Rugby World Cup: What Can We Expect From Underdogs USA?
USA head into the 2019 Rugby World Cup, the ninth global showpiece tournament played every four years, intent on causing a shock upset that would dwarf Japan’s giant killing of South Africa in 2015.
The odds of emulating that historic result in beating one of England, France or Argentina in a particularly tough World Cup pool, are long. More realistically, a win over their final group opponents Tonga should be their benchmark for a successful tournament.
But following two years of gradual improvement led by experienced coach Gary Gold, underpinned by a professional club structure on home soil and a quality Sevens side that finished second in the World Rugby Sevens Series, the Eagles will head to the Far East full of confidence.
Even better, they have nothing to lose, which makes them a dangerous proposition for England who they face first up in Kobe, Japan on Thursday 26 September.
USA’s Rugby World Cup History
In eight World Cup tournaments, the US has only missed out on qualification once. That was in 1995 when Canada automatically qualified by finishing in the quarters of the 1991 World Cup.
Since 1987 the Eagles have played 25, won three and lost 22, including their record tournament defeat, a 64-0 demolition at the hands of the Springboks four years ago.
Incidentally, Betfair are offering 1/3 (-300) for any team, and 3/1 (+300) for England, to win a match to nil during the tournament.
Eagles fans will be desperate to avoid a repeat drubbing, and should be quietly optimistic of achieving a first World Cup win since their 13-6 defeat of Russia in 2011.
The Form Book
The Eagles head to Japan, where the World Cup kicks off on September 20, off the back of four wins out of five.
In their final warm-up match, USA recorded a moral boosting 20-15 away win over North American rivals Canada, and previously impressed at the summer’s Pacific Nations Cup, thumping Canada 47-19 and impressively edging Samoa 13-10 before succumbing 34-20 to eventual winners Japan.
The result that will give USA fans the most hope, however, will be 2018’s surprise 30-29 victory over Scotland in Houston, Texas. That success was part of a ten-match international winning streak and the Eagles’ first win over a Tier 1 nation since beating France at the 1924 Olympics.
Albeit a second-string side, Scotland were ranked 6th in the world at the time. Now, having climbed to 13th in World Rugby’s rankings, the USA sit two places above pool neighbours Tonga and just two below Argentina.
Ones To WatchCaptain Blaine Scully, Eric Fry and Thretton Palamo will be playing in their third World Cup, while the group also features three 2016 Olympians including Martin Iosefo and Ben Pinkelman who were recently pivotal in leading the Sevens team to their most successful season in history.
No.8 Cam Dolan will be hard to keep quiet and in fly-half AJ MacGinty, with three seasons at English Premiership outfit Sale Sharks, the US have a reliable goalkicker that could prove the difference in a tight contest with Tonga.
But it’s hard to look past barnstorming hooker Joe Taufeteʻe, who holds a remarkable try scoring rate of one per game. That would be impressive for a winger. It’s unheard of for a front row forward. Indeed, he has more tries than any front rower in international rugby.
RWC2019: The Odds
USA’s specific and individual match odds are yet to be revealed but at +150000 to take home the Webb Ellis Cup, the iconic tournament prize, the bookies at least give the Eagles a better chance than Russia, Namibia, Canada and Uruguay.
To win the group the USA are priced at +20000, with England -250 favourites and Tonga +50000 no hopers.
For the US to sneak through to the quarters at the expense of one of the Tier 1 sides, you can get +15000. Highly improbable, maybe. But with self-saboteurs France, out-of-sorts Argentina and even England, who crashed out at their home World Cup four years ago, nothing is ever certain.
The odds might be stacked against the USA, but the fixture schedule presents them with an early opportunity to catch England on the hop.
When the two meet the Eagles will be playing their first match of the tournament while it will already be England’s second, having faced a muscular Tonga team just four days earlier.
If England coach Eddie Jones fields a much changed starting XV, this organised USA outfit could spring a surprise and lead at half-time, before order is restored in the second half.
USA v England, September 26
USA v France, October 2
USA v Argentina, October 9
USA v Tonga, October 13