Before the last Rugby World Cup AJ MacGinty was the new kick on the block, fresh from his studies at Life University and straight into the university of life.
Ever since the retirement of Mike Hercus, the Eagles’ management had been searching for a game-controlling fly-half that could also kick goals and they put their faith in MacGinty for England 2015 despite his lack of experience.
Fast-forward four years and the 29-year-old has established himself as one of the best 10s in England’s Premiership, having moved to Sale Sharks from Connacht in his native Ireland, where his unfancied team won the Pro14 title.
In the test arena, MacGinty has won two Americas Rugby Championships and is the Eagles’ third-highest all-time point scorer, averaging just under 12 per game in his 21 caps to date, an impressive return in anyone’s book and one that would have been higher had it not been for injuries.
On the eve of the World Rugby Pacific Nations Cup and his second Rugby World Cup, MacGinty is feeling good about himself and Eagles rugby in general after a month-long training camp together.
All the hard work will be put to the test though in the Eagles’ PNC opener against Canada in Glendale on Sunday.
Preparation is— USA Rugby (@USARugby) July 24, 2019
Men’s Eagles Assistant Coach @GregMcWilliams1 talks about today’s session and training for a competitive match with Canada on Saturday.
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“The last four weeks have been heavily focused on gym work, fitness and strength and conditioning and in the last two, we’ve slowly implemented some of the new stuff that we’re bringing in for the World Cup.
“It’s been a tough slog with guys competing for places and, for now, we’re still trying to figure out our best 15 and 23.
“This weekend it might get sloppy at times but are confident with where we are.
“Everyone is dying to get out there and play," he continues. "We’ve had five weeks without a game which is unusual for us because we don’t normally get a lot of time together, you’re normally a week in camp and then you play straight away. We’ve had time to gel and now it’s about going out and delivering that game plan.”
Too close for comfort
USA have had the upper hand over Canada in the last six years but the match at the Americas Rugby Championship was every bit as close as the 30-25 scoreline suggests.
“We scored in the last play of the game to win it, it was a bit too close for comfort,” MacGinty admits.
“Obviously with the World Cup coming up they’ll have most of their strongest players back and I think this will be their most competitive Canadian team that we’ve faced since the last World Cup.
“We’re expecting a huge challenge this weekend.”
Nature of the beast
Then, USA travel to Fiji to take on Samoa – a fixture that MacGinty still bears the scars from.
“My first game was against Samoa (in July 2015). I’d just come out of College. I’ll never forget at half-time in that game, my body was in bits, I felt like I’d been run over by a truck having taken so much contact from the Samoans. That’s just the nature of the beast, they are so physical. I think I’ve definitely improved a lot over the last four years and mentally and physically I am a lot stronger.
“I’ve got 40 to 60 really competitive games under my belt, playing with and against some of the best players in the world. There has definitely been a lot of learning, and I continue to try and push myself to keep getting better and better. I am excited to come up against Samoa again and see how that goes.”
Rounding off the Eagles’ PNC campaign is a match against Japan, also in Suva, on Saturday 10 August – all good preparation for a Rugby World Cup campaign in which Gary Gold’s side face England, France, Argentina and Tonga in Pool C.
The USA have competed at every tournament bar 1995 but have never made it past the pool stages, a record they are best-placed to change having shown their worth in beating Scotland last year and, at one stage, climbing to an all-time high of 13th in the World Rugby Rankings.
"We’ve made a lot of progress over the last few years, but other teams have too, and it is going to be such a competitive group," he says.
“But we are going there with the mindset that we’re going to shock a few teams.
“It was disappointing to not get any victories at the last World Cup, but I think we’re a much more cohesive unit now and in sync with each other.
“Going to Japan is an amazing opportunity to experience a new culture. Gary has coached there and speaks so highly of the people and the place," he adds.
“We don’t want to get too carried away with that because we’ve still got a job to do but for all of us, it’ll be an experience of a lifetime.”
With RWC 2019 less than two months away and global excitement building, fans can still secure their place at rugby’s showcase event via the official public match tickets, travel and hospitality package programmes accessed by visiting www.rugbyworldcup.com/tickets.