“Our hopes are simply to win one or two matches. Of our opponents in the pool — England, France, Argentina and Tonga — I realistically think we can beat Tonga,” a U.S. fan named Brendan Carey wrote in the Guardian. “Tonga is the game we are setting our sights on.”
“They should provide stiff [competition] for their opposition and maybe even sneak a win against the Tongans,” Ludumo Nkabi wrote at the South African.
“A win against Tonga in their final Pool C match would constitute a successful tournament for U.S. coach Gary Gold’s side,” Reuters noted.
There’s ample reason for the less-than-elevated hopes. Joining the Americans and their possible conquests from Polynesia in Pool C are England (No. 3 in the world rankings, 2003 World Cup champion, three-time finalist), France (No. 8, three-time runner-up) and Argentina (No. 11, fourth at the 2015 World Cup).
The Americans enter the tournament ranked 13th in the world (two spots ahead of Tonga). In seven previous World Cup appearances, they have won a grand total of three matches out of 25 played.
Along with that maybe-win over Tonga, most predictions also note that the Eagles are a team on the rise, thanks in part to the growth of rugby sevens — a version of the sport that features seven players per side playing seven-minute halves instead of 15 players per side playing 40-minute halves, as is the case at the World Cup — and the start of the Major League Rugby professional league in 2018.
U.S. rugby “is no longer a sleeping giant, as everyone wants to call it. It’s woken up and it’s happening — I think it’s just going through breakfast at the moment,” hooker James Hilterbrand said at a news conference this month. “We’re not some subservient rugby nation that doesn’t deserve to be on the pitch and can’t win.
“People genuinely now have a winning attitude, and we know and we believe that we can win.”
Wrote Ben Mercer in Talking Rugby Union, “I feel like this is a tournament too soon for the USA to really cause an upset but they’ll be hoping to take a pool game victory, learn from the tournament and come again in four years time.”
Here are a few more things to know as the Rugby World Cup gets going
NBC Sports Network will televise all four of Team USA’s pool-stage matches (all times Eastern):
Sept. 26: United States vs. England in Kobe, 6:45 a.m.
Oct. 2: United States vs. France in Fukuoka, 3:35 a.m.
Oct. 9: United States vs. Argentina in Kumagaya, 12:45 a.m.
Oct. 13: United States vs. Tonga in Higashiosaka, 1:45 a.m.
Over the course of the tournament, NBC Sports Network will televise 26 of the 48 matches, streaming them with authentication on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports App. The entire tournament will be streamed live via the NBC Sports Gold Rugby World Cup online package, which costs $199 for the tournament or $29.99 per match.
The 20 teams have been split into four pools.
Pool A: Japan, Ireland, Scotland, Samoa, Russia
Pool B: New Zealand, South Africa, Italy, Namibia, Canada
Pool C: United States, England, France, Argentina, Tonga
Pool D: Australia, Wales, Georgia, Fiji, Uruguay
Each team will play one match against the other teams in its pool. Teams get four points for a win, two for a draw and none for a loss of eight points or more. Teams that lose by less than eight points get one point. Plus, any team that scores four or more tries in a match gets one bonus point, win or lose.
The top two teams in each pool, based on points accrued, advance to the single-elimination knockout stage. The quarterfinals begin Oct. 19, the semifinals are Oct. 26-27, the third-place match is Nov. 1 and the final is Nov. 2 in Yokohama.
South Africa, England 4/1
United States, Canada 2,000/1
Uruguay, Namibia, Russia 5,000/1
Finally, what team is Tom Brady supporting?
That would be South Africa, a.k.a. the Springboks.