Rugby News & Views From an American Perspective
Release courtesy of USA Rugby with additional content by Ted Hardy
USA Eagles Head Coach Eddie O’Sullivan has named his team that will face Ireland in the 2011 Rugby World Cup (RWC) opener against Ireland on Sunday at Stadium Taranaki in New Plymouth.
In leiu of the short turnaround between the Ireland and Russia match, whether or not O’Sullivan was going to run out his top side was in question. With Russia being the Eagles best shot at taking home a win in the World Cup, many argued whether or not the USA should withhold some players against Ireland to prep for a win against Russia.
O’Sullivan countered with the best option… playing his best side. Given the historical significance of both the Rugby World Cup and September 11th, anything less than the best available was not going to be enough.
“Now that we have made our first selection, everyone is looking forward to Sunday’s game. We selected from a full squad, except for Chris Wyles, who is very close to recovering from his injury but not quite there yet,” said O’Sullivan.
The Eagles, who have been based in Wanganui since arriving on September 3rd, have had a very productive week on the training field. The facilities at the Wanganui Rugby Union have been excellent, as have the staff supplied by the Rugby NZ 2011. Meanwhile off the field the Eagles have attended several community engagements throughout the week, receiving wonderful support from the people of Wanganui. Thousands greeted the USA team after their Official Welcome Ceremony, which included a waka ride down the Whanganui River. The city has adopted the USA team as their second nation in the RWC.
“Our stay in Wanganui has been hugely enjoyable. The facilities were world-class, and the welcome by the locals was extra-ordinary. The team really felt at home there,” echoed O’Sullivan.
Today the United States traveled to New Plymouth, which will be home for the next ten days, seeing pool matches against Ireland and Russia.
“The excitement in the squad is palpable now that we have arrived in New Plymouth, and accounting down to our first game of RWC 2011,” continued the Head Coach.
The USA team (ranked 18th) that will take on the number 8 team in the world, Ireland, are lead by flanker Todd Clever.
The Eagles face off against an aging, albeit massively experienced, Ireland side that are keen to erase the past. Ireland limped through the 2007 World Cup and didn’t make it out of the pool stages. Ireland also nearly surrendered the upset of the tournament when they snuck past Georgia 14-10 and also got a scare from Namibia. The poor World Cup showing ultimately cost current Eagles Head Coach Eddie O’Sullivan his job.
Prop Mike MacDonald is set to make history by becoming the most capped Eagle of all time. MacDonald will win his 63rd cap for his country, and will honored by leading the Eagles onto the field during Sunday’s match.
“Congratulations to Mike MacDonald for becoming the most capped Eagle of all time. And achieving that honor while playing in a RWC match makes that even more special,” expressed O’Sullivan.
The rest of the front row is made up of Shawn Pittman at prop, and Phil Thiel at hooker. The experienced Hayden Smith and John van der Giessen are the locks. Louis Stanfill starts in the number 6 jersey with Clever on the other flank. Nic Johnson completes the forward pack at 8th man.
Vice-captain and scrumhalf Mike Petri leads the backline, with Roland Suniula starting in the flyhalf position replacing Nese Malifa who has struggled of late at the pivot. The solid center pairing of Andrew Suniula and Paul Emerick will be up against one of Ireland’s most famous players, Brian O’Driscoll.
The dangerous wings are Takudzwa Ngwenya and James Paterson, with Blaine Scully marshalling from the back in the number 15 jersey.
The reserve bench includes four forwards and three backs. Mate Moeakiola (prop) and Chris Biller (hooker) provide front row cover. Scott LaValla and Pat Danahy are the lock and loose forward replacements. In the backs the reserves are Tim Usasz (scrumhalf), Nese Malifa (flyhalf) and Colin Hawley (utility).
Both the USA and Irish National Teams will honor those rugby men and women who perished in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks by wearing a black armband and observing a moment of silence before the kick-off. The Eagles will also attend a 9-11 Memorial Service at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in New Plymouth on Sunday morning.
Unavailable through injury: Chris Wyles (Saracens)