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Tuesday brings the most important USA match of the year, and possibly one of the most important in the history of American rugby.
That’s a bold statement, and indeed one that’s difficult to quantify. The USA’s World Cup qualifier series against Canada were the most important games, until they lost the series on points difference and had to play Uruguay. Then that series was the most important.
So, yes, the stakes have been higher when the Eagles have been in danger of not qualifying for the World Cup at all.
In the World Cup, every game is important, but never this late has the United States been playing for anything but pride. In fact, in the previous five World Cups, the United States has always ended the tournament against a major rugby nation (in order: England, England, Australia, France and South Africa).
In every World Cup, the tournament has been about playing well enough for pride; about getting a pat on the back.
This time, the Eagles and Italy play off for a prize. It’s a small prize by world standards, but it’s a prize nonetheless. The winner will guarantee an invitation to the 2015 World Cup.
For the United States, that could be a huge step forward. But more than that, it simply means the USA is playing for something in their final match – something attainable.
In what could well be his final match at USA Head Coach, then, Eddie O’Sullivan has a chance to leave an impressive legacy.
"I'm not saying we'll beat Italy, that'd be an arrogant thing to say, but I think we can test Italy and see what they've got,” O’Sullivan said after announcing he would retain the starting lineup that beat Russia ten days ago. "We know we're on the flight home on Wednesday morning so if we can turn in another big performance against a tier one nation, as we did against Ireland, that'd be a perfect way for us to finish our World Cup."
In a way, it’s already a fantastic finish, because the USA isn’t just playing out the string. They can beat Italy – they never have and aren’t favored, but they can do it – and if they do, they won’t have won the World Cup, but they will have won something.