USA gear up for Springboks, Samoa and Scotland

Getty Images     15 Apr 2014     Getty Images

It was widely expected that Mike Tolkin’s men would reach rugby’s showpiece event next year, but the journey to RWC 2015 qualification has been far from straightforward.

In August 2013, the USA suffered disappointment against their neighbours Canada in the Americas 1 play-off. A 40-20 defeat over two legs meant that that the Eagles would have to face Uruguay home and away to determine the Americas 2 qualifier.

A rollercoaster contest in Montevideo saw the first leg finish in a 27-27 draw. The second leg a week later in Atlanta was equally tense, with the Eagles going into the break with a 13-3 deficit.

They eventually scored 29 unanswered points in the second half to secure their passage to RWC 2015 in front of a rapturous home crowd. The prize? A spot in Pool B alongside South Africa, Samoa, Scotland and the Asia 1 qualifier.

With the exception of RWC 1995, the Eagles have participated at every Rugby World Cup since the inaugural tournament in 1987 and have given fans across the world some unforgettable memories.

From Takudzwa Ngwenya’s try against the Springboks at RWC 2007 to their hard-fought victory over Russia at RWC 2011, the Eagles are always capable of producing unexpected moments of magic on this stage, and RWC 2015 will be no exception.

So what lies ahead for the USA at RWC 2015?

Samoa on the south coast

The USA will open their RWC 2015 campaign on 20 September at the Brighton Community Stadium against Samoa. The two sides have met once before on this stage and the result was an enthralling encounter at RWC 2007, which nearly produced one of the tournament’s greatest ever comebacks.

Trailing 22-3 at the break, the Eagles looked dead and buried by half time. But a monumental effort in the second half saw the USA edge to within just four points of Samoa.

Although the Eagles narrowly lost 25-21 that day, they had won the respect of the 34,000 fans in the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard in Saint Etienne and left the field to a standing ovation. The USA’s current crop will now look to go one step further against Samoa and kick-start their campaign with a win.

Scotland in Leeds

The USA will then head north to Leeds to take on Scotland at Elland Road on 27 September. The two sides will also face each other in June, providing an invaluable dress rehearsal for their Pool B clash at RWC 2015.

RWC 2003 provided the only previous meeting between Scotland and the USA at a Rugby World Cup. Scotland put in their strongest performance of the campaign that day, racking up 39 points and crossing the line five times in the process. The USA will undoubtedly feel that they have made huge progress since then and will expect a much closer contest this time round.

Springbok showdown

One match that will leap off the fixture list for any Eagles fan is South Africa v USA at the Olympic Stadium in London. The Eagles will travel to the iconic venue to take on the two-time RWC winners on 7 October, and for many of the players representing the USA this fixture will undoubtedly represent a career highlight.

On the one occasion that the USA met South Africa at a Rugby World Cup, the Eagles found themselves on the wrong end of a 64-15 defeat at RWC 2007. The Springboks delivered an attacking master-class in Montpellier that evening, running in nine tries.

Eagles fans, however, will fondly remember this match for an individual moment of try-scoring brilliance from the electric Ngwenya, and the unusual sight of seeing Bryan Habana being caught for pace on the wing.

Asia 1 clash

The USA will then bring the curtain down on the pool phase with a match against the Asia 1 qualifier at Kingsholm Stadium on 11 October. The identity of this qualifier will be known in May after the Asian 5 Nations involving Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Sri Lanka and the Philippines concludes.

Japan are strong favourites to win a seventh successive Asian 5 Nations title and qualify as Asia 1. If they do so, they will set up a third meeting between the two sides at a Rugby World Cup.

At RWC 1987, the USA edged out Japan 21-18 in Brisbane. Sixteen years later in Gosforth, the Eagles recorded a more convincing win, dispatching the Brave Blossoms 39-26 at RWC 2003. If Japan qualify, Tolkin will hope to make it three from three for the Eagles.

Players to watch out for

Samu Manoa – Although still relatively inexperienced on the international scene, the Northampton Saints forward has captivated fans of the English Premiership with his explosive pace and power since 2011. The Californian-born player will be looking to make his mark at RWC 2015.

Chris Wyles – The 30-year-old back has earned 41 caps for the USA since his debut in 2007. The Saracens player has already impressed in two Rugby World Cups and is a talismanic ever-present in the current Eagles set-up.

Todd Clever – The Eagles captain and a prolific try scorer, Clever has been a key player for the national side for more than a decade. The flanker also captained his country at RWC 2011 and led them through the tricky play-offs with Uruguay last month.

USA rugby in numbers

1912 – The year the USA played their first ever international (a 12-8 defeat to Australia)

91 – The USA’s record winning margin (against Barbados in 2006)

3 – The number of times the USA have managed to record a win in a Rugby World Cup campaign

465 – The number of points Mike Hercus scored for the USA during his career

18 – The USA’s current IRB World Ranking