Sunday, September 11, 2011

United States prove tough opposition for Ireland

Twelve years ago Ireland and the United States of America met at Rugby World Cup 1999. On that occassion the Irish were far too strong winning the match 53-8. The USA were slow to respond to professionalism while Ireland quickly became a top side after having struggled in the 1990´s. The lack of regular exposure to top level rugby at club and international level was a tremendous disadvantage to the USA but with more players landing professional contracts and the USA´s increased involvement in global rugby such as the IRB World Sevens Series, the development of players has made ther USA Eagles more competitive than ever. Their opening match of Rugby World Cup 2011 was expected to be a good win for Ireland, who have a well respected team that is able to compete against anybody. Ireland boasts the Heineken Cup and RaboDirect Pro12 (ex-Magners League) champions and has more high-callibre players than ever before. Ireland were thus expected to defeat the USA comfortably, with a margin similar to that of the 1999 fixture. The USA Eagles, however, showed just how far the team has come and that the side is, indeed, a team that will be a Rugby World Cup Quarter Finalists in the not-to-distant future. The United States team were inspired by the tenth anniversary of 9/11, having started the day with a mass in a local church.

The North Americans went into the match with total motivation and did their country proud, showing the true spirit of rugby. The extent of their competitiveness took everybody by surprize as Irelad could only score its first try of the match in the final minute of the first half. Winger Tommy Bowe´s try gave Ireland a 10-0 half time lead after flyhalf, Johnyn Sexton converted the try and had kicked an earlier penalty. The scoreline could have been closer at the break but it was clear that Ireland had a match on their hands. The USA did not fade away in the secondhalf as it was a highly competitive 40 minutes until the final whistle. The USA scored 10 points while Ireland scored 12 as the men in green notched up a 22-10 victory. The twelve poitn win did not include four tries, which means the USA have done what few said was possible, preventing Ireland from scoring a bonus point.

The Irish had the better of play, but the USA proved to have an effective defensive arrangement as the USA made 65 first half tackles compared to Ireland´s 35. The USA Eagles scored the first points of the secondhalf with a penalty goal to winger James Paterson. Ireland fought back to score a try in the 53rd minute to hooker Rory Best and when Tommy Bowe scored his secind five minutes latter, Ireland appeared to be taking control. USA captain, Todd Clever, who was excellent regarthered his players and won the support of the New Plymouth crowd as outside centre, Paul Emerick, lached onto a pass from Gordon D´Arcy. The centre´s intercept try as converted by replacement flyhalf Nese Malifa as the North Americans cut the gap to twelve points on full time.

The United States of America now have a short turn-around before its second Rugby World Cup match, the battle of the Cold War, vs Russia on Thursday. The match will also be played in New Plymouth. Ireland travel to Auckland to face Australia at Eden Park on Saturday. Earlier in the day Australia completed a 32-6 win over Italy after the teams were tied 6-6 at the interval. The Ireland vs USA match is a clear indication of the development of rugby and casts shame on the experts who four years ago were calling for Rugby World Cup´s to be reduced to sixteen teams. The USA Eagles gave a warning to all - the team is appraoching the First Tier.

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