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USA Rugby's men's national team is nicknamed the Eagles. The Eagles are currently ranked 19th by the IRB World Rankings. Their highest ranking was from November 2, 2006 - September 10, 2007 at the 14th position. The United States have always been considered a rugby union minnow, but through professionalism, the Eagles are making improvements in coaching, management and player development, and as a result have improved on the field. The Eagles have a potentially huge pool of players as many Americans play American football in high school and college but give up playing at some point during or at the end of their school years. However, because very few Americans grow up playing rugby union, with the majority of players not taking up the game until college (or even later), the average American player has far less rugby experience than most players of the same age in countries where it is played with more frequency. For example, the team's all-time caps leader, Luke Gross, did not seriously take up rugby until he had graduated from Marshall University, where he played basketball.[1]

With the sheer size of the USA, coupled with relatively few fixtures, the Eagles squad only get together before games and for periodic evaluations. Selections are in part made from talent spotting done at USA Super League matches, although some of the best players now compete for European clubs, offering valuable practice and playing experience. Ranked 19th in the world by the IRB (as of Nov 10, 2008). There are also the bi-annual Pan American championships, which can also double as the Americas zone World Cup qualifiers.

The USA is also involved in the implementation of the NAWIRA zone competition, which will give North American and West Indies sides regular competition. The one area that has seen improvement for the USA internationally is in the game of Sevens where the Eagles have impressed on the IRB World Sevens circuit. They made major breakthroughs in the 2007–08 series, winning the Shield at the 2008 New Zealand Sevens event and losing a close match to Argentina 26-21 in the Bowl Final at the 2008 Australia Sevens. These and other performances led the IRB to elevate the national sevens squad to "core team" status for 2008–09 at the expense of their neighbor Canada.[2] They built on this success by advancing to the Cup semifinals at the 2009 USA Sevens.

Competing in international tournaments like the Churchill Cup and the Pan American Championship, as well as specially scheduled matches against world powers such as France and Ireland, the Eagles have qualified for four of the five Rugby World Cups, missing out in 1995. At the 1987 World Cup they beat Japan but lost to Australia and England, in 1991 they lost all their games. In 1995 the Eagles defeated Canada on Canadian soil, for the first time ever by a score of 15-14.

Early yearsEdit

Rugby was introduced into the United States by British immigrants in the mid-19th century. In 1872, there were rugby clubs flourishing in the San Francisco Bay Area, composed mainly of British expatriates.

On 2 December 1882, the first Californian representative rugby team to play an outside opponent, took on a group of rugby-playing ex-Britons, who called themselves the Phoenix Rugby Club of San Francisco. California lost to the Phoenix club 7-4. This was the start of the Californian rugby tradition.

The sport of rugby union in the United States has always had a close relationship with the sport of American football. Games of rugby, soccer and hybrid games had always been played between American universities, the first recorded game took place in May 1874 between Harvard University and McGill University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Though McGill won the match, the game sparked an interest on college campuses nationwide.

In 1876 Yale, Harvard, Princeton, and Columbia formed the Intercollegiate Football Association, which used the rugby code, except for a slight difference in scoring. The modern sport of American football is a descendant of these rules. In 1886 Harvard's Oscar Shafter Howard introduced these rules to the Berkeley campus.

American football was fierce, and as time went on and injuries mounted, the public became alarmed at its brutalities. President Theodore Roosevelt threatened to outlaw the sport unless the national rules committee made changes that satisfied the Eastern schools. Beginning with the season of 1906, rugby union became the game of choice at Stanford University, the University of California and several other colleges in California but the sport had died out by the outbreak of World War I.

The first USA international was played on November 16, 1912 at Berkeley against the Wallabies. The visitors won the match 12-8. A year later the USA hosted New Zealand at the same venue, but the score was not nearly as close, and the New Zealanders ran away with the contest 51-3.

USA at the OlympicsEdit

Rugby union hadn't been played competitively in most of the USA for more than a decade prior to the 1920 Olympics, the US Olympic committee replied, "due to the fact that California is the only state playing Rugby in the US, the Committee will give sanction but no financial aid".

The Olympic Games Committee of the Amateur Athletic Union paid the expenses to transport the team from California to the games in Antwerp[3]. By the time the US Rugby team arrived in Europe, Czechoslovakia and Romania had withdrawn from the competition, France and USA were the only teams left to compete. The USA won a shocking 8-0 victory and the gold medal. The stunned French suggested that the US team tour France, which they did; winning three out of the four matches they played.

Between 1920 and 1924, Rugby union virtually disappeared once again as American-style football soared in popularity. But the 1924 Paris Olympics caused France to challenge the US to defend its title. Once again, the US Olympic Committee granted permission but no funds. Nonetheless, seven players of the 1920 team dusted off their boots, raised $20,000, and found some American football players who had never even seen a rugby union match, and headed for England-where they were trounced four times in practice sessions.

The French Olympic Committee (FOC) had scheduled the rugby event to kick off the 1924 Paris Games, and lowly Romania and the USA were expected to provide only token opposition for the European Champions. On Sunday, May 11th , the US pounded Romania 39 to 0, including nine tries, at Colombes Stadium. The final was played at Colombes Stadium, Paris, on May 18, 1924 before a crowd of more than 30,000[4]. Paris bookmakers set the odds at twenty to one: The French team was one of the strongest ever assembled. To everybody's surprise the Americans were victorious again by 17 to 3.

Shortly after the 1924 Olympics, however, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) removed rugby union as an Olympic sport. Without the Olympic incentive, the sport’s growth in America collapsed and the game remained dormant.

The 1970sEdit

The sport then enjoyed a renaissance, beginning in the 1960s and continuing through the 1970s. This created the need for a national governing body to represent the USA in the International rugby community. Four territorial organizations formed the United States of America Rugby Football Union (now known as USA Rugby) in 1975. The first Eagles match was played in Anaheim in 1976 against Australia, the Wallabies won 24-12.

The USA also performed well against France in Chicago, losing the game 33-14. The next season the Eagles played two internationals, one against England (XV-not capped) at London-Twickenham, which they lost 37-11, and the other against Canada, which they also lost, 17-6. The USA played the Canadians again in 1978, and defeated them 12-7 in Baltimore. They then travelled to Canada in 1979 and lost to the national team 19-12 in Toronto.

The 1980sEdit

The national team came to further prominence during the 1980s, and from the start of the decade, were playing a notably larger number of games every season. They did however lose all three of their games in 1980, all at home. They could not muster up a win in 1981 either, losing 3-6 to Canada, and 7-38 to the South African Springboks. The USA then drew Canada 3-all in 1982. The next year they travelled to Australia to play the Wallabies, and lost 49-3 in Sydney. Wins followed against Japan and Canada.

In 1987, the USA were invited by the IRB to participate in the first ever Rugby World Cup in New Zealand and Australia. The USA were in pool 1, alongside co-hosts Australia, England and Japan. In their first ever World Cup game, the USA got off to a winning start, defeating Japan 21-18 at Ballymore Stadium in Brisbane. The USA lost both subsequent matches; 47-12 against the Wallabies and 34-6 against the English. The USA finished 3rd in the pool, but out of contention of the finals. The Eagles first met Wales at Cardiff in November 1987. Wales, fresh from finishing third in the inaugural World Cup, enjoyed a 46-0 win.

The 1990sEdit

The USA qualified for the 1991 Rugby World Cup in the United Kingdom, making their way through a qualifying tournament, and pooled with World Champions New Zealand, hosts England and Italy in a very tough group. In their first match of the tournament at Otley, Italy defeated them 30-9. At Gloucester, New Zealand defeated them 46-6 but still USA's captain Mark Sawicki had some knock out hits as usual removing 3 of the All Blacks's players during the match. New Zealand hosts England won 37-9 at Twickenham. The USA finished fourth in the pool.

The USA defeated Bermuda 60-3 in round one of the Americas qualifying tournament for the 1995 Rugby World Cup to advance to round two. Although close games, Argentina defeated the Eagles twice in the series to qualify and leave the USA behind. The Eagles went close to beating a major nation at rugby union match against Australia at Riverside in 1994 when USA lost 22-26.

The Eagles, having missed out on South Africa 1995, set out to qualify for the 1999 Rugby World Cup in Wales. In round four of the Americas tournament in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the United States did not get off to an ideal start, losing 52-24 to Argentina and 31-14 to Canada. They defeated Uruguay 21-16 in their last game to qualify for the 1999 tournament.

The Eagles were in pool E, alongside Australia, Ireland and Romania. In their first game of the tournament, the USA went down 53-8 in Dublin to Ireland. They were unlucky not to win the Romania encounter, with Romania winning 27-25. Australia defeated the Eagles 55-19 in their final game of the tournament, seeing the Eagles finish fourth in the pool. The Eagles, however, had the distinguished honour of being the only side to manage to score a try against the eventual champions, Australia, during the entire tournamnet.

The 2000sEdit

The Eagles qualified for the 2003 Rugby World Cup by beating Spain twice in April followed by victories over Japan and Canada. This was the first time the Eagles had won four consecutive tests since making their international debut in 1976. The Eagles finished fourth of five in their pool. In the first match against Fiji, an upset was brewing. The Americans were leading 6-3 at the half, then 13-3 minutes into the second half. Fiji eventually regained the lead, but with a try at the death, the Americans trailed by a point at 19-18 with the conversion kick to come. Unfortunately Mike Hercus was unable to convert and the Eagles suffered their ninth consecutive World Cup loss. The streak ended however after the Americans defeated the Japanese, as they did in their only other World Cup victory in 1987.

The Super Powers Cup was first contested in 2003 between Japan, Russia and the United States. For the 2004 Super Powers Cup with the addition of Canada. The USA beat Russia in the third-place play-off. The 2005 Super Cup took part between the USA, Canada, Japan and Romania. The USA lost 30-26 to Canada but beat a Romanian team stripped of their France-based players 23-16 in the third place play-off.

The USA began their campaign to qualify for the 2007 Rugby World Cup in France during July 2006, in Round 3b of the Americas tournaments, pooled with Canada and Barbados. The USA defeated Barbados 91-0 in their first game, but lost 56-7 to the Canadians in the last pool game, sending Canada through, and relegating the USA to a home/away play-off with Uruguay. The USA came from behind to defeat Uruguay 42-13 in Montevideo in the first match. Winning the second 26-7 sent them through to the World Cup. They qualified as Americas 3, joining England, Samoa, South Africa and Tonga in Pool A.

In the 4th round, the Eagles, ranked 13th in the world standings, lost all 4 games in Pool A, scoring 1 pool point in the game against Samoa. Coached by Peter Thorburn (a New Zealander who recently was the coach for the New Zealand provincial team North Harbour), the Eagles started off with tough match against the defending world champions England, losing 28-10. Following this loss, the US was beaten by Tonga 25-15, losing to Samoa 25 - 21 and finally to highly favored South Africa 64 - 15. The Eagles, however, had one major highlight in the South Africa match. After an interception and a pair of passes, Takudzwa Ngwenya sped down the sideline and outran Bryan Habana, arguably the fastest man in world rugby, to score a try that received Try of the Year honors at the 2007 IRB Awards. On March 5 2009 Eddie O'Sullivan was named the new national coach.[5]

Players Edit

Recent callupsEdit

2007 World Cup squadEdit

Forwards: Mike MacDonald, Matekitonga Moeakiola, Chris Osentowski, John Vitale, Blake Burdette, Owen Lentz, Luke Gross, Mike Mangan, Hayden Mexted, Alec Parker, Inaki Basauri, Mark Aylor, Tasi Mounga, Todd Clever, Dan Payne, Louis Stanfill, Henry Bloomfield

Backs: Chad Erskine, Mike Petri, Mike Hercus, Valenese Malifa, Phillip Eloff, Vaha Esikia, Thretton Palamo, Albert Tuipulotu, Paul Emerick, Takudzwa Ngwenya, Salesi Sika, Chris Wyles, Francois Viljoen

Head Coach: Peter Thorburn

Notable past playersEdit


World CupEdit

  • 1987 - One win, third in pool.
  • 1991 - Zero wins, fourth in pool.
  • 1995 - Did not qualify.
  • 1999 - Zero wins, fourth in pool.
  • 2003 - One win, fourth in pool.
  • 2007 - Zero wins, one bonus point, fifth in Pool A.

Women's National TeamEdit

The U.S. Women's National Team, officially formed in 1987, has been an international powerhouse since its inception. The Eagles won the first official World Cup in 1991, and finished second in the two following World Cups (1994, 1998). The Eagles have set the standard for international competition, leading an ensuing wave of women's rugby growth and game development worldwide.

The last Women's Rugby World Cup was in August/September 2006 in Edmonton, Canada. Despite finishing 7th in the 2002 tournament, the USA was actually seeded 6th. They were bumped up ahead of Australia, who beat the USA in the 2002 tournament 17-5, because Australia hadn't played any international matches since the last World Cup.

The USA Rugby Women’s National Team had its first test matches in over a year when the Women Eagles traveled to the United Kingdom in January 2006 to play Scotland (Jan. 21), Ireland (Jan. 25) and England (Jan. 29). The team won all three games. The Eagles’ travel squad includes 30 players, including 19-capped veterans.

See alsoEdit

External linksEdit

Notes and referencesEdit

  1. Men's National Team Player Profile – Luke Gross. USA Rugby (2008-01-15).
  3. A.A.U. to pay expenses of Rugby Team to Olympics, N.Y. Times, June 4, 1920
  4. U.S. Team is Hissed by French When it Wins Olympic Title, N.T. Times, May 19, 1924

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