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Today in Rugby: A U.S. Team Preview

The Rugby World Cup begins on Friday. From now until the RWC's end, or at least until I run out of material, I will be attempting at least one rugby post per day. Let me know if you can guest-write a team report, or if you can invite me to an embassy RWC watch party, or if you can comp me into a bar showing every match, or if you have any other coverage ideas. Bear in mind that, if you're still reading this, you know more about the actual game than I do.


Basauri in training. (Charlie Neibergall - AP)

There was no rugby post yesterday, because I had to work on a feature story about Whitman High's Inaki Basauri, a 22-year-old pro player in France who will be with the Eagles for the World Cup. There's not much point in me repeating that information here; you can just go read it, or buy the paper.

I will say that Inaki has managed to garner some British press headlines in recent days. From The Daily Mail:

United States flanker Inaki Basauri has urged his team-mates to "be courageous" when they face a daunting World Cup opener against defending champions England on Saturday....

Basauri said: "I believe we have the team that can take it to them, as long as we play to our potential."

"And I think the fans back at home are behind us. They expect us to play to our potential.

"We are all going out there to show the world what we have, and what we have been preparing for over the past four years. It will be a great experience. I think we just have to play what is in front of us and do our best, be courageous, make tackles and make plays. It is about making everything happen."

Ah, the courage of youth. On the other hand, an ankle injury to English star Jonny Wilkinson apparently has the defending champs "in a tailspin."

While we all look forward to Saturday's game, here's a U.S. team primer from reader and actual rugby fan Chris Jenkins, who highlights an implacable truth: a single win at this RWC will be considered a major triumph for the Eagles. Chris's words after the jump.

Drawn into possibly the toughest group at the 2007 Rugby World Cup finals, the USA Eagles head off to France with low expectations, excellent fitness and high morale. Our team, mostly comprised of amateur rugby players, many of whom have given up their jobs in order to represent their country at this world cup, will spend the next four weeks playing some of the finest professional players in the rugby world. First up opponents are reigning world champions England who await in Lens on September 8th, to be followed four days later by Tonga in Montpellier. A break of a full two weeks is followed by matches against Samoa, one of the most physical sides in this most combative of sports, and then after a rest of just three days, the mighty South African Springboks.

South Africa are in most rugby pundits' eyes the joint favourites, with New Zealand, to lift the William Webb-Ellis trophy at the final match in Paris on October 20th. No rugby team in the world would wish to play Samoa and South Africa just three days apart, and the Eagles' group highlights what many critics view as the key flaw of the format for this tournament - that is that the timetable favours the top ranked professional teams and leaves the so called minnows, such as the U.S., with almost no chance of causing any kind of an upset.

South Africa for example will have had a full seven days of rest prior to their meeting with the U.S. on 30th September. Their shortest break between matches is five days between their first and second matches. No team would want a break of two weeks between matches either, as faced by the U.S., during which time match sharpness will decline and boredom set in. A quick look at the schedule shows decent rest periods for top-rated teams such as England, New Zealand, Australia, Ireland. Perhaps next time, each of the teams should be seeded and the lower ranked teams should receive the easiest schedule?

The above being said, the U.S. go into the tournament as fit as any amateur team could be, and with enough experienced players to be at least able to give a good account of themselves against the toughest of opponents. Key to their game is their first up defence and a set of forwards capable of dogging it out with the best of them. The forward unit is built upon the sturdy foundations of Mike McDonald, the Berkeley-born prop who plays for Leeds in England, and highly experienced second row Alec Parker of Aspen Colorado who will play in his third Rugby World Cup finals. An exciting back row sees the hard tackling Louis Stanfil, a student at UC Berkeley, and Todd Clever - a standout U.S. 7's player from Palm Springs, augmented by newcomer and man mountain Henry Bloomfield.

The team will be led by Mike Hercus, a native of Falls Church, Virginia from the position of fly half - essentially the quarter back equivalent in Rugby. Hercus, on his second trip to a World Cup, is well on his way to scoring 400 points in international rugby. As the team's first choice kicker and play maker, his form after a spell recuperating from recent surgery will be key to the team's success.

Other standout players for the Eagles include American-born backs Paul Emerick and Chris Wyles, who play with professional teams in Wales and England respectively, and the electric wing Takudzwa Ngwenya, who has the priceless ability and speed to break the gain line and cause real problems for opponents. Many of those who follow rugby in the U.S. will be hoping that Philip Eloff, the centre and another potential line breaker who has an excellent try scoring record at international level, recovers from a broken ankle in time to be fit for the first match against England.

The Eagles played their final warm up match against former European Club Champions Munster of Ireland last weekend in Chicago. While somewhat ring rusty -- this was their first competitive match for some time -- spectators saw signs of the strengths of this team in that first up tackling was strong and at times the forwards looked like they had the ability to dominate their opponents at the set piece. Hopefully team coach Peter Thorburn will be working hard to rectify the unfortunate number of handling errors which occured at critical times and probably denied the Eagles at least three tries.

For pretty much the first time ever, U.S. Rugby fans will be able to watch every single match of the 2007 Rugby World Cup live as all matches will be broadcast live on Setanta Sports North America. Additionally, Versus will be the national cable TV broadcaster showing all four Eagles matches and the quarters, semis and final on tape delay.

The Eagles will no doubt play their hearts out - I've yet to see a U.S. team either give up, or ever have a player sent from the field for foul play, whoever the opposition. However, even Tonga, the weakest opponents we face in this year's competition, will take the field with fifteen full-time professionals drawn from the top clubs of Europe and Australia/New Zealand. Having made tremendous personal sacrifices to get to the tournament the mostly amateur members of the U.S. squad deserve your heartfelt support for just turning up. Any victory will just be icing on the cake.

By Dan Steinberg  |  September 5, 2007; 11:51 AM ET
Categories:  Rugby  
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Comments

Rug-by?

Posted by: R | September 5, 2007 12:13 PM | Report abuse

You could be rugby's Steven Goff!

Posted by: Kim | September 5, 2007 12:57 PM | Report abuse


Any TV coverage here in the states?

Posted by: Adam | September 5, 2007 1:26 PM | Report abuse

Check here for info.

http://www.pru.org/information/default.asp?NavPageID=64008#i_245402

Posted by: KJ | September 5, 2007 1:59 PM | Report abuse

rugby being covered in the US? this is a beautiful thing.

I'm pumped for the RWC, just pissed that in order to watch any matches I'll have to pay $20 at the bar I watch non-American sports at. Thanks Setanta......

Posted by: DB | September 5, 2007 3:22 PM | Report abuse

Losing the starting fullback, Francois Viljoen, who's also one of the best players on the team to a torn ACL the day before the match against Munster, is huge. Here's hoping Eloff is fit. The Eagles are going to need him.

Posted by: Paris 1924 | September 5, 2007 3:28 PM | Report abuse

DB - Matches are being shown for free on a two day delay on Versus.

http://www.versus.com/nw/article/view/40560/?UserDef=true&catID=76

Posted by: KJ | September 5, 2007 3:33 PM | Report abuse

Yes the odds of the Usa winning RWC are crazy long.

So will they be 20th out of 20? If they are 12th is that a success or disappointment?

I don't expect much from joe gibbs guys this year either but I'm still watching on Sundays. Gimme some meat on this story...

Posted by: michael | September 5, 2007 4:12 PM | Report abuse

KJ,

didn't know that. looks like i'll be able to watch some stuff on delay! of course I'll already know the result, since I'm on bbc.com every day pretty much looking at other stuff.

Posted by: DB | September 5, 2007 5:27 PM | Report abuse

So, what you're saying is... England is Michigan?

Posted by: B.A. | September 5, 2007 7:13 PM | Report abuse

I know the USA is not a favourite for this tournament, but remember you are the reigning Olympic Champions - so anything is possible.
Yes the USA is undefeated in Olympic competition for ... about 80+ years. It seems the only time rugby was an Olympic sport (about 1924 I think) - the USA got a band of college football players together - taught them the game and won. Now many of the major rugby playing countries didn't enter...but the USA is still the reigning Olympic champions.

Posted by: Tony | September 6, 2007 12:38 AM | Report abuse

Unfortunately Setanta is not available that widely on cable. You can pay a monthly fee to watch games live on their website (not great quality) or you can watch on 24 hour delay at www.mediazone.com (good quality). They offer a $50 package for all games or a per game charge - $4 (I think) for first round and goes up for quarters and beyond.

Posted by: GordonB | September 6, 2007 1:53 PM | Report abuse

Dan, We in USA Rugby very much appreciate your trying to give coverage to the third biggest watched sporting event in the world(behind the Olympics and Futbol World Cup) in USA where it is little known though in the rest of the world it is extremely large. With help from writers such as you we have a chance of getting better coverage here in the "states". For the information of you and your readers Rugby is "the mother of American Football" and dates back to the late 1800's here in the USA with roots in the East, especially in the Ivy League, originally and in the early 1900's strongly played in the West, especially prominently at Cal and Stanford. The teams who participated in the Olympics in 1920 and 1924 and won were mainly made up of players from those West Coast schools.

Today's match for USA Eagles against defending champion England was supposed to be at least a 50-60 point loss for the Eagles and ended at 28-10 for England and a second half of even at 7-7 and this was therefore a "fantistic encouragement for USA" and represented the closest margin ever in USA encounters with England and was described by the pundits as an embassarement for England and most impartial commentators and pundits gave a lot of credit to the USA Eagles for being the more dominant team in the second half.
Whether the team will perform as well for the rest of the competition "God only knows" but for today USA rugby fans have a lot to be proud of for the performance of our team.

1820s
1823 WILLIAM WEBB ELLIS, WHO WITH A FINE DISREGARD FOR THE RULES OF FOOTBALL AS PLAYED IN HIS TIME, FIRST TOOK THE BALL IN HIS ARMS AND RAN WITH IT , THUS ORIGINATING THE DISTINCTIVE FEATURE OF THE RUGBY GAME.
1830s
1840s
1850s
1860s
1870s
1874 The first match between McGill and Harvard (Cambridge) was played on May 14, 1874 under the rules of "The Boston Game". Harvard won by a paltry 3-0. The next day the two teams played to a scoreless tie under McGill's rules. Harvard was so taken by McGill's rules that they adopted them. Today, the McGill and Harvard business schools celebrate this tradition by playing an Annual Fall Classic in Montreal. (http://mbarugby.mcgill.ca/history.htm)
1875 Harvard - Yale play their first game - The first meeting of the teams occurred on November 13, 1875 at Hamilton Field in New Haven; Harvard won 4-0 by scoring four touchdowns and four field goals (at the time, a touchdown merely gave the scoring team the opportunity to gain one point by converting the field goal). This was the first intercollegiate football match between two U.S. teams (Harvard had played McGill University of Montreal the previous year, and acquired the rules of the game from that team; previous intercollegiate matches were played under the rules of soccer.) The rules that governed the early years of The Game were a modified version of the rules of rugby and made the game particularly brutal. In the second half of The Game of 1892, Harvard introduced the flying wedge formation, devised by chess master Lorin F. Deland, which so devastated Yale players that it was outlawed the following season (nevertheless, Yale won 6-0). After The Game of 1894, about which newspapers reported seven players carried off the field "in dying condition," the two schools broke off all official contact including athletic competition for two years. Since resuming in 1897, The Game has been played annually except during the First and Second World Wars. The first known reference to "The Game" occurs in an 1898 letter by former Harvard captain A. F. Holden (class of 1888) to Harvard coach Cam Forbes on the occasion of The Game being permanently moved to the end of the season ("it also makes the Yale-Harvard game the game of the season").
1876-79 Princeton Join the Harvard - Yale competition
1880s
1890s
1892 Harvard uses the flying wedge the first time vs Yale - moved the game farther away from rugby
1894 Flying wedge abolished - limiting the number of blockers - thus a line of scrimmage formed
1900s
1900 Rugby introduced into the Olympics
1904 Rugby in Olympics
1905 In the USA publication of photographs of a harsh American Football game between Swarthmore and Pennsylvania created a stir. President Theodore Roosevelt insisted on reform of the game to lower the brutality with threat of abolishing the game by edict. In 1905, President Roosevelt summoned representatives of the Big Three (Harvard, Yale and Princeton, the universities who first played the game and who also set the rules of play) to the White House. In his best table-thumping style, Theodore Roosevelt convinced them that the rules needed to be changed to eliminate the foul play and brutality. As a result, the American Football Rules Committee was formed and, in 1906, plays designed to open up the game and make it less dangerous to play were introduced. Some of the changes made included:***the introduction of the forward pass,***the distance to be gained for a first down increased from five to ten yards,*** all mass formations and gang tackling were banned.Football became less dangerous to play, injuries and deaths decreased, and it became more fun to watch.
1905 Among those schools which dropped American football and adopted rugby in 1905-06 were the University of California and Leland Stanford Jr. University, the two leading institutions of higher learning on the Pacific Coast.
1906 In the USA the forward pass was introduced to the 'American game''. The laws of rugby died and the game of American football evolved further. However, Rugby union enjoyed a growth in popularity in the US, particularly in California, where major universities, including the University of California at Berkeley and Stanford, had withdrawn from football - the "American game" - with concerns about brutality and professionalism.
1908 Rugby in Olympics
1910s
1910 A combined Universities team from Cal, Stanford, and the University of Nevada (the Wolf-Pack) toured Australia and New Zealand. They compiled a 3-9-2 record playing the top provincial teams in New Zealand. At the end of the tour they beat Rotura 6-3 and Auckland RU by a score of 13 ? 3, a truly significant victory since rugby is the major sport in New Zealand. It also marked the first tour ever by a team that could legitimately call itself a Pacific Coast Representative team.
1920s
1920 USA won Olympics gold metal
1920s Eastern Rugby Union formed by Harvard, Yale and Princeton. In the late 1920s rugby began to be played in the New York area, and it soon spread to such eastern universities as Yale, Princeton, and Harvard, which formed the Eastern Rugby Union.
1924 USA wins Olympic Gold metal
1924 Pacific Coast Rugby Union formed
1930s
1932 Rugby in Berlin Olympic Games
1934 Northern California Rugby Football Union incorporated (by US Olympic teammates Ed "Mush" Graff, Lefty Rogers, and a few others.)
1937 Southern California Rugby Football Union reformed and incorporated.
1940s

1950s

1960s
1960s The Eastern Pennsylvania Rugby Union (EPRU) was founded in the late 1960's as an outgrowth of the Pennsylvania All State XV and the Southeast Pennsylvania Select Side.
1964 Midwest RU Formed
1967 Eastern Rockies RFU formed
1967 Heart of America RFU formed
1967 Metropolitan New York Rugby Union formed
1970s
1971 Texas RFU formed.
1972 Eleanors become first Women's team in SCRFU (and the country?)
1974 Ozark RFU formed (Oklahoma, Arkansas)
1975 USARFU Formed - 4 territories (East, Midwest, West, and Pacific Coast)
1975 Arizona Rugby Union formed
1975 Western Rugby Union formed (Eastern Rockies, Heart of America, Texas, Ozark, Rio Grande, Missouri. Great Plains added later))
1976 January 31, 1976, USA vs Australia in Anaheim, CA (12-24).
1977 First ITTs, first USARFU coaching school - both in Greeley, Colorado
1979 Junior Griffins (SCRFU) and Pelicans (NCRFU) play for first time
1979 First USA Men's DI Club final 4
1979 First USA Women's DI Club final 4
1980s
1980 First USA Men's DI Collegiate final 4
1981 Great Plains RFU formed
1981 First USA 7s team played in Hong Kong
1981 First USA Boys HS Championship
1985 First USA Men's 7s Club Championship
1985 First USA All-star 7s Championship
1985 First All American Men's Collegiate team selected outside of final four team players.
1986 First USA Military Club Championship
1987 Youth Rugby Guide put together by Tony Spinella and published with SCRFU $$$. Distributed throughout USA. Western RU, PNWRFU, Texas RFU, Indiana RU used it as means to start youth (HS rugby) in their regions. A gathering of materials form Eastern Penn, NCRFU< and other areas into one piece of literature.
1987 First Women's All-Star 15s Championship
1987 USA Women's 15s team formed. First Game 11/14/87 vs Canada (22-3) in Victoria, Canada.
1987 First U19 NCRFU-SCRFU game played. PCRFU U19s formed and played BC RFU U19s in Vancouver. First time any U19 USA u19 select side team toured to another country.
1988 Pacific Northwest RFU Formed (Washington, Idaho, Oregon)
1989 First USA Men's Collegiate All-stars ITT
1990s
1991 First USA Women's DI Collegiate final 4
1994 First USA Men's DII Club final 4
1994 SCRFU applies and becomes a territory
1995 First All American Women's Collegiate team selected.
1995-6 Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and South regions apply and become territories - dissolving the Eastern RFU
1996 USA Super League started. The Rugby Super League was operational for the 1997 rugby season with two seven club divisions; the Western-Pacific Conference and the Midwestern-East Conference. The original members were Belmont Shore (CA), Chicago Lions, Dallas Harlequins, Denver Barbarians, Gentlemen of Aspen, Kansas City Blues (MO), Life (GA), Old Blue (NY), Old Blues (CA), Old Puget Sound Beach (WA), OMBAC (CA) Potomac Athletic Club (DC), San Francisco-Golden Gate, Washington (DC). The league expanded for the 1998 season to include teams from Boston (Boston RFC) and Philadelphia (Philadelphia Whitemarsh RFC) - both joining the Eastern Conference with the Dallas Harlequins moving to the Western Conference.
1997 First USA Women's 7s team formed. Played in Hong Kong 3/15-16/97.
1998 First USA Men's DII Collegiate final 4
1999 Youth Development Officers assigned.
2000s
2000 SCRFU starts youth rugby (again). Forms a 4 team HS league, has 2 NCR teams.
2000 First USA Men's DIII Club final 4
2000 First USA Women's DII Collegiate final 4
2000 First USA Girls HS Championship
2001 First USA U19s Boys team officially sponsored by USA Rugby.
2001 First USA Women's U-23 All-star 15s Championship
2002 First Women's All-Star 7s Championship
2002 First USA Women's DIIClub final 4
2004 1st USA Sevens Tournament (Home Depot Center)
2005 2nd USA Sevens Tournament (Home Depot Center)
2006 3rd USA Sevens Tournament (Home Depot Center)
2007 4th USA Sevens Tournament (San Diego Petco Park)

Posted by: Paul Ganey | September 8, 2007 8:56 PM | Report abuse

Paul - great coverage of US Rugby History. Not sure if I saw the mention of the US Women's Rugby victory in the World Cup. Definitely a growing sport in the US with a global culture that is unmatched win or lose.

Excellent day for US Rugby today with possibility of a win. Unfortunately against a "transformed" England. However a much stronger opponent than the Munster 3rd team they lost to in Chicago.

Irish Pub Milwaukee has free satelite coverage of all RWC games and $3 pints.

Cheers for now.

GarryOwen

Posted by: Garry Owen | September 8, 2007 11:47 PM | Report abuse

Dan,

Thanks for the coverage of the USA Men's National Team at the 2007 Rugby World Cup.

In the US you can watch all the 2007 RWC matches on Setanta Sports which is available on the Direct TV satellite network.

By the time I write this (Sunday) Argentina has beaten France, the USA has exceed expectaitons in their match vs. England, Canada did the same vs. Wales, and Namibia has now done the same vs. Ireland.

This is what rugby promoters have been waiting for: the Americas and Africa to start to catch up with more traditional rugby powers. And those powers are having a hard time accepting it: the commentators are lamenting how poorly some of those teams played. I think it is closer to the truth that the "amateur" and "semi-professional" teams are better than others around the world want to accept.

For the Women's sports fans, the USA Women's National Team were the 1991 Women's Rugby World Cup Champions, and finished second in 1994 and 1998. Last fall they finished 5th in the 2006 Women's Rugby World Cup, despite winning 4 matches and only losing one, against England (the eventual number 2 finisher). That 5th place finish, with only 1 loss, was due to the points system, similar to the one being used for the Men's RWC now.

I'm curious to see what happens in the future with the point system now that it is causing such concern to the "Home Nations" (England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales).

Go USA!

Posted by: Ellen Owens | September 9, 2007 4:30 PM | Report abuse

nice job mate
glad to see some Yanks writing about a real world sporting championship !!!
And go the eagles!

Posted by: Aussie Xpat | September 10, 2007 11:45 AM | Report abuse

To whomever said "England is Michigan"...More like England is UF if you're a basketball or football fan.

Thanks for the rugby coverage, we can't get enough of it down in Florida.

Posted by: Gator Fan | September 10, 2007 12:43 PM | Report abuse

Dan,

thanks for running this blog. I'll be checking in daily. I am also sending it out to the college team I coach and the rest of my Union in SC.

Semper Fi,

Bill

Posted by: Bill | September 10, 2007 1:42 PM | Report abuse

Dan,
Great job on covering a great game. It is a shame in this country that there is not more coverage of what I feel to be the best competitive team sport in the world. This is the type of sport that brings together whole nations and the 'gospel' needs to be spread here in the good ole' US of A.
Cheers

Posted by: Matt i | September 14, 2007 10:31 PM | Report abuse

Dan,

Thank you. Great coverage.

Posted by: Ronnie | September 20, 2007 1:43 PM | Report abuse

Dan,
Great Job! As a high school football coach, and "old boy" rugby player, I love seeing coverage of one of the best sports ever. Thanks again!

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