After scaring Ireland, overpowering Russia, and witnessing Australia’s Eden Park curse continue with a loss to the Irish on Saturday night, the USA Eagles are dreaming of a quarter-finals spot at Rugby World Cup 2011.
“It’s not impossible, is it?” USA captain Todd Clever said after Ireland's 15-6 win over the Wallabies in Auckland.
“I was going through some scenarios in my head, but I am not going to jump to the quarter-finals just yet," added the openside flanker. "Australia are one of the top sides in the world. You can’t take anything away from that just based on one performance.
“In saying that, Samoa beat them (32-23 in a Test match on 17 July in Sydney) earlier when they didn’t put their strongest side out. (So) anything could happen and the boys will train hard and prepare best for that game.”
USA are third in Pool C with four points after one win and one loss, but Clever rejects any suggestion this is as good as it will get for the 18th-ranked Eagles.
“We don’t want to say our campaign is good because we won one game,” said the 28-year-old. “We came in not just wanting to win one game, we wanted to improve throughout the tournament.”
“In the second half of the pool stage, we want to keep going strong and hopefully get another win.”
At training on Sunday, a relaxed USA head coach Eddie O’Sullivan said the Eagles’ campaign had been a success so far, on and off the field.
The Americans have been popular visitors to the North Island towns of Whanganui and New Plymouth, and Irishman O’Sullivan says his players have been reminded of how important rugby is to New Zealanders.
“The public reaction has been extraordinary, and that’s something that a lot of our guys wouldn’t have experienced before and it’s something I was anxious that they would experience,” he said.
“On the bus ride up from Whanganui to New Plymouth, we passed a school (Hawera High School). All the kids were our waving US flags," added O'Sullivan. "That blew a lot of guys away. We didn’t even get to stop at that school, but it really was extraordinary that this school took the time to come out of class and wait for the bus to pass.
“That was fantastic. These kids didn’t even get to meet the team, but they wanted to be out to welcome us through their town, even if it was at 30 miles an hour.
“They’re the things that really strike home to you how much rugby is part of the fabric of society here and I wanted our guys to experience that.”
The most straightforward way for the Eagles to make it past the pool stage, of course, is to beat Australia and Italy.
A close loss to the Wallabies would not destroy all hopes, but the Eagles’ chances of advancing to the knockout stages would then depend on Russia beating the Australians by more than seven points and conceding less than four tries.
That is an unlikely scenario, but such is the belief in this team O’Sullivan has not given up hope.
“We’ve got two tough games coming up,” he said. (But) we’re not going to roll over and play dead.”
USA take on Australia in Wellington on 23 September, before facing Italy in Nelson on 27 September.