Emotional day for Americans in opening RWC match
Updated: September 09, 2011, 20:39
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NEW PLYMOUTH, New Zealand(AP) On paper, it should be no contest: Ireland has beaten the United States all six times they've met.
With emotion often a powerful factor in sport, however, the Rugby World Cup opener for both teams on Sunday will take on added significance for the Americans - it's the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The U.S. Eagles will wear black armbands during the match and attend a special memorial service at St. Andrews Church in New Plymouth at 10 a.m. Sunday, eight hours before kickoff. United States captain Todd Clever admits the anniversary "adds a bit more for the boys.''
Also adding some intrigue to the match is that Irishman Eddie O'Sullivan is now the American coach.
"Obviously 9/11 is at the front of their minds, so it will be emotional,'' O'Sullivan said. "We've spoken about it already, and we'll have a minute's silence. It will be nice, especially with the guys being away from home.''
The significance of the date was not lost on Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll, who is playing in his fourth World Cup. At a news conference to announce the Irish team, he said memories of the 2001 attack were indelibly etched in his memory.
"I was in my early 20s and watched it on TV,'' he said. "You knew it was going to change the world. We know the United States will be very motivated.''
O'Driscoll acknowledged the influence O'Sullivan had had on him during his reign as Ireland coach.
"He had a huge part to play in my international career and I think he did some great things for Irish rugby,'' O'Driscoll said.
O'Sullivan was cautious in his assessment of the Eagles' chances, saying they were targeting their second Pool C game, against Russia, as one to win.
"Obviously it (Ireland) is a tier-one nation so it's a tough start. We are also focusing on the Russia game because it's only four days later.''
Coach Declan Kidney named rookie Conor Murray to start at scrumhalf against the Eagles.
A surprise selection for the World Cup squad, Murray has leapfrogged regular scrumhalf Eoin Reddan and backup Isaac Boss. The 22-year-old Murray has been impressive at practice and both Kidney and O'Driscoll say he earned his spot. Reddan is on the bench and Boss missed the 22-man squad altogether.
O'Driscoll, who earns his 114th cap against the United States, said he had got to know Murray a bit better on the tour and was impressed by what he'd seen.
"He is confident but not arrogant. He has good inner belief,'' O'Driscoll said.
New Plymouth is the main city in Taranaki, which is a rugby-mad province that holds the Ranfurly Shield, the most sought-after trophy in New Zealand. Not surprisingly the locals are making the most of the World Cup and a crowd of 20,000 is likely for the match, despite heavy rain in the forecast.
Ireland: Geordan Murphy; Tommy Bowe, Brian O'Driscoll, Gordon D'Arcy, Keith Earls, Jonathan Sexton, Conor Murray, Jamie Heaslip, Shane Jennings, Stephen Ferris, Paul O'Connell, Donncha O'Callaghan, Mike Ross, Rory Best, Tom Court. Reserves: Jerry Flannery, Tony Buckley, Donnacha Ryan, Denis Leamy, Eoin Reddan, Ronan O'Gara, Andres Trimble
United States: Blaine Scully, Takudzwa Ngwenya, Paul Emerick, Andrew Suniula, James Paterson, Roland Suniula, Mike Petri, Nic Johnson, Todd Clever (captain), Louis Stanfill, Hayden Smith, John van der Giessen, Shawn Pittman, Phil Thiel, Mike MacDonald. Reserves: Chris Biller, Matekitonga Moeakiola, Scott LaValla, Pat Danahy, Tim Usasz, Nese Malifa, Colin Hawley.
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)