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Not a New Dawn, but Nice Anyway

Monday Jun 1, 2009 in Columns Eagle Eye

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(Go Team. Dobson Images)

June 1, 2009 – Picture it - USA against a top national team, a big crowd, a new coach's first game, TV coverage, and a late try to reward the Eagles for all their hard work.

Sunday? Well, yes, but it could also have been December 1, 2001, USA v. South Africa. Remember that? The first game for college coach Tom Billups. Halftime ends 20-15 South Africa. 16,000 fans in Houston.

Fans left thinking this was a new era - big events, scaring the top teams, and taking some kind of giant leap forward.

Well it didn't quite happen that way. After that South Africa game it was a long, hard slog for the USA to really get good – another 13 months, really. And no American rugby event until the USA 7s in San Diego matched those attendance numbers. It wasn’t much later that the Eagles were playing in front of 1,200 on their own soil.

So when we look at Sunday’s test, and say the Eagles did some very good things, challenges Ireland, played some exciting rugby, and sold out the stadium, we’re happy, but wary of saying it’s a new dawn.

Because it’s not. It’s just a rugby game, and a good day for the ticket collectors.

But … if I were to say it’s a new dawn, this is what I’d say:

This wasn’t a game in the middle of nothing else, like the South Africa test in 2001. Back then players and coaches had to wait six months for another test match.

The team isn’t in a major transition. We aren’t going to see massive player changes, as we have the last three years. There’ll be a few, but in 2002 there were a lot.

The attendance in 2001 was in part based on the Springboks visiting for the first time in 20 years, so South Africa fans from all over the country flew in. Ireland has been to the USA in varied forms several times, and the Bay Area hasn’t been starved for test rugby, either.

If you look at what we saw Sunday, it was enormously encouraging. We’re not seeing a special, one-time event that attracts lots of fans, we just had a well-attended international. We didn’t see a one-off, isolated game, but the beginning of a series of seven tests.

So there’s an opportunity for some momentum here. Can Chicago draw more fans than Santa Clara? Let’s see them do it. Can the Eagles, after a week of tweaking things (lineout anyone?) get closer to Wales?

Could we finally have a national team building toward something at World Cup qualifier time, rather than patching things up?

Yes, I think so. Not exactly New Dawn material, but something more than just one decent game.

- Alex Goff © www.erugbynews.com

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