Rewind four years. Takudzwa Ngwenya is an uncapped Eagle, with his only match in a USA 15s jersey coming in a friendly against Munster less than a month prior to the World Cup opener with England.
No one outside of the United States knew anything about the speedy wing, except that he was a wing and he was supposedly speedy.
Three weeks after the opening loss to England, Ngwenya turned his future on its head when he scorched South Africa’s Bryan Habana, widely considered the fastest man in rugby at the time, for a try.
14 caps, four years of stardom in professional rugby and an abundance of equally impressive tries later, Ngwenya is preparing for his second World Cup.
“This one will be different,” said Ngwenya, stating the obvious.
“The goal is right now, not just me, because we’ve got a tough pool again, is to just show up and show what we can do, because we play Australia and Ireland. Those are teams we normally don’t get to play, so we’re all excited about playing them and the challenge.”
Individually, Ngwenya is looking forward to playing James O’Connor, Australia’s all-world 21-year-old wing/fullback/center, to see if he can leave skid marks on the back of a world-class player in consecutive World Cups.
“It’s another challenge to see what else I can do,” said Ngwenya. “O’Connor is a good player, pretty much a great player, at the moment, so it’s a challenge, an honor to go against him, and it’s like a personal thing as well.”
Because it’s the nature of playing international rugby with guys who don’t have much time together, and because the Eagles forwards have traditionally had trouble winning and maintaining ball, Ngwenya and deep-three mates Chris Wyles and Kevin Swiryn don’t get as many quality touches as perhaps they’d like.
That can be a cause of frustration. It also means the try scorers have to capitalize on the touches when they get them in counterattack, as Ngwenya did after Todd Clever intercepted a floated Springbok pass to spark the possession which led to the famous ‘07 try.
“Every time we come back to international rugby we kind of have that in mind already that we’re not going to get as much ball as we’d like to get outside in the backs, because we don’t all play together and most the (forwards) are local boys,” said Ngwenya.
“So we try to make them feel as comfortable as possible and keep them jamming and keep playing a little bit tighter. We already know when we come that we’re not going to get as much ball, but it’s kind of frustrating…We wait for counter attacks.
“That, pretty much, is my biggest moment, because it’s like loose play and no one is in real position and there’s a lot of space, and if you have guys like Chris Wyles, me and Kevin get the ball with a little bit of space, we’re dangerous to take it the whole way. That’s our moment to shine as the back three.”
There’s a new back three player in the mix who may vie for some shining moments of his own -- James Paterson of the Super 14 Otago Highlanders.
Until Monday, Paterson had never been a part of an Eagle assembly. He represented America in the age-grade ranks, but never on the full-grown Eagles. Ngwenya seems energized by the addition of another supreme talent, and he says Paterson is jelling quickly.
“He’s been doing good. He’s caught up pretty good,” he said of his new teammate, who is training but out of contact because of a healing pectoral injury.
“The thing is just trying to get to know him better, because we don’t get to like train and play together. He’s out here for a reason, because he can play, you just try to get to know what are his tendencies, what does he like to do? So hopefully these three games will help us get glued together.”
Paterson is sitting out Saturday’s Canada match in Toronto to give his once-torn pec time to rest, but Ngwenya will start at right wing, and he’s eager to avenge the 41-18 drubbing the Canadians handed the Eagles last time they met.
“Right now, I’m still angry at them for that last game we played against them in Canada when they put like 40 points on us,” he said. “And also it’s always been a rivalry against Canada. This time I think we’ll be prepared and hopefully we won’t get a red card like last time.”
You can watch the Eagles play Canada live 2pm Eastern time on Universal Sports or Universalsports.com
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