All the talk in the lead up to the first match of Rugby World Cup 2011 for both Ireland and the United States of America was centred on the date of the match rather than the match itself. The match was played on September 11, 2011 which marked ten years since the terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. U.S. players in conjunction with government officials paid tribute to the fallen on the day of the match. There was a mass held at a local church in New Plymouth in which an emotional Eagles side attended. But when it came time to play the USA Eagles put on their boots and went about their business. Ireland entered the game with high hopes and were expected to complete a big win.
The USA proved to be more than worthy opponents, however, as the Irish were unable to play to their usual standards due to outstanding organization on the part of the USA. The North Americans were highly competitive across the park, tackled well and competed at the breakdown. Todd Clever was an inspiration for his Eagles colleagues as led the team very well. It was not a case of Ireland taking a long time to get going, rather it was more a case of the USA rising to the challenge. Man for man the USA proved to be a talented team capable of competiting against a tier one side such as Ireland. The dangerous Irish players were unable to star. Outside Centre, Paul Emerick (as pictured above) took away the Brian O´Driscoll factor altogether.
With halftime approaching the North Americans looked like being in with a real chance of producing an upset. Ireland were leading 3-0 after 39 minutes and scored the only try of the match with the half coming to a close. Right winger, Tommy Bowe was able to put Ireland in control and they took a 10-0 lead as Johnny Sexton converted Bowe´s try. The USA Eagles were the first to score after the interval, however, with left winger, James Paterson slotting a penalty goal in the 53rd minute. The USA had been really pushing Ireland hard and Ireland were fortunate to only conceeded a penalty. The men in green then hit back with two tries in the next seven minutes to make the scores 22-3 with 20 minutes remaining. In previous Rugby World Cup´s such a scenario has been the recipe for the tier one team to dominate and they have often ran in an high number of tries to win by a big margin.
The USA showed just how far they have come, however, as Ireland were unable to score any further points. The North Americans were also able to celebrate under the posts following an intercept try to Paul Emerick with time all but up on the clock. This meant the USA had lost by only twelve points and that Ireland had failed to score a bonus point as they had not been able to collect four tries. Ireland would go on to win the pool as the only side not to lose a match. The Emerald Isle faced favorites Australia in Auckland the following weekend and secured a win - something seen as highly unlikely in the build up to the match. The USA went on to face Russia four days after playing Ireland.
The match was also a testiment to how much progress can be made under when professional. It was the first time in Rugby World Cup history that the USA had fielded a side made up predominantly of playing who play their trade as professional players in either Europe or Japan. With rugby in the USA continuing to improve and players now being signed as professionals in preperation for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro it seems that the USA could well be permanently closing the gap on the first tier. Furthermore, the majority of the players from Rugby World Cup 2011 will still be in the side in 2015.