By Nick Mulvenney
TOKYO (Reuters) – The United States finished the Rugby World Cup without a single point but there is optimism that a young squad will have been improved by the experience and that a paradigm shift in the game in North America could be only eight years away.
The Eagles’ last Pool C match against Tonga on Sunday was their best chance of coming up with the single victory that distinguished their 1987, 2003 and 2011 campaigns.
Although they got close towards the end of the Osaka clash with a typically fighting performance studded with a couple of well-worked tries, they ultimately ended up as winless as they were in 1991, 1999, 2007 and 2015.
Captain Blaine Scully was left hoping the lessons learned from defeats to top-tier nations England, France and Argentina would prove beneficial for the many players in the squad who will be hoping to be at the next World Cup in France in 2023.
“All we can really do is squeeze every ounce of learning out of this experience. Hopefully, that can catapult the team for the next four years in the cycle,” he said.
“(We can) continue to start from a place where we now know as a group – because there’s a lot of people who will be a part of this team moving forward – just how hard it is and what it looks like to be at the top one per cent of the game.”
Eagles coach Gary Gold was also optimistic about the educational impact of the tournament.
“It’s been excellent, I think after the disappointment has died down we’ll reflect and we’ll have learned a lot of lessons,” the South African said.
“I’m unbelievably excited about the future, particularly with the Major League Rugby (MLR) competition that has now started. It has had a significant effect on the environment around our team.”
MLR will expand to 12 teams for the third season of professional rugby in North America next year and hopes are high it could have a long-term impact similar to that of Japan’s Top League.
Gold, who coached Top League side the Kobelco Steelers in 2014-15, added that if the United States were to host the 2027 Rugby World Cup it would transform the sport in North America.
“The minute it was announced that Japan was going to get a World Cup, the game has changed tremendously in this country,” he said on Sunday.
“This whole event has just been fantastic and I think we would be able to do a very similar job, and it would have the same effect on our game as well.”
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)