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Well, Saturday’s almost here. The most anticipated game in American rugby history is hours from kickoff, and everyone from Charleston to Chuckanut and Watertown to West Texas who’s heard the word ruck before, is giddy.
The All Blacks are stoked to play in an NFL stadium on American soil in front of a largely new television audience. For USA rugby, this is a massive opportunity to pry open doors and create opportunities. American fans are thrilled to be surrounded by 61,499 likeminded people watching the sport they love get major league treatment. And the Eagles, they’re champing at the bit to play that team in black.
“I think any athlete in any sport wants to play against the best, and we have an opportunity to do that Saturday, and I think that’s more than anything else, the challenge I really look forward to – competing against the best in the world and some of the best players in the world,” said Blaine Scully, who’ll start on the wing for USA.
“And to do that at home in front of 62,000 and have it nationally televised is all well and good, but to me as a competitor, you step in between the white lines and get an opportunity to play the best, that’s what it’s all about.”
The Eagles aren’t supposed to win. Overseas sports books have made them 59-point underdogs. New Zealand is the best team in the world, and the USA is ranked 18th. But the final score line isn’t a focus for the Eagles as they approach Saturday’s clash. Head coach Mike Tolkin has instead spliced the game into smaller parts, and he’s asking players to focus on the individual battles.
“We’re looking at smaller tasks, more roles and what you can do in different moments,” said USA flyhalf Adam Siddall. “If things don’t necessarily go well, we move onto the next task and look at the next little moment.”
“Winning is just an outcome of having a really good process and being really good at the things you set out to do,” added Scully. “If you perform well in all your areas of focus and you’re accurate and you execute and you have the right game plan, the score should take care of itself. I really think that’s something we’re going to focus on. We’re going to focus on our own performance, individually and collectively, and that will hopefully translate to a good result on the scoreboard.”
That’s what the Eagles did against the Maori All Blacks last fall in a game that was much closer than anyone anticipated. It’s what they did against Ireland on Sept. 11, 2011, when they earned the world’s respect. It’s what they seemingly did against South Africa in 2001, when they trailed the mighty Springboks by just a try at halftime.
“That was a huge occasion playing Ireland in 2011, and it had a lot of significance. I think we’re in a similar situation, and myself and a few others who’ve been around the team for a while have had these big games, and we’ve always showed up well in the sense that we’ve been prepared for the physical battle and we’ve been prepared for these big teams,” said Chris Wyles, USA’s veteran fullback.
“I think we can draw on that experience. I think that, as a unit, we can draw from the crowd. We can draw from the big hits that we’re going to put in, and at the end of the day, I think if we show that determination, we show that heart and attitude, the crowd will get behind us and we’ll put in a good performance.”