Fulfilling promise of U.S. rugby could start today with win over Japan

Today would be a good day to start on fulfilling the promise of U.S. rugby.

With the last game the Eagles will play in the Rugby World Cup 2015 only a few hours away, it’s worth taking a further look at what the Eagles coaching staff has said about the future of the game in the United States.

Mike Tolkin
Mike Tolkin (USA Rugby photo)

After the 64-0 loss to South Africa on Wednesday, head coach Mike Tolkin said, “At this World Cup you don’t get any 80, 90, or 100-point scores. They (players) played against a full Springboks side. In four years’ time it will be really interesting to see what happens. It would have been interesting to see what a full (USA) side would have done against the Springboks.”

No one at the post-game media conference followed up on what Tolkin meant by a “full” side. The players he rested for today’s game against Japan? The players that Tolkin sees in the future?

And he does see better U.S. sides in the future, as does the rest of his coaching staff.

Before the game against the Springboks, Chris O’Brien was quoted on the Rugby World Cup media site saying the USA would become more powerful in future World Cups. The kicking and special teams coach said, “I think we’ve competed already at a higher level than we have at previous World Cups. The wins and losses don’t show it but we’ve become a better rugby nation, that’s shown through the first half against Scotland and Samoa.

Chris O'Brien (USA Rugby photo)
Chris O’Brien
(USA Rugby photo)

Absolutely the game is growing. It’s the fastest growing sport in the country right now and you’re seeing that. When we travel we see kids playing. They start at five or six years old. You’ll see in the next two World Cups where that’s really going to show.”

O’Brien went on to talk about something that could provide a big boost to the game in America: Sevens in next summer’s Olympics. Assuming it gets prime time television coverage, it could spur more interest in the game, especially when the rest of America finds out their country has been the defending rugby Olympic champions for 90 years.

O’Brien led up to the sevens game in his answer to whether professional rugby will develop in the U.S.:

“I honestly can’t answer that. I’ve heard about it for the last 15, 20 years but it hasn’t happened; there’s always talk. In the States all of our big sports pay so much money. In one sense I can get an NFL player to come and play rugby, but it’s so hard to teach the sport and they want something. They’re used to being in a different environment so it’s pretty tough. That’s why it’s building the foundations from youth all the way up and getting these guys through.

“The dream of an American is to play in the NFL, the NBA, major league baseball. Now you also want to be an Olympian. You can teach someone sevens (rugby) quicker than 15s.”

Probably all this talk about how good it will be in future World Cups won’t satisfy those who have been hearing it for so long. And a reduction in runaway scores from 100 points down to 64 seems like being on a nearly never-ending diet before reaching the goal of a win or two.

But a win today in Gloucester would help make believable something Lou Stanfill, a Seattle Saracen player who has more than 50 caps for the U.S., said earlier this week:

“The direction things are going, future World Cups hold huge amounts of promise for us and America intends to fulfill that promise.”

Today would be a good time to start.

Four Seattle Saracens to start for U.S. against South Africa

Four Seattle Saracen rugby players will play for the United States against South Africa in Wednesday’s Rugby World Cup game in London.

Matt Trouville
Matt Trouville
Louis Stanfill
Louis Stanfill

Louis Stanfill and Matt Trouville, who play second row for the Saracens, will take those positions for the United States Eagles, who are looking for their first win in the international tournament. Stanfill and Trouville make their first tournament start in the game at The Stadium in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London.

Olive Kilifi will also play in the forwards while Shalom Suniula  will be in the backs.

Suniula, at stand-off, will pair with Niku Kruger at scrum half.

“Niku and Shalom are a dynamic pair who have been playing within our system all year and know it well,” said Mike Tolkin, U.S. head coach.

The South African team showed its vulnerability in the first weekend of the tournament, suffering an upset loss to Japan. Since then the Springboks have gone on to beat Samoa and Scotland, the second place team in Pool B.

Shalom Suniula
Shalom Suniula

The United States has lost to Samoa and Scotland and will play Japan on Sunday, Oct. 11.

The Pool B winner and runner-up will play against Australia, who eliminated England from advancing on Saturday, and Wales, who also beat England, the first host nation for the Rugby World Cup to fail to advance through preliminary play.

Olive Kilifi
Olive Kilifi

According to USA Rugby, qualification for the knockout rounds from Pool B is still up for grabs. The Eagles need two bonus-point victories – as well as a non-bonus-point loss for Scotland in its final matchup with Samoa – to have a shot at progressing to the quarterfinals. Bonus points are awarded to teams that score four tries in a win.

With a third-place finish in Pool B, the U.S. could earn automatic qualification to Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan.

(Photos from USA Rugby)