Eagles leave with pride intact

Date published: September 28 2011

Despite their 27-10 defeat to Italy, USA will bow out of the Rugby World Cup with their heads held high after a gritty performance.

Despite their 27-10 defeat to Italy, USA will bow out of the Rugby World Cup with their heads held high after a gritty performance.

USA won just one of their matches at the tournament, a 13-6 victory over Russia, but like their opening 22-10 defeat to Ireland, the Eagles gave a spirited display against Italy.

Although Italy dominated up front, USA kept them out with resilient defence and on three occasions they denied the Azzurri from scoring a try with the assistance of the television match official.

Captain Todd Clever said he was proud of his side's performance.

“We gave it all we had. At the end, it wasn't enough against a strong Italian side,” he said.

“I'm just super proud of the guys. We played for each other. We played for the fans and we played for all the Americans back home. We're going to be a great team in the near future,” Clever added.

The World Cup started on an emotional note for the Americans.

Two days after the tournament opened, all 30 players in the squad attended a memorial service to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the September 11 terror attacks.

The players, all wearing their formal gray suits with red-white-and-blue ties, then filed out of a church in New Plymouth to prepare for their opening match against Ireland.

“We went there this morning in our number one suits. It meant a lot for the boys, it hit home,” Clever said at the time. “We are going out, we are playing a game today, and some people lost their lives,” in the attacks.

“They would do anything to be in our shoes, so we played for them.”

There was no single sparkling American moment at the World Cup to match Takudzwa Ngwenya's try against South Africa in 2007, the winger finishing the length-of-the-field team move by beating Springboks speedster Bryan Habana for pace in what was the try of the event.

But there were some standout individual performers.

None better than Clever, the first American to ever play in the Super 14 and whose aggression and inspirational leadership from the openside flank was as strikingly obvious as the long-haired ponytail he sports.

Lock Hayden Smith was the only American to play every match and formed a solid line-out partnership with John van der Giessen, the team winning half the throws of Italy's much-respected line-out and the same percentage against Russia.

Loosehead prop Mike MacDonald set two American marks at the tournament, passing Luke Gross to become the test record-holder with 65 caps and eclipsing Alec Parker with his 11th World Cup match in which he performed so well he drew exasperated praise from Italy's coach.