USA desperate for a win to keep rugby flag flying back home

The pressure is on to give rugby's growing US audience the chance to celebrate a first Rugby World Cup victory for the Eagles since 2011.

OKINAWA, 17 Sep - The USA have hopes that a victory in Japan is the key to the continued growth of rugby back home.

 Interest in the sport is growing significantly in the US, while the team also has a ready-made fan base near their Japanese training camp in Okinawa.

The Eagles will be based there for a week before they fly to Kobe for their opening match against England on Thursday, 26 September.

Since the end of World War Two, the island of Okinawa has accommodated the largest American military presence in Japan, so the USA team can expect a wave of local support.

As for those watching in the US, the impact of two seasons of Major League Rugby and the growth of rugby sevens is expected to significantly increase interest in the endeavours of the national 15 in Japan.

Last year’s Rugby World Cup Sevens tournament, which drew 100,000 spectators to San Francisco's AT&T Park in July, clocked up over 1.3 million television viewers on finals day, while in June, the 2019 Major League Rugby final between the Seattle Seawolves and San Diego Legion was watched by more than half a million people. 

Rugby's potential in the land of the free is huge. More than 33 million Americans stated that they are "interested or very interested" in rugby, according to research by Neilsen. One million people watched the Rugby World Cup Final in 2015, a 25 per cent increase on four years earlier, and a significant rise can be expected in 2019.

Having qualified for every Rugby World Cup apart from the 1995 edition, the USA is in need of a win - after failing to achieve one four years ago - to maintain the interest of fans.

While wins against the higher-ranked teams in Pool C may be a tough ask, Gary Gold's side - ranked 13th in the world - will be focusing on Tonga, who are two places below them in the world rankings.

English-born Eagles full-back Will Hooley said the squad was aware of the test represented by England, France, Argentina and Tonga, "but we are absolutely not there to make up the numbers".

RNS nh/dh/rl/ajr