9/11/2011 – Ten years to the day that the world changed forever. A very poignant and sombre day which saw nations around the globe pause for reflection. The U.S. Eagles rugby team, led by captain, Todd Clever, attended a special commemorative service in New Plymouth before their opening World Cup game against Ireland.
Following an incredibly emotional day for United States rugby team last Sunday, I caught up with the Eagles’ most capped player ever, Mike MacDonald, who is playing in his third World Cup.
LOC – Congratulations on becoming the most experienced U.S. rugby player. An incredible achievement! It must have been tough for the you and the squad to control your feelings on such an emotional day?
MACDONALD – Thank you. Yeah, with the day that was in it, the anniversary of 9/11 and the fact that it was our first game of the World Cup all contributed to it being a very memorable day, to say the least! It was a very special day for me personally and everyone involved with the squad.
It was tough keeping all the emotions in check but the Eagles management did a great job in preparing us for the day. We were given our game day schedule well in advance and we spoke as a squad about channelling our emotions and not letting the occasion get the better of us. There were a couple of times, just before kick off and at half time, where emotions were boiling up to that crucial point, but the guys all did really well to keep control and I think it showed in the game.
LOC – U.S.A. is ranked 10 places below Ireland in the I.R.B. rankings. How do you feel the team performed against the Irish?
MACDONALD – It was a tough game. Ireland are one of the best rugby teams in the world. We knew they were going to be very physical so we knew we had to at least match them in that department. In open play we defended very well and we won a few of the physical battles. Unfortunately we did not execute our set piece plays as well as we would have liked. Ireland definitely got the upper hand on us there but we have watched the video of the game and examined the technical aspects of our scrums and lineouts. We set ourselves probably a little too high against Ireland at scrum time. It is something we have addressed. Today we hit the scrum machine, worked on correcting a few of our shortcomings and now we are looking forward to the Russia game.
It is very reassuring to now know that we can compete against a world class side like Ireland. For 80 minutes we did not shy away from the task at hand. Even though it is disappointing that we didn’t play to our full potential, we still showed a little of what we can do. Our defence was very strong for the most part and there were times where we had Ireland worried. Our outhalf, Roland Suniula kicked well all day and put the pressure on Ireland at times. We just need to make sure that we capitalize on that pressure in the future more often. Against Ireland we felt the we let them off the hook on a couple of occasions through our own mental mistakes in our set pieces.
LOC – How is the mood in the camp
MACDONALD – Good, but the management are not letting us get too excited. Coach Eddie O’Sullivan had a chat with us during training, to make sure we are all focused on the next game. We certainly don’t want a repeat of 2003 where we played really well against Fiji but lost by a single point in the last kick of the game. There was perhaps too much elation within the squad after that performance. We believed the hype and a few days later, against Scotland, we ended up getting beaten badly and brought back to earth with a bump! Thankfully we have learned from that experience and there is not that same attitude this time round. We are just really looking forward to the Russia game now.
LOC – Russia will kick off their first game of the tournament against you on Wednesday. What are you expecting?
MACDONALD – We are expecting a huge game. We have played them twice over the past two years in the Churchill Cup. The Russian squad have been together for a long time and they will be gunning for us. This will be their first game of the competition, so they will be fresh and very eager to get stuck into us. Much like the Irish game, it’s going to be hugely physical. Whatever the Russians may be lacking in finesse, they make up for it in courage, physicality and aggression.
This game could make or break us or Russia for that matter. Both teams are pinpointing this game as the game to win. We are very well aware of the job in hand. It’s going to be a huge game!
LOC – We are very much looking forward to it. Has there been a lot of U.S. support in New Zealand?
MACDONALD – It has been incredible. We had a chance to get out of our hotel and walk around town yesterday. There was nothing but red, white and blue flags everywhere. In the stores, on awnings and all over the streets. Amazing scenes. The support in general has been overwhelming. Fans of all the rugby nations are obviously here to support their own teams but the fans are supporting everyone. They just want to see good rugby and cheer the teams on. It is a great experience and one which we will hopefully be around to enjoy for as long as possible…..