Irish-influenced USA take on Schmidt's side from best-ever world ranking of 13th

The Eagles have won 10 of their 11 games so far this year.

WHILE THE US Eagles’ historic win over Scotland in June brought them deserved attention, they have otherwise been going under the radar in putting together an excellent 2018.

Although Gary Gold’s side lost to the Māori All Blacks in Chicago three weekends ago, they have won all 10 of their other games this year, including a ‘Grand Slam’ of the Americas Rugby Championship in February and March. 

TX: Rugby 2018 - USA vs Scotland Men's Rugby USA supporters celebrate their June win over Scotland. Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

It would be a major shock if they beat Ireland on Saturday, of course, but it is positive for rugby that the US are making steady progress and now find themselves in a best-ever World Rugby ranking of 13th.

Victories against Samoa in San Sebastián and Romania in Bucharest over the past fortnight have shifted them to that new height but there is a determination within Gold’s squad to maintain the upward curve.

There is a strong Irish influence within the US squad, with former Ireland Women and St. Michael’s coach Greg McWilliams leading their attack, while Ireland natives John Quill, Dylan Fawsitt and Paul Mullen are part of the squad.

“I forgot how wet it is here all of the time!” said Youghal man Quill at the Eagles’ team hotel in Killiney yesterday. “It’s different to California and Colorado but it’s nice to be back and I’m looking forward to my family being at the game.”

The US were missing a chunk of their leading players for the Māori clash at the start of this month, but with those men back in harness for the 30-29 win over Samoa and last weekend’s 31-5 victory over Romania, Gold’s side have shown what they’re capable of.

“We got the result we were looking for against Samoa even if we probably didn’t perform the way we wanted to,” said Quill. “That’s the problem when you’re looking for cohesion and you only have a week after all the guys came back in.

“We kicked on at the weekend against Romania. We don’t miss being in Romania, that’s for sure. It’s not easy and they don’t make it easy for you! We got the result and we’re moving in the direction we want to go.

“It’s a massive ask this weekend against Ireland. It’s a changed squad obviously, but it’s something we’re looking forward to.”

John Quill Youghal man John Quill at the USA team hotel in Killiney. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

Quill, a former Ireland underage international and Munster A player, is set to play against a number of “familiar faces” this weekend, including fellow Dolphin RFC man Niall Scannell.

The home supporters are perhaps less likely to be familiar with this USA team that Argentina and the All Blacks, although there are quality players throughout even in the injury-enforced absence of AJ MacGinty.

Number eight Cam Dolan, formerly of Cardiff Blues, has been in fine form, while Samu Manoa – currently with Cardiff Blues – makes a return to the Eagles’ bench this weekend. 

Meanwhile, powerful centre Paul Lasike is a huge threat in midfield.

The New Zealand native spent two seasons with NFL outfit Chicago Bears, having initially moved to the US on a rugby scholarship before a switch into American football that led to 10 appearances for the Bears in 2016.

He switched back to rugby in 2017, however, and has been fast-tracked into the US set-up, showing his class this year and earning a move to English Premiership side Harlequins.

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“Paul has been a missing piece for USA Rugby for while, that kind of centre with experience in New Zealand and just his stature, his physical nature,” said Quill.

“He’s playing in the Premiership now obviously and he’s just a piece of the puzzle that, for a long time, we’ve missed. We’re able to build on that and add it to our repertoire.”

Paul Lasike Centre Paul Lasike is a danger man for the US. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Ireland’s midfield will need to be wary, but Joe Schmidt’s team will be strong favourites to wrap up their November series with a fourth win from four.

The Eagles, for their part, are out to cause an upset in what is an ideal way to finish a superb 2018.

“Just staying in the fight,” said Quill when asked what the US need to do to compete with Ireland.

“With these guys, you see them put phase after phase after phase together and they don’t cough up ball easily. That’s in their DNA, they like to keep ball, keep pressure on. It’s that type of thing, playing for 80 minutes.

“We’re not going to have a minute off this weekend if we want to be in with any shout of getting a result.

“It’s not a bad way to cap the year off. It’s a challenge we want to get on every tour. The fact that it comes on the end of the year is a decent time for us to measure ourselves up a little bit.”

Further down the line, the US will have a demanding challenge at next year’s World Cup, with England, France, Argentina and Tonga awaiting in Pool C.

But after hitting 13th in the world, Quill and co. are determined to continue their rise.

“That’s a milestone for us,” said the Cork man. “It’s a place where we feel we deserve to be and have deserved to be for a while.

“It’s something we want to keep growing and we have higher targets.”

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Murray Kinsella

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