Picture: 123RF/RADUTUTA
Picture: 123RF/RADUTUTA

Fukuoka — US coach Gary Gold believes American rugby is starting out on the same track that delivered Japan respect from global rugby’s powers and has tipped the Eagles to reach the knockout rounds within two World Cups.

The US were thrashed 45-7 by Eddie Jones’s England in a poor opener in Japan last week but will aim to redeem themselves in the eyes of fans when they take on three-times runners-up France in Fukuoka on Wednesday.

The England match suggested the Americans have some way to go to bridge the gap with the tier one elite, but Gold believes the dividends from domestic investments in Major League Rugby (MLR) will be clear by the next World Cup in France in 2023.

“I see so many similarities in the States as to what’s happened with the game in Japan,”  Gold, a South African who has coached in both countries, said on Tuesday.

“We see how far they’ve come. The [Japanese] companies brought big-name foreigners into the game and it became really serious about 10 years ago.

“Major League Rugby has had a huge difference. I do believe the US will be in a position to compete for a knockout position [by 2027].”

Japan upset Ireland 19-12 in their second pool game last week, four years after pulling off the “miracle of Brighton” with victory over the Springboks at the 2015 World Cup.

Gold, who coached the Kobelco Steelers in Japan’s top flight club competition in 2014-2015, can glimpse a not-so-distant future when a US team can fell one of the heavyweights.

That vision seemed initially remote when he began working with the Eagles in November 2017 and was surprised to find half his squad members had not picked up a rugby ball for five months.

But now almost all of his players have joined the professional ranks with the 2018 launch of MLR, which is set to expand from nine to 12 teams in 2020. A number of the clubs plan to develop youth academies to foster local talent and provide opportunities that were not available to senior Eagles players such as 32-year-old Californian prop Eric Fry, who criss-crossed the globe to pursue his passion.

“Over a very short period of time, the next three or four years, youngsters are going to be able to start going to the academies where there was nothing before,” Gold said. “Over a four-year [World Cup] cycle, that bodes very well.”

The US have already become a genuine power in the sevens format, with the Americans finishing second behind champions Fiji in the 2018/2019 world series.

Southern hemisphere rugby power brokers have been talking of bringing the US into an expanded Rugby Championship for a number of years, joining New Zealand, SA, Australia and Argentina.

An even bigger boost might be hosting the World Cup, which Gold sees as a genuine prospect for the US in 2027. Detractors say the US has not earned the right through their performances to date, and they have only won three times in the history of the global showpiece since 1987.

Gold is having none of it, saying a successful bid would energise the nation and secure resources to enable the improvement that Japan displayed since winning the 2019 hosting rights.

Americans, after all, are quick learners, added Gold, as evidenced by the rapid growth of soccer in the country after the country won the bid for the 1994 World Cup finals.

“A lot of people are under the impression that the game has to get better before you earn the right to have it, but that wasn’t the case in 1994,” he said. “That brought exposure to the game and it ended up growing for boys and girls. I think the Rugby World Cup can do exactly the same for the game in the States.”

Reuters