The USA team unveiled a defensive wrinkle against Ireland on Sunday in their World Cup opener at Stadium Taranaki in New Plymouth, NZ.
On lineouts, they put Todd Clever in the backline, especially on defense. It was a risky move, but it paid off in several ways. Clever had, in coach Eddie O’Sullivan’s words, “a colossal game. We needed someone to step up in a game like this and he led from the front.”
Clever totaled 15 tackles, including a couple of earth-shakers and one or two that saved tries. More than that, the Eagles midfield defense benefited.
Ireland coach Declan Kidney praised O’Sullivan and his coaching staff for that decision.
“It caused us some trouble because he was able to stop our midfield attack quite a bit,” Kidney said.
Clever wasn't the only forward to help out in the backline defense (witness our photo), but he was the most prominent.
There was a tradeoff, though. The Eagles were not able to contest the Ireland lineout as well as they might, and with Clever in the backline, there was one less body to defend the maul. Ireland scored from one maul, but the Americans fought and scraped to keep the others under control.
“The key thing is, now we have that defensive alignment in our arsenal we know we can use it,” said forwards coach Dave Hodges. “We can put it in against Russia or change it up. So from that standpoint it was good for us.”