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A winless World Cup is staring the United States National Team in the face at the moment, despite the fact that talk leading into the quadrennial tournament was of winning two games for the first time ever.
Still on the slate for the Eagles are South Africa Oct. 7 in London and Japan Oct. 11 in Gloucester. The South Africa match is a foregone conclusion, and the Japan tilt represents the last realistic chance for the Eagles to earn a dub this go-around. The USA did beat Japan in the Pacific Nations Cup this summer, but the Japanese lineup will likely be quite different in Gloucester, and the Cherry Blossoms will have more to play for than the USA.
Historically speaking, either result shouldn’t be considered overly significant. Going winless in 2015 would be an awful lot like doing so in 1991, 1999 or 2007. Beating Japan would put the current Eagles in the same company as their 2011, 2003 and 1987 counterparts, all of whom garnered a sole win. The ’03 and ’87 teams also beat Japan.
The Eagles have been competitive recently, leading Scotland at halftime Sunday and trailing Australia by just four at halftime of the last World Cup warm-up. But they’ve been competitive with top tier teams in years, prior.
In 2011, they trailed Italy by just 10 at halftime and Ireland by just seven in the second half. In 2007 the USA was narrowly nipped by Samoa, like this year, and the Eagles had their closest ever game with England – a 28-10 loss. In 2003, the Eagles lost by one to Fiji, reminiscent of this year’s Samoa game, and they lost 39-15 to Scotland – a result one point off Sunday’s 39-16 loss to the Scots.
The point is, in the world of test rugby, the United States seems to neither be gaining much ground nor losing it. Despite international rugby press getting remotely interested in American rugby again, like they seem to every four years or so, evidenced by articles about the waking giant, the USA is pretty much stagnant.
When America’s World Cup concludes in a little under two weeks, another generation of Eagles will look to retirement, and, if history tells us anything, the coaching staff will be reshuffled, too.
Of the five who’ve coached the Eagles through a World Cup, only Tom Billups has stuck with the team the year following. Eddie O’Sullivan exited right after the 2011 RWC, Peter Thorburn immediately following the 2007 tournament, Jack Clark after the 1999 RWC and Ron Mayes after the inaugural competition in 1987.
So another RWC cycle will have come and gone, another generation of players, and likely another coaching era, with no tangible improvement on the game’s biggest stage.