushover, but for a final game, the US could catch a team demoralized by early elimination and give them a lot of trouble.
******Sources: www.usarugby.org, www.rugbyworldcup.com