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Whatever pre-tournament hopes the USA had prior to the 1999 Rugby World Cup in Ireland, the cold-water splash of reality squarely doused the Eagles’ expectations. The team then was filled with amateurs, Dan Lyle, the prominent exception, playing against two opponents (Ireland and Australia) comprised of top team world professionals.
The Eagles lost to Ireland 53-8, Romania 27-25, and, finally, Australia 55-19, to end up 0-3 in Pool E. Six Pools in the 1999 RWC produced eight quarter final spots, different from modern era RWCs of four pools of five teams each.
In the opening round, the USA lost to host Ireland in Dublin in front of a home town crowd of 30,000 inside Lansdowne Road. The Irish forged to a 10-0 lead before USA scrumhalf Kevin Dalzell picked up a knock-on ball and went in for the try. That represented the USA’s only points until Dalzell notched a penalty to make the score Ireland 17-8. From that moment on, it was all Ireland for the rest of the match. Irish hooker, Kevin Wood, established a world record, scoring four tries, three in the last fifteen minutes.
The only contest that afforded the USA a winning opportunity, against Romania, ended with a disappointing defeat 27-25 in the second round. The Eagles had never lost to the Oaks before. The game was also at Lansdowne Road with but a scant attendance of 5,000 attending. The USA made it 10-5 on a try by Lyle, who separated his shoulder and left the game. Romania seized a 22-17 lead, expanding it to 27-17. The Eagles managed to erase the deficit, but time ran out and Romania prevailed 27-25.
The finale was against Australia (who would win this 1999 RWC against France) in Limerick’s Thormond Park stadium with a crowd of 14,000. Of note, the USA were the first fifteen to score a try against the Wallabies. Australian experience and stamina proved too much for the Eagles, the Wallabies triumphing 55-19.
Of note, many current USA rugby names played or coached in the 1999 RWC: Jack Clark, Tom Billups, Dan Lyle, David Niu, Dave Hodges, and Brian Hightower.