The United States secured a rare, but well-deserved Rugby World Cup victory last week in their second Pool C match against Russia.
So it’s a bit of a head-scratcher that U.S. coach Eddie O’Sullivan is opting to make a whopping 14 changes to his lineup ahead of Friday’s matchup with Australia — particularly following a seven-day layoff.
Among the substitutions, O’Sullivan named Australian-born scrum-half Tim Usasz captain over Todd Clever, who was cleared of a dangerous tackle during the Russia match. Only one player — lock Hayden Smith, another native Australian and former professional basketball player — will lineup in the same spot when the Eagles take on the Wallabies in a crucial Pool C match in Wellington.
While the Americans are looking to build on their win with a strong showing against one of the world’s most dominant sides, Australia will be looking to shake off the frustration of its 15-6 loss to Ireland last Saturday.
“I have no doubt the intent of Australia against us will be to lay down a marker again to ensure they’re back on track,” O’Sullivan said. “But that’s all about Australia, that’s nothing we can concern ourselves with.”
The Eagles will be focused on once again proving they can hang with the so-called “Tier One” nations. Their 22-10 defeat to the Irish in their Cup opener was a promising sign of progress and a close match against the fired-up Aussies would be allow them to maintain momentum heading into the Pool C finale against Italy on Tuesday.
Should the standings hold — meaning Ireland would win the group and Australia would finish second — the Wallabies would be matched up with defending champions and Tri Nations rivals South Africa in a blockbuster semifinal.
The Americans know Australia will show no mercy on them if they jump out to an early lead — see South Africa’s 87-0 rout of Namibia on Thursday — but if they can make it a game, it would do wonders for the growing confidence of a team on the rise.
“We set that up against Ireland. That was our starting point,” O’Sullivan said. “Australia are a Tier One nation and they’ll come out of the blocks and throw the kitchen sink at us ... and we just have to stay in the game until the last quarter and give ourselves a shot. That’s always the case when you’re boxing outside your weight category.”
• Watch Friday’s match live at 4:30 a.m. on Universal Sports.
The U.S. has another quick turnaround before the Italy match, but no Americans have come out with serious criticism of the schedule — which can’t be said for Samoan Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu.
On his Twitter feed, Fuimaono-Sapolu sounded off about the three days his side had between matches against Namibia and Wales, while the Welsh enjoyed a full week of rest. Wales won the crucial Pool D match 17-10 on Sunday to secure a spot in the quarterfinals.
In a series of tweets, Fuimaono-Sapolu said the unbalanced schedule created by the International Rugby Board was “unfair treatment, like slavery, like the holocaust, like apartheid.”
While Samoa’s four pool matches were packed into 16 days — like the United States — South Africa had 19 days to compete it’s round-robin and Wales was given 21.