US expecting to feel Aussie backlash at World Cup
Updated: September 21, 2011, 19:52
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WELLINGTON, New Zealand(AP) In normal circumstances, it would seem a mismatch. Two-time Rugby World Cup champion Australia up against the 17th-ranked United States boasting a 6-0 record stretching back 99 years.
Two of those wins have been at the World Cup, the Wallabies winning 47-12 at Brisbane in 1987 and 55-19 at Limerick, Ireland, in 1999.
On those occasions, the games were little more than an interlude for Australia on its way to the tournament's knockout rounds. But Friday's Pool C match at Wellington Regional Stadium assumes far greater importance, six days after the Wallabies' shock loss to Ireland.
With Australia unable to afford another defeat, coach Robbie Deans is taking nothing for granted against the American Eagles.
"The possibility (of losing) is there every time you enter the arena,'' he said. "It obviously wasn't pleasant, it wasn't an experience that any of us enjoyed. The key for us now is to be better for it by heeding the lessons and acting on them.
"We were poor in our decision-making, we were poor in our discipline - which is a part of decision-making - we were poor around the contact area; and those are three areas that at a World Cup, without those components, you're kidding yourself.''
U.S. coach Eddie O'Sullivan said there is "no question'' his team will feel the backlash from a loss that is expected to consign the Wallabies to the pool runner-up spot, likely placing defending champion South Africa and top-ranked New Zealand in their path to the final.
"I think any team that comes off the field (after a loss), the next day out you want to make a statement,'' O'Sullian said. "I have no doubt the intent of Australia against us will be to lay down a marker again to ensure they're back on track. But that's all about Australia, that's nothing we can concern ourselves with.
"We can only concern ourselves with our performance but I think they will think long and hard about this performance, based on the results of their second pool game.''
O'Sullivan has made 14 changes but feels he has a team capable of containing Australia. He picked Australian-born Tim Usasz as captain for the first time, and the scrumhalf said defense will be critical if the possibility of Australia again being upset is to be even considered.
"They've been copping a fair bit of heat about their performance and they'll be looking to come out and make a statement ... so they'll come out firing and we've just got to make sure we're ready for that,'' Usasz said. "We've certainly worked a lot on our defense (for) when you play a team like Australia, who tend to score a lot of points. If you can stem the flow of that you give yourself every possible chance to win the game.''
The Eagles displayed great defense in losing 22-10 to Ireland in their opening match, and O'Sullivan wants a similar performance.
"I think we've brought some great intensity against Ireland,'' he said. "We stopped them in their tracks, we didn't give them that quick first phase ball that they require to play, and I think Ireland put the same trick on Australia last week - just denied them that quick go-forward ball when they're most dangerous.
"This match will be similar. We know that Australia will come out wanting to create that landscape where they can move that ball around in space and it will be up to us to try to take that away from them. And sometimes you don't, and you've got to go into scramble (defense) and you've got to fight for your life and just stem the flow.''
However, stand-in Australia captain Will Genia has hinted that the Wallabies may not be as enterprising as O'Sullivan expects; that the Ireland match may have taught them to play a more conservative style, at least until they have the match under control.
"We need to simplify things in the decision-making and maybe put pressure on them by not playing so much, playing field position,'' Genia said. "I think (the World Cup) is definitely different. It's probably a bit more free flowing when you are playing Super rugby, Tri-Nations rugby. Here it seems to be favoring defensive sides a lot more.
"From that point of view, if you try to play a bit from your own end you find yourself in trouble, and a lot of the time sides get the penalty and get three points. We need to be smarter with how we play the game and we'll look to do that this week.''
Australia: Kurtley Beale, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Anthony Fainga'a, Rob Horne, Drew Mitchell, Quade Cooper, Will Genia (captain); Wycliff Palu, Ben McCalman, Rocky Elsom, Nathan Sharpe, Rob Simmons, Ben Alexander, Tatafu Polota-Nau, James Slipper. Reserves: Stephen Moore, Sekope Kepu, Dan Vickerman, Radike Samo, Luke Burgess, Berrick Barnes, Pat McCabe.
United States: Blaine Scully, Colin Hawley, Tai Enosa, Junior Sifa, Kevin Swiryn, Nese Malifa, Tim Usasz (captain); Johnathan Gagiano, Patrick Danahy, Inaki Basauri, Hayden Smith, Scott LaValla, Eric Fry, Phil Thiel, Shawn Pittman. Reserves: Brian McClenahan, Mate Moeakiola, Louis Stanfill, Nic Johnson, Mike Petri, Roland Suniula, Chris Wyles.